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Good God Grandma, Again?
The first time I remember feeling jealousy was at my sister’s 6th birthday party at age 3. I saw her getting all these wonderful gifts, I saw her face get so bright and I saw everyone fawning over her and I thought to my 3 year old self, I wish that were me over there.
The next time I can remember feeling that way was at my fourth birthday party. I was getting these wonderful gifts now, and I could feel my cheeks getting warm and I felt like I guess my sister must have felt and I couldn’t believe how great it was. There was a cake, just for me! I didn’t even have to share it if I didn’t want to but of course I wanted to because otherwise that’d just be rude and I sure didn’t want to be rude, now, did I? And so many colorful gifts and streamers that wound around our brass chandelier and little tubes you’d blow into and they’d uncurl like lizard tongues and make a sound like a goose.
I looked around at all the people there, just for me, and I felt like I was a princess-- these people really wanted me and happiness welled up inside my little self. Then I happened to look down the table at my grandma and my sister. Even though it was my special day, my grandma still couldn’t stop fussing over my sister. My sister said, “I want cake!”
My mom said, “It’s not your birthday, your sister gets cake first.”
My grandma said, “Aw, Mar, come on, just a little piece.”
And so my sister got cake before me on my special day.
I guess looking back on it, my mom probably thought I was too little to understand or too little to remember and I’d be fine in the long run. But my memory is very good. I remember my first birthday party, and I remember my fourth too. And every kid knows fairness in their own way. I knew that it wasn’t fair. Not one bit.
I remember always being a little jealous of my sister all the time because she was inherently a beanpole with red hair and a straight nose and she could write stories and do art things while I was inherently an eater with a kind of Jewish nose and no real talent. I was always a little stocky and maybe a little chubby when I was a kid, but my grandma would point it out. She’d say to my mom in tones of voice she thought I couldn’t hear, “She’s a little chubby, Mar, and she took a book from Shelly [my sister] today. She’s becoming a problem.”
Then my mom would respond with, “She’s…well built. And are you sure that she took it from Shelly? Sometimes Shell thinks Amy’s [my] stuff is hers. Maybe she was just getting it back.”
“No, no, Amy took Shelly’s Cinderella book right out of her hands.”
“That’s Amy’s book.”
“Oh. Well. She didn’t have to take it right out of her hands.”
I can’t imagine that my grandma knew that her calling me chubby would lead me to try to starve myself to be skinny like Shelly. Or that calling me a problem would make me scared that no one liked me. She was a nice lady, just blind to everything bad my sister did.
When I hit puberty I got much more attractive. My stockiness stretched out into proportional skinniness. My face got less round and less red. My nose stayed the same but it somehow looked better to me than before. When I looked in the mirror I felt good for once, and I felt happy that I felt so good.
I really didn’t have so much of a problem with the jealousy anymore because I was just as good as Shelly. I became more friendly and more people liked me and I was funny and had talents. I actually had talents! I could act and sing and make people laugh and I loved it. People would gather around me just to watch my weird impressions and I sucked up the laughter like it was a Shirley Temple (I love Shirley Temples). I could say something bizarre and they’d laugh and laugh and say things like, “Oh my god Amy!” “I love you Amy!” “You’re gonna be famous someday.”
But sometimes I’d be in a dark place. The curtains would be drawn and it’d be musty and cobwebby and I couldn’t get any air. I’d think to myself, what are you doing. No one loves you. No one even thinks you’re funny. You’re a problem that needs to be solved. Solve it. Or something. Whatever. You’re a boring blob no one wants to be around so just leave, ok? I could usually pull myself out of these moods by crying or taking a shower or watching Anne of Green Gables. I would feel pretty good for a while then.
When I was around my grandma it was different.
When my grandpa was alive he would see my grandma’s preference of Shelly and he’s gravitate towards me because we were 2 of a kind. I really love my grandpa. I could laugh and laugh with him. He died 4 years ago though and visits to my grandma’s became unbearable.
The worst incident was when I was almost 15 and Shelly and I were down at my grandma’s alone. She lived eight hours away from us. Her house was big and 90s and always smelled really good. There were all these brass light fixtures—brass chandeliers, brass wall lights, brass table lamps. She really liked brass. That house was so big my sister and I used to call it a mansion before our mom corrected us and said “It’s a Mcmansion.” We thought, ok. It’s still a mansion.
The incident was as follows:
2 of my grandma’s neighbors had come over to say goodbye because they were moving to a different part of the state. We all sat in the “parlor” (a room with a lot of antiques in it) and talked. First they talked to Shelly, asked her what she did and all that. Then they tried talking to me. They said “What are you into?” and I told them improv, theater, comedy, stuff like that. We were talking about the Second City when my grandma interrupts and tells Shelly to go get a piece of her art. It’s so good. The neighbors are a little bewildered but say ok, and keep talking to me. Or trying to. Every sentence I try to say about myself my grandmother interrupts with “Yes, and Shelly…” “But Shelly…” I see what she’s doing but I try not to let it get to me. When the neighbors leave I go up to my room and cry and call my mom and say your mother’s crazy, she’s insane, she’s so bloody stupid bring me home. My mom tells me to calm down, I’ll be home in 2 days, just stick it out. So I go downstairs and make dinner for us all. Shelly sets the table. As we sit down my grandmother says, “Thank you so much for setting the table, Shelly. And thanks for dinner, Amy.” She thanked me second. Last. For making dinner, I still got last.
I tried to figure out for 2 years why Shelly was better than me. It was like reliving pre-pubescence.
I asked myself, what is it that makes her so irresistible? Why don’t I have that? Why am I a stupid little red-faced chubby girl with no talents? Why does everyone love her more?
I tore myself up and tried to be perfect. I tried everything to get in my grandmother’s favor and of course, nothing worked. I repeatedly asked my mom, “Why does grandma love Shelly more than me?”
At first my mom denied that she did, then she finally said, “Because she was first.”
My sister had been the first granddaughter. It was as simple and stupid as that. That’s why my grandmother loved her more. Because she was first.
I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. It was so stupid.
And I realized that I couldn’t help it. So I stopped caring.
I’ve seen my sister favored a lot over the years, but I’ve been favored sometimes too so I try to say it’s equal and it’s fine. Deep inside my brain, though, I know it’s not fine. It’s not fine for a kid to grow up thinking their sister is better and prettier and smarter than them, and hear your grandma call you “chubby” and “a bit of a problem”. It’s not fine for her to blatantly and obviously show how much more your sister means to her than you do.
But it’s fine to be jealous. It’s not fine to let it consume you.