Friday, October 10, 2008

The "Smart One"

I imagine it's true in every family, but I've been thinking a lot lately about how in our family, everyone got assigned roles--and pretty early, it seems to me. For as long as I can remember, my brother, sister, and I have all had pretty clear labels in the family structure. I was "the smart one" but also "the disorganized one" and often "the emotional one." My sister was "the organized one" and "the social butterfly" (read: the pretty one). My brother, four years younger than her and six younger than me, seemed to have his own set of rules. He is the only boy so inherited the "boy" identity: the sporty one, the daredevil, daddy's boy. He's also the baby, so he got to be the special one in some ways. (I think that sounds resentful, but it's not meant to be. I don't think any of us really chose our family roles; he just took what he was handed.)

So fast forward: We're now 32, 30, and 26. And in many ways, we're still acting out these same roles. My brother has moved halfway across the country. My sister has lived all over the country and has settled (for the moment) here in Minnesota with her husband and 1 1/2 kids. I'm the mother of three obsessing over whether I'm assigning them roles the same way they were assigned to us. My parents split up in a very, very messy divorce just as my second was being born (he moved out when I was 8 months pregnant.) Now my dad's remarried and I have a step-mother and step-sister to wrap my head around (particularly tricky, as step-mom is my age, and step-sister is in kindergarten, just like my oldest). The family as we knew it is gone with the wind. The more we think and talk about it, the more we realize it was never really there. And yet there I am, still trying to live up to being "the smart one," still accepting that I'm disorganized and will never be any better. And my sister is realizing that she went through much of her life thinking she had almost no emotions, and she's only now trying to get in touch with the ones that have been there all along.

My oldest is sweet and sensitive. He's been that way since the day we brought him home from the hospital and I slept on the couch with him in the bassinet next to me, eventually bringing him in with me--where he then slept for the next year. My middle son is, as my husband says, "a force of nature." He's surprisingly sensitive, but I am often reminded of Stampy from "The Simpsons," head butting people just for kicks. And my youngest, our girl, is so far pretty sweet and easy going. And I'll admit to wanting to dress her in sundresses and hair ribbons until she eventually screams in protest. So how do I look at these three and stop myself from assigning them the roles of "the sweet one" or "the strong one" or even "the girl"? Long after they're at all relevant, my siblings and I are still acting out our family roles and trying to outlive their impact. I know I'm going to screw them up somehow, but shouldn't it count for something that I see this one coming?