The pitfalls of comparing cousins
Special to Stars and Stripes July 28, 2023
I’ve made many mistakes in my 57 years. I’ve missed exits, burned roasts, forgotten orthodontist appointments, miscalculated taxes, turned laundry pink, popped tires, slept through alarms, blanked on names and talked too much. However, I’ve always taken comfort in one saving grace: “At least I’ve raised good kids.”
Being a good parent is such a worthy endeavor, it has the power to wipe away the regret of countless transgressions. Over the years, when I felt down on myself, all I had to do was look at our three children to know that I was getting something right.
Well, it wasn’t always that simple.
“Waaaaaaahhhh!” we heard our niece, Kaleigh, wailing from our in-laws’ upstairs bedroom. Kaleigh was no more than 5, and cute as a button. Blonde ringlets and crystal blue eyes, with the softest skin — a real-life porcelain doll with a sweet disposition to match.
My husband, Francis, and I were in his parents’ kitchen downstairs, with Greg and Anne, Kaleigh’s parents and Francis’ brother and sister-in-law, when we heard Kaleigh’s cry. We jumped to our feet to find out what happened, when suddenly our daughter, Anna, appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
“Kaleigh fell down,” she relayed, her chin down and her brown eyes flitting nervously. We found Kaleigh in a tearful heap beside her grandfather’s treadmill, her fragile pale arms, legs and cheeks freshly scraped. As her mom and dad extracted the details from Kaleigh, Anna “supplemented” with her own self-serving narrative.
Anna spun the tale to imply that the treadmill ride was her cousin’s idea. Clearly, Anna had been the mastermind, convincing gullible Kaleigh to step on while she hit the “go” button, sending Kaleigh’s bobby-socked feet up over her head.
Our families had a lot in common — Francis and Greg were both in the Navy and our kids were the same ages. However, when we were together, glaring differences in our children appeared. Simply put, Greg and Anne’s kids were really good. And by comparison, our kids seemed really bad.
Anna was infamous for biting and scheming. Lilly cheated at Uno and said naughty words. Hayden never ate vegetables and left Legos on the floor. Every time we visited with Greg and Anne, my confidence wavered, because I had apparently given birth to unruly monsters.
I found myself praying that Kaleigh or her siblings would do something, ANYTHING, wrong to give us some reprieve. “C’mon, little Patricia,” I’d mutter under my breath while watching my aqua-eyed niece toddling in her pink pajamas, “spill your milk, give Lilly a smack, steal Anna’s doll; we won’t mind!”
But Greg and Anne’s kids followed directions without sassing, happily shared their toys and smiled sweetly. All. The. Time.
After each visit, I had to visit playgrounds and school yards to watch other children smarting off and pushing each other into the dirt to recalibrate my perspective on our kids. It took days for me to remember that they weren’t awful — they were normal, red-blooded American children.
Months after the treadmill incident, we were back at my in-laws for another visit. Kaleigh was too sweet to hold a grudge, so she held hands with Anna while they skipped off to the nearby playground.
“Waaaaahhh!” we heard minutes later. Kaleigh hit a pole and her head was bleeding. Despite the lack of evidence that Anna had anything to do with it, everyone wondered. In her normal life, Anna was a good kid, but compared to Kaleigh, she seemed like Satan’s spawn.
It took another freak accident for the family to realize that Anna didn’t have the mark of the devil. While at her grandparents’ house, Kaleigh tripped and fell, suffering a broken arm. We were certainly concerned for our sweet little niece; however, our first reaction was utter elation, as we broadcast to the entire family, “We weren’t there! Anna didn’t do it! Hooray!”
Kaleigh unintentionally got her revenge when, as a teen, she gave Anna lice. Despite it all, Kaleigh is now a Navy pilot. Anna, a fashion designer, still loves her favorite cousin.
And I no longer look to see if Anna is growing horns, because I know now, it’s all relative.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com