Thursday, April 20, 2006


I remember learning in a psychology class about the tendency of the eldest child in a family to be an over-achiever, a perfectionist, a pleaser. If there is tension in the family, the eldest child will often do everything she can to ease the tension - sometimes, this attempt comes in the form of mediator. The eldest doesn't take sides... she solves the argument. Obviously, this can lead to conflicting thoughts and a lifelong tendency to steer clear of any escalated conflict. Nip it in the bud before there's even time to think about it. A pattern which seems to be emotionally more destructive is one where the eldest gets it into her head that if she's the best she can be, she will provide a necessary distraction to the crumbling of her family. So when she gets something less than an A, she finds other ways to excel. In this instance, she receives so much praise from everyone, no one is bothering to notice there's a problem anywhere. This will be good for her college entrance tests, but down the road, she'll quickly realize she can't solve everything by being good at something. This in turn will make her realize that being good at something might not matter as much as it used to, because who cares? No one's paying attention, and the rewards, if any, are not tangible enough to seek.

My family's interesting because there are essentially two oldest children. My sister Jessie was 9 when I started college. Once I started college, she effectively became the oldest. It's undeniable to anyone that knows Jessie and knows me that she and I have remarkably similar personalities. She's been a mediator her whole life. For whatever reason, Jessie deals with stress better than I ever have. She doesn't worry nearly as much as I do... she's much more calm. Still, she's not someone who will stand idly by while there's a problem. She's more strong-headed than I am, more inclined to argue her point, but when it comes down to it, she doesn't like when people aren't getting along, and she tries to fix it.

And of course, there is my sister Jackie, who is two years younger than Jessie. Her whole life, she has been this brilliant girl, consistently pulling good grades, always interested in learning. There's a contradiction in her life, however, which I imagine must be wholly tumultuous for her. As my mom puts it, she has a "wild streak." And there is no taming it. She's been a constant source of worry for me and my mom, and now for Jessie. She has so much potential, maybe more than Jessie and I combined, but she has no idea how to harness it. She's the one we've all been watching out for, the one we've all banded together to make sure she makes it into adulthood without getting herself into unnecessary trouble. This girl could change the world if she wanted to, and she needs guidance in making that opportunity a possibility.

There has been structural problems in my family for as long as I can remember. I know this is no different from any other family. My parents made the mistake of raising three really smart kids, kids that can only put up with so much bullshit that they dish. It's come to my attention that the structural problems are beyond repair, and that the house will surely fall. And now Jessie finds herself caught in the middle, playing the role of college student, sister, mediator, and now mother to our 17 year old sister. It's a role I played many times for the two of them while I was still living at home, but I had hoped Jessie would be spared that responsibility. Apparently not.

So now, the mediator lives across the country. But I still have the feeling that it's my responsibility to fix everything. Do I move back to Ohio for a year while Jackie finishes school? Unlikely. Do I move Jackie out here so she can finish school here? She'll never go for it. All I can do is make my voice heard, and for the first time, hand off the responsibility of fixing the problem to the only person who has ever been truly able to fix it: my mom.

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