So That’s Why She Was So Grumpy

Tina was Miss Grumpy McGrumperson.

We’re back in Connecticut, mid-1960s. Lorna knows something’s up with Tina, her older sister, but what?

Sickness was a commodity in our family. The more of it you had, the more of Mom’s attention you got. We didn’t have much, so Mom’s attention was precious and worth fighting for.

I wished I could put on a realistic swoon, but I didn't have the right body type. Or flimsy night-gown.

In the Getting Attention Department, I was running dead-last. Except for the occasionalfrequent…predictable Common Sense Deficit Disorder flare-up (a disease that still hasn’t been adequately diagnosed or even recognized by any establishment with the authority to help us me do no further harm to ourselves myself or others), I was dependably good. Some might say eerily angelic. I could list my perfect-child behaviors or just give you my mother’s phone number; she’d be happy to verify my story. (When I told my son this, he immediately called her up and Mom told him how perfect I was. He wasn’t pleased.) What did all this goodness get me? Ignored. She didn’t have to worry about me, so I was back-burner material. Trouble-makers of the world get attention. Good girls get therapy. Later on.

Yeah, you got it, Sweet Cheeks. I was the perfect child. Ain't I just perfect now?

Tina and Lisa weren’t hoodlums, they were just higher maintenance. They were both stubborn strong-willed and prone to bickering. They didn’t play well together, either. Tina wanted to be in charge; Lisa didn’t like taking orders. These traits matured as they did. I played referee between the two for most of my childhood.

But sickness won the day when it came to garnering Mom’s attention. I can boast of having both types of measles at the same time, migraine headaches that developed when I was about six years old, and the mumps. The headaches prompted a visit to an ophthalmologist, who said my eyesight was fine (even though I cheated on the test because I wanted eye glasses to make me look smarter–but I wasn’t any good at cheating, so no glasses for me). The headaches didn’t hit back with enough regularity to cause further investigation. My case of the mumps was wicked bad, but Mom had Tina-duty at the hospital, so Lisa took care of me. She was five or six. Mom set up a step-stool so she could reach bags of ice in the top freezer section of the refrigerator when I needed a new ice-pack. I think nursing her big sister made her feel special. I felt totally gypped (no offense to Gypsies, especially since I was thinking of becoming one).

I wanted my Mommy. Nothing against Lisa, but my mumps were nothing to sneeze at.

Lisa was pretty healthy until she got sick. She never had just a plain head cold; it always developed into bronchitis. I dreaded cold and flu season because she would start with that death-rattle breathing and Mom would come running. Her baby was sick. Again.

Tina had us all beat. I didn’t know by what, but whatever it was, it was big. She got special treatment all the time. When she was at the hospital, she had Mom’s undivided attention and all the doctors and nurses were at her disposal. I imagined her like the Queen of Sheba with servants all around her, tending to her every wish. When she was home, she had her own special food to eat at her own special times. We had to eat what Mom fixed for us and weren’t allowed to eat between meals. When she was grumpy, Mom told us to be nice to her because she wasn’t feeling well.

If you had to take one of these twice a day, you'd be cranky, too.

I wanted to know why she wasn’t feeling well. “That doesn’t concern you,” Mom said. But it did concern me. If I was going to compete for Mom’s attention, I didn’t stand a chance if I didn’t even know what I was up against.

When I was nine, Mémé came for a “visit.” Mom and Tina left for the hospital. Because Mémé was there, I figured that Mom wasn’t coming back the same day. I asked her if she knew what was happening. Apparently Mémé wasn’t part of the “Cone of Silence.” She told me.

If the audience can hear you, so can I. Why all the secrecy?

“Tina having operation. She very sick in the stummy (stomach).” Mémé’s English wasn’t the best. I’m paraphrasing.

“An operation. Wow. I didn’t know she was that sick.” I immediately felt guilty about the Queen of Sheba imagery.

Oui. She could die. We pray for her.” I’m sure Mémé thought she was being helpful.

My eyes got big and watery at the same time. I didn’t have any direct experience with death (excluding my father’s suicide, but he didn’t count because I barely understood I had a father, let alone he died) and now my older sister might die? “It’s not that bad is it?”

Oui. Very bad.” Good old Mémé. She could tell the truth when she wanted to.

I went to Tina’s bed and got her favorite stuffed animal, a big floppy black dog. I hugged that dog all day and night and cried myself to sleep holding it.

I may have drooled on the stuffed dog as well as cried on it. Tina might still have it and could do a DNA analysis to be sure.

When we finally got word from Mom that Tina survived the surgery on her stomach and that she would recover normally, I was relieved. Our little family was little enough; it didn’t need to get any smaller. To show Tina how much I loved her, I asked Mémé to tell Mom to tell Tina about how I went to sleep crying with her floppy dog. I hoped nothing would get lost in the translation.

When Tina came home after several weeks, she greeted me with, “You cried all over my favorite stuffed animal? If you ruined it, I’ll kill you!” Tina was back. Maybe they forgot to remove some of her grumpiness, but my big sister was back to stay. That’s all that mattered to me.

Surgeries are expensive for a single mother with no job. What happens next to Lorna’s family?

~ by Lorna's Voice on January 26, 2012.

26 Responses to “So That’s Why She Was So Grumpy”

  1. Start now, Ruth! I’m sure you have important stories to tell that people need to hear.

  2. My older and younger sister would sometimes get into it pretty heavy duty. I’ll be sharing a couple of those stories. I was always the referee or peacemaker. Tough job… 😐

  3. I have two brothers, no sisters, but we compete in the same way. But instead of doing it with wit, we just would fight each other. Push each other into mud. Leap into mud ourselves. Play stick-sword-fight. Everything was a competition in attention.

  4. if my story can resound and connect as yours does it would be a blessing
    maybe someday

  5. I have a feeling you didn’t miss out on much, Al! And I can assure you that that woman lives nowhere near you…yet. 😉

  6. When my 3 oldest sons were small, the first born developed a very serious illness. I remember being so torn that I wasn’t giving all 3 equal attention that I probably overcompensated. The two younger ones never worried about feeling left out. The oldest (sick one) told me later he hated it when I’d leave him to go home.

  7. I never had sisters. Guess I missed out, huh?

    P.S. Picture #3 scared me! Please tell me she doesn’t live near me.

  8. Not too much more to tell, but I have a few more stories up my sleeve!

  9. You may be right. Didn’t think of her candor that way. You always have such great insight!

  10. She wasn’t too adept in social skills–especially when it came to children. But she was there and that’s what counted. 🙂

  11. There’s always “the other side of the story,” and little kids rarely ever consider it. I’ll be sure to allude to how you may have felt when I write the book. It’s only fair!

    As for the dog and the tears, that’s just makes for a great story–as does most of my life. 🙂

  12. Sounds like a story of your own in the making… 😉

  13. Hey Lorna! once again your writing made me remember my past .I have always been the one with the most illnesses, and to my advantage my mother has always been there to take care of me..its truly a great feeling when you are given more attention then your younger or older brothers or sisters:)

  14. Ok for the other side. I was jealous that you were home with mom and Lisa when I had to stay in the hostipal all the time. You did a great job of caring for Lisa, amazing for your age. Sorry I was upset you cried on my dog. I love you very much!

  15. I was a worry wart too. Everything that happened in our household affected me deeply. I was the third child, first girl, of six children…many middle children in our family! I felt like I was lost in the shuffle with our large, chaotic family (and a well-behaved girl too)…until I started having panic attacks that got my parents’ attention and some doctor’s visits. I don’t remember much being done to help me though.

    Not much (any) sensitivity by your grandmother as to how her words may have affected you…it’s almost laughable…but it’s not funny! 😦

  16. Awww … that was so sweet of you at, that age, to want to
    hold onto something that would make you feel closer to your
    sister. I’m glad she maintained her personality through it all.
    Can you imagine if she had changed?? For sure, ” You would
    have thought your sisters face was transplanted on someone else. LOLOL
    AND … Meme – what a hoot??? no sensoring and very little thought to your emotional trauma … but …. reality seemed like something you would have preferred. She probably knew you better than you thought.
    Still rockin’ sista ..
    Izzy

  17. Coincidentally I was with a four year old great nephew yesterday who is very proud of being the “grumpy one” in his family.Made me laugh out loud as much as this did (okay not so loud in front of him because I didn’t want to break his “grumpy cover” on him, lol) Another good read from your hilarious mind, thanks, Lorna 😉

  18. I’m finding ‘Lorna’s family dynamics’ fascinating. Keep on postin’

  19. Yes, it’s quite fun and freeing to write your own life story as you see it. I hope you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and give this a shot. It is very rewarding. 🙂

  20. I don’t mind at all. That’s the whole point of sharing my stories–to provoke others to do the same!

  21. I really enjoy reading your tales of being Miss Understood…although I certainly can’t say I experienced the same circumstances as you did growing up, I do know that as a ‘middle child’ myself (3rd out of 4), my role was to be the peace-maker, the observer, the family’s UN representative and the one who tried to make people laugh or smile. My older sister was the sickly one, my older brother was the trouble-maker and my baby brother was too darned cute to be anything but cute! So there wasn’t much left for me to pick from. Funny how reading your post made me remember a piece I wrote long ago about my place in the family dynamics–maybe I’ll pull it out and write a new blog post from it. Hope you won’t mind! Thanks for the inspiration.

  22. I remember knowing that Tina was very sick and had surgery–not that she almost died, and certainly not that you and Lisa had to take care of each other in those days.

    Thank you, Miss Understood, for introducing us to Miss Grumpy McGrumperson, and even for welcoming her back!

    Loving your stories and wishing you could write mine, too… but that defeats the purpose of writing, right?!

  23. Yeah. I was a worry-wart. The last thing she needed was for me to develop a stress-related malady. I was her healthy child and she needed to keep me that way. 🙂

  24. Poor Lorna. Every middle child I know has it rough or they’re rather “unique”,(at least, it’s always been in a good way from the children I knew) but I stopped at number 2. I can imagine your mother’s stress, however. Maybe Mom kept hush hush to keep you from taking on her worries. It was really enough for you to find your way to the store and back home, yeah? 🙂

  25. That’s me, Miss Understood. Really. I was in a beauty pageant once and that was the title I was vying for…

  26. You’ve got to love Mémé. She didn’t sugarcoat anything. Sometimes I think older people forget how traumatic a child’s reaction might very well be. It’s also possible that since she sustained quite a bit of trauma and setbacks in her own life, she along with others in her generation just dealt with difficulties a lot differently than our own generation.

    So… my first reaction with Tina’s stuffed animal was awww, which immediately changed to some hearty laughter, even if it came at your expense, at your sister’s reaction! It seems you’ve been misunderstood a good part of your life Lorna.

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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