As the young couple hold their labor of love in their arms, their hearts fluttering with excitement at having accomplished such a Herculean task – their bundle of joy snuggles up to its mother’s bosom, blissfully unaware of the travails of being the first born. Her doting parents have earnestly been preparing for her arrival. Her mommy dearest has already read 255 articles and 3.5 books on how to be the perfect Mom. Her Dad has been trying to cultivate her taste in music, subjecting her tiny ears to the greatest symphonies ever. When she wails, screwing up her face in disgust, he looks perplexed. How can his bundle of perfection not like Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique? And he hasn’t even started her on the greatest works of Dostoyevsky.
She is the apple of many pairs of eyes. Her grandparents, a battalion of her yet to be married uncles and aunts, can never get enough of her. All of them talk to her like she’s a retard – goo goo gaga-ing to her in earnest. The most photographed baby in the world, her each first in life is hailed as an act that no baby has performed before – her first crawl, her first tumble down the bed, the first cockroach she tried to swallow…When she first lisped “thinkle thinkle little staal,” her parents almost perished with delight.
She was their princess who could do no wrong, and her parents would never tire of telling her that.
Unknown to her, her parents were about to end her unquestioned monopoly of their affections. It started with her Ma looking like a pumpkin and ended with a skinny baby with a pinched face who she was expected to call her brother. She hated him at first sight, the pint-sized creature who was now hogging all her parents’ attention. She couldn’t stop wondering what she had done to deserve this abandonment.
She was now the elder one with responsibilities to fulfill – the perfect daughter to her parents, the doting sister to her brother and the studious student. If she beat up her brother for trying to bite her arm off, it was she who would get reprimanded. It was she who was subjected to daily dose of sermons on how to chart her career graph from age 12, while her brother was busy trying to insert a clip inside their dog’s nose. If she was defiant, she was setting a bad example. If she got bad grades, her Ma would turn into Amrish Puri and her dad Nirupa Roy.
It didn’t take her much time to realize that there were different set of rules for her and her brother. His pranks, temper tantrums, getting caught bunking classes were dismissed as bouts of childishness and her “failings” were met with “what-did-we-do-to-deserve-this” outbursts.
You’re not perfect, and realistically you know it’s physically and mentally impossible. However, you still fight that battle to be perfect, never stopping. Your grades are good, but you’re not at the top of your class. You feel wrong most of the time, even about things you shouldn’t have felt wrong about.
You feel guilty that your enough will never be enough!
She is all grown-up now, living her own life, her own parenthood a curious combination of trying to be her parents and not trying to be like them. But she now realizes, as her parent’s first born, she was sort of an experiment for them, a mixture of instinct and trial-and-error. Perhaps this is what that made them overly neurotic about her.
In contrast, her brother got parents that were more relaxed, less particular about rights and wrongs and more forgiving. Both of them had the same parents yet so different from each other.
Occasionally she seeks out the Society of Disgruntled Siblings (SODS) to vent out her frustrations. Funnily enough, even her Mom joins in (yes, being the oldest runs in the family), and all of them shed collective tears on all the injustices meted out to them.
All these years and nothing has changed. When she occasionally rebels, she’s still made to feel like that 14-year-old girl who answered back. She has now accepted her fate. She may climb Mt Everest, kill six mosquitoes in one swat, save a drowning kitten but she will still be the little girl who turns around for that look approval from her parents. Her every joy, accomplishment, accolade means nothing till she shares it with them and gets a pat on her back. If she means the world to them, they mean the universe to her.
A few months back when her sis-in-law confessed that she had tried to smother her baby sister with a pillow, she hugged her tight with delight. It was such a relief to know that she wasn’t the only one who had secretly tried to killher younger sibling. Of course her brother never lets her forget she was mean to him once, conveniently forgetting the battles she fought on his behalf, demanding privileges that she had been denied.
Yes, they still manage to fight like kids!
The eldest born would like to think that this curse is a blessing in disguise. It may have molded her into a seeker of perfection constantly seeking approval but she knows her parents are her conscience who will continue to guide her through her ups and downs.Pic courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net