They are both home and I am on high alert. When I am hugging one, I am watching the other in the peripheral vision. They appear nonchalant, not to have noticed, even deliberate in their concentration on what they are doing that very moment but my biological radar picks up emotional tremors. There is a fleeting, deceptive dip in the facial tone. Many a times, I imagine that I have imagined it. What strengthens my belief is that I have experienced it too, growing up with a younger sister who more often than not, wore the halo.
It is in our culture that the older will love and the younger will obey. Right or wrong, we burden the senior sibling with the magnanimous role and the junior with an obedient position. They struggle with the onuses at a time when they are at their vulnerable most. Out of these dynamics, perceptions evolve over which of the two is the favoured one. And nothing can be more unsettling for a parent.
I have often wondered if there is any creature other than a mother or father who faces as many occasions for self-abasement. The act of parenting is like a reality check. It is a lesson, a long and deliberate one. Saddled with a disproportionate amount of power over growing lives, mothers and fathers raise their children with nil training in the art. The role models that define their parenting are not always exemplary themselves. And so they bumble along, overdoing it at times, underplaying on other days. One hopes that at the end of all these zealous mistakes, the child survives with at least a dusting of “well-meaning love”.
The care of another life on a daily basis is heavily loaded in favour of the child who is easier to rear! The one, who rises on time, comes to the table quickly, clears up after herself, and contributes to the routine wear and tear with thoughtfully alert plugging. By default, and I don’t know why, this invariably happens to be the younger one.
A parent’s challenge is therefore, to strike a balance within this daily scramble in which, each feels free to be herself and loved and appreciated.