I’ve never been much of a competitive person. I’m a middle child, comfortable with ambient neglect and isolation. You know the type: Not the awe-inspiring firstborn, or the doted on lastborn. I was just … there. And that was perfectly fine with me. It was others who seemed to have a problem with it, and try to console me with bullshit statements like, “You know what you and the Oreo have in common? Everyone likes the middle the best!”
Either way, I fell into my role as the peacemaker and people-pleaser. What was the point of fighting for something I didn’t have a chance in hell of getting? It was easier to accept defeat prematurely. My sister was born first so whatever it was, was hers first. And maybe in a few years, it would be mine. Patience, I was told. In the instances in which a situation would resort to physical blows, well, my sister was bigger and wasn’t afraid to knock me down to take what was hers.
And, come on, there was no point in competing with my brother because he was the baby and a boy: A double threat. I learned to be content with what I got and what I didn’t get. As my 4-year-old likes to say, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” That said, he’s a firstborn and creates rules he doesn’t follow.
When I was 10 and my brother five, my mom took us grocery shopping. After loading us and the groceries into the car, Mom noticed that my brother had stolen a piece of Brach’s candy. She made me return the stolen sweet. I walked into Fareway, handed the candy over to the clerk and said, “Here. My brother stole this.”
Four years later, I asked for a pair of Pepe Jeans for Christmas. My mom went shopping with my sister who, when Mom asked my size, gave her the wrong jean size. Guess whose size she did give her? And guess who got the jeans that year?
It’s been a few decades and now I’m the mom. After some reflection and experience, I feel like my brother was old enough to be marched back into the store and give back the candy himself. I also am still waiting for my Pepe Jeans — in the correct size. Clearly I’m judging my mom’s parenting here because as I’ve come to find out: Motherhood is a competitive sport.
The game kicks off at pregnancy with jabs like: How much weight have you gained because, you know, they only recommend you put on 35 pounds? Did you get stretch marks? You drink caffeine!? You’re still hiking … what if you fall?
But let’s not stop there. The game really peaks at childbirth: You’re not having a natural childbirth? I’ve heard epidurals can hurt the baby. The breast is best! As if pregnancy and childbirth weren’t frightening enough, we make it worse for one another.
I have a 4-year-old son and a 9-month-old daughter and I’ve experienced shame and competition with both. When my son was born, at just a few ounces over five pounds, I was on the receiving end of accusations of not eating enough during my pregnancy or drinking too much caffeine, etc. In other words, it was my fault for his low birth weight. My doctor later diagnosed me with Placental Insufficiency, which caused my son to have Fetal Growth Restriction. In layman’s terms, this means, for whatever reason, my placenta didn’t develop correctly and couldn’t supply my son with adequate nutrients. “It’s not your fault,” the doctor told me and then blamed herself for not catching it earlier, which did make me feel better. Regardless, my son is still not a big eater, is genetically thin and healthy, and I’m STILL being told to fatten him up.
My daughter, on the other hand, was born at just under seven pounds. A few weeks after her birth (and in the throes of postpartum depression) I commented on how stressful cutting a baby’s fingernails is. An innocent comment, right? Not to one mother. She took it upon herself to remind me that I was nothing but lucky to only have fingernails to worry about. It’s hurtful that women, who have gone and are going through similar experiences, attack each other this way. Reminder: You never know what’s going on in another person’s life, behind closed doors.
After birth, we must talk about who still needs to lose their baby weight and whose baby is sleeping through the night. As the kids get older, the comparisons get nit-pickier. Does your child know his ABCs? Is he any good at soccer? Are his verbal skills up to snuff? How often are you bathing your kids? How much screen time are you allowing? Why are you letting her sleep with you? You’re too soft on them. You’re too hard on them.
One thing is for certain: No one is a perfect parent. We’re all different. Our children are different. Thank god. But, kicking each other when we’re already down is not the answer. This is a team sport. Let’s cheer each other on.
And Mom, if you’re reading this: Can I have those Pepe Jeans now? I’ll DM you my size.