That’s what she tells people sometimes. Right in front of me, with a smirk that can be seen from the space station, she says it as if it were carved in stone. And it never fails to break my heart.
It’s been interesting spending my entire life trying to prove I am NOT my mother’s favorite. And it doesn’t help that absolutely no one else in the family agrees with me.
What goes on in the mind of a parent who discovers, for whatever reason, s/he has a preferred child? I have no experience with that from the parental side because I really do have an only-child.
As I watch other people with their children, it is sometimes obvious that one of them elicits a special look in the eye of their parent, a softer countenance, a calmer voice. Sometimes it is a father who dotes on the only daughter in his brood. Sometimes a mother strokes the head of a son tenderly while she berates his brother in her outside voice for one infraction or another.
I don’t get much sympathy for bearing the burden of “favorite child.” I suppose I understand that, but it can be lonely to carry around a kind of pain few people can or will relate to.
Back in the 1970s, out of the blue, at least as far as I was concerned, she stopped speaking to me. At all. I was crushed when she didn’t invite me to her wedding to her second husband, whom I had never met (and never did.) She moved from our home state of Illinois with him to Florida without so much as a goodbye.
Years went by with me making overtures and being totally ignored. This was the sister I loved so much I tried to mother her, despite being only 30 months older than she. When we were children I protected her, made sure she was clean and groomed, while our mother worked outside the home. I had no idea, being only a child myself, how she seethed within her low-key persona.
The unilateral rivalry, ever-present, had escalated as we moved through childhood and adolescence. She deeply resented what she viewed as the ease with which I conquered studies she found not only difficult, but useless. I loved school; she hated it. I enjoyed Brownies and Girl Scouts; she despised it. She announced to our parents on the evening before her first day in high school, where I was a senior:
“Do not expect me to get the grades Lezlie does. It won’t happen. Do not look for me to be joining all those clubs she joined. I won't.”
There was one thing, however, she decided to follow me into. We both learned to twirl a baton in a public park summer program when we were about 9 and 5 or 6. We were equally adept at acquiring that skill. We continued to learn each year and we became quite good at it. So when I became a drum majorette in our high school band organization, she must have vowed to herself to make her mark in that arena. In her own senior year, with me finally out of her hair and away at college, she was not just a majorette – she was the Captain!
I can only imagine what she was feeling when she called me to tell me of her achievement. Finally, I have outdone her. But since I did not share her sense of competition in this sibling pairing, all I felt was proud of her.
The other thing she did was get her driver’s license on the first try when she was 16. I had failed my driver’s test at 16 and was so demoralized, I didn’t even attempt to get it again until I was 18, although I had been driving since I was 12.
About five years ago I was driving her to the auto repair shop to retrieve her car. Back-seat driving on her part has always been a problem between us, but I usually just “suck it up for the cause of harmony.” On this particular day, I wasn’t in the mood. When she told me to watch out for some hazard or other she saw but just knew I didn’t, I snapped: I have been driving just as long as you have. I KNOW!
Pause. Pause. Pause.
Well, technically, that’s not true. I got my license first, remember?
As an adult, she recognized this rivalry and her sense of being less-valued was eating her alive. She had gone to therapy about it and the therapist convinced her that her refusal to speak to me was unfair, that her animosity toward me was misplaced. Slowly, she returned to me. And quickly, she ceased any contact with our parents. That lasted 10 years.
We are good now. The little barbs still come flying my way, but they don’t hurt as much anymore because I understand they come from a broken place in her heart. She has told me how ashamed she has been about some of the things she’s done to hurt me – purposely. I believe her and I love her still.
She, too, only had one child. That was deliberate on her part. She says she never wanted a child of hers to feel the same hurt she felt. If there was only one, he was automatically the favorite.
But what’s fascinating to watch is how she has singled out one of her grandchildren to dote on, to try to provide compensation for the fact that his mother abandoned him to his father. She relates so much to how he feels, she has lost all objectivity about her relationship with the rest of her grandchildren in comparison.
It is very hard to watch in silence, but I do.