No one is prouder of your accomplishments to others than your older siblings. No one denies your accomplishments to you more than your older siblings. If you are a younger sibling this ever-frustrating contradiction is at the core of why they invented anti-depressants.
As adults, older siblings rarely initiate communication unless it is a directive. The expectation is that younger siblings must pay some sort of emotional tribute for being subordinates in the family hierarchy; the oldest sibling considers himself or herself the de facto Sibling President. The Sibling President will seldom dwell on their younger siblings’ well-being. Why? More appropriately, why bother? Sibling Presidents simply cannot accept that although as infants their subordinate siblings used crap themselves, as adults, their younger siblings are fully potty-trained. Their subconscious attitude is that they still crap themselves, perhaps not literally, but somehow do so in poor decision-making. It must also be understood that a younger sibling’s musical choices are way, way out there – not normal. They may in fact border on the subversive to a Sibling President’s yearning for Yanni, Enya and Mannheim Steamroller.
In fairness, older siblings were once tethered to their younger sibling’s care and well-being, lest they get blamed and punished for some dangerous fuck-up that put their younger brother or sister at risk. How well this is accomplished contributes heavily to sibling rivalry and places all concerned to focus on who has most of their parent’s love and attention. If you are a younger sibling, you know exactly what I mean. If you are an older sibling, I hate to go all Carly Simon on you, but you probably think this blog is about you; don’t you, don’t you?
The general responsibility of younger siblings is to go about their business in a manner that is not as structured and predictable as their older siblings would like. Any deviation from their desired expectations is considered a small victory to younger siblings.
I am a younger brother; therefore my theories are entirely based upon my personal experience with an older sister and the collective many . . . okay, the voices in my head.
Being 3½ years my senior, I respected and obeyed my big sister. In my earliest school years, my mother would give me a small per diem prior to each morning’s departure. This money was to be used for the must-have luxuries of childhood such as waxed lips, Charleston Chews, the ever-popular Chunky bar and Milk Duds. My older sister’s daily responsibility would be to walk me safely to school, presumably because nothing strikes fear into the mind of a dangerous stranger like a 9 year-old girl. Somewhere along the way, she would ask if I had been given mom’s daily allowance. I would nod in the affirmative and she would then ask me to hand it over for safekeeping. Her logic was generally the same, I might lose the money or it could get stolen. If I hesitated for even an instant, she would toss out the details of an incident where one of my classmates lost his or her money and their parents became upset and ended the daily allowance practice. Once I handed the money over to her, it would be the last I would ever see of the money. In order to keep me from reporting back to our mom, she would strategically string me along by making a few random purchases of candy for me; usually for treats I couldn’t stand like candy corn, Good & Plenty and the black licorice piece in a pack of Chuckles.
Unless I am mistaken and my older sister plans to surprise me with an investment portfolio that has been earning interest for decades, I can confidently say that she has had a penchant for stealing from me. Some of her most wicked thefts would occur at the dinner table. If I had a particularly tasty morsel resting comfortably on my plate, my sister would distract me, snatch the morsel away, toss it into her mouth and smile as she chewed it up. My protests to my parents were swift and thorough. I wanted the death penalty but instead they would only scold my sister. Often during the scolding, my sister would continue to smile. In her eyes I would detect the twinkle that told me that future food thefts were just around the corner. By the next morning, I would construct a miniature fort made out of toast in order to protect my bacon from my sister. Such measures were only temporary, a scoop of my mashed potatoes at Sunday dinner were always a target for her to attack and again, no death penalty. Moreover, you can’t make a fort out of biscuits and expect your mashed potatoes to be protected.
Over the years, my sister’s acts of petty larceny were replaced by denials and false memories, which if measured by aggravation on my part, became acts of war. An example of this came recently when I ran into a woman named Marie, an old friend of my sister’s. They had attended grammar school and high school together, but lost touch the way many people do. Marie recognized me immediately and inquired about my sister. Additionally, she asked if I could pass along her phone number and email address to my sister so they could reestablish contact with each other. I was happy to oblige and phoned my sister later that day.
“Guess who I ran into today? I ran into your old friend, Marie”. I said.
“Marie?” She wondered.
“Yes, Marie”. I confirmed.
Gradually, my sister came around, “Oh, yeah, Marie. We were old classmates”.
“I know,” I added, “She used to come over to the house with some of your other girlfriends”.
Now here is where the wheels came off . . .
“Marie never came to our house”. My sister claimed.
“Well, of course she did. How else would she recognize me? I said.
“I don’t know”. My sister stood firmly, “Marie never came to our house”.
I said, “Let’s think this through. She wasn’t my classmate and I never went to her house. How else would she know me today?”
“I don’t know. But she never came to our house”. She said.
“Barring any other logical explanation, could it be possible that you’ve forgotten that she would come over to visit?” I said.
“No. Marie never came to our house!” She yelled.
“Come on now, I have a pretty good memory, I distinctly remember that Marie would come over”. I said.
Challenging me, she asked, “Well, if your memory is so good, what were you doing one year ago today?”
“That’s a ridiculous question!” I answered.
“No. You said you have a good memory. What were you doing one year ago today?” She demanded.
“Well, one year ago today I was probably wondering why you’re such a bitch!” I said.
It was not my intention to go nuclear on my sister while relating that I ran into an old friend of hers, but somehow she just knew how to push my buttons.
I don’t have to go very far for other examples of my older sibling theory, my wife Lori has been dealing with three older sisters her entire life. Her sisters have never taken her seriously in any endeavor. Quite often, they will cultivate Lori’s opinion only as a last resort and even when her opinion has been rendered, they will reject it. This is never truer than when they plan the annual family Christmas get-together. They will unapologetically assign a dinner course for Lori to fulfill. If it is the appetizer course, they will ask her for some healthy ideas. If Lori suggests a platter of fresh veggies, they will ask her to do a salad. If Lori arrives with a salad, one of her sisters will prepare a platter of mini bagel-dogs to diminish the appeal of the salad.
The difficulty doesn’t end with food. If Lori says, “Let’s start at 7pm”, they will reply, “No, that’s too late. Let’s make it 5pm”. If Lori says, “How about a grab-bag for Christmas?” they will counter with, “No, let’s do a white elephant theme”. A year later, Lori will suggest continuing the white elephant theme. They will overrule her and suggest a grab-bag. Inevitably, they will complain about how big an expense Christmas has become. Lori will try to temper their concerns by suggesting we forgo Christmas gifts this time. They will collectively frown at her and say, “Oh, come on Lori, it’s Christmas!”
In other families, older siblings can act as trigger points to their younger siblings in many ways. Zooey Deschanel recently related on Jimmy Kimmel Live that her older sister, Emily, used to torture her by asserting that she was an alien from the planet Neptune and privately exhibited some unbelievable behavior, scaring the bejesus out of Zooey.
How do older siblings know how to push your buttons? They know how because they installed the buttons.