Separating Girls

The Pied Piper.
The Pied Piper.

 

Pearl, Amy and I, we were three girl children. One year and seven months lay between Pearl and Amy, one year and three months between Amy and myself. We had a fierce Scottish mother and a loving, funny father who had no backbone where Mum was concerned. He would take her word as gospel and woe betide you if you crossed her.

We shared clothes and hair ribbons, we shared hope and fear but most of all we shared sisterhood. We picked each other up and chased away bad dreams. We held hands and prayed. We prayed for God to make us strong and good. Most of all I prayed in hope that I could make Mum be kind and Pearl be good and not antagonise her.

We went to church, sang in the choir, and picked up litter from the churchyard but still it was not enough; he wasn’t listening. I never questioned his whereabouts or thought for a minute that he, the mighty the one God wasn’t there. I tried to compensate for being the wrong fit, the not pretty enough, not tall enough or a clever enough daughter. By being good, honest and kind I would one day fit or so I thought.

I tried to fit in but I just could not grasp the correct formula. Amy, she was in the middle (at the moment there are three sisters) she fitted somewhat better than us. Mum liked her femininity, her curls and big green eyes that were so like mums own. Amy hated that she was held up as the prettiest, the best daughter. We did not know that Amy hated how mum separated her from us. By putting her forward as a mummy’s girl, she had created a division. And so the separators were in place, we were played one off against the other, subtly, secretly and cleverly.

Pearl the naughty girl that lied constantly, Amy the perfect became a stick to beat us with . Me I was plain, short, greedy, timid and always trying to be the go-between, the peace keeper. The sister who made them laugh, who covered everything up with a smile. A storyteller that was me, the person who bought fun amidst the rigid rules.

I have learned through my mother’s parenting style, if you tell someone they are bad often enough; they will be. If an adult tells a child they are the prettiest, loveliest, most elegant girl in the world, eventually, they believe it, becoming vain and precocious. When your mother tells you that you’re plain and inferior, worthless, greedy and in the way; you simply believe it.

One cold November morning there were four girls, Lorna was the youngest next to my third place, she was fourth. Seven years younger than me, born with a collapsed lung she was a frail weakling. Lorna was not to be allowed to cry, and because of age and size did not have to go to school. Most of all we were told Lorna was special, Lorna was planned and wanted. As another separator was slotted into place I was even further away from where I thought I should be.

From my seven-year-old eyes, someone had arrived that I had not known was coming, nor did I understand that she would stay. Lorna was loved and carried everywhere, she stayed home and was wanted. What could I do now? Where on earth did I fit? I wasn’t the worst or the best or the newest, I wasn’t even the littlest any more. Now we are defined by the separators, naughty girl, good girl, the wrong fit and wanted girl. As we grew we fought and loved each other and unknowingly, separately we tried to alter our labels.

Lorna grew strong we became good friends, I protected her, not like Pearl did me, but like a sister does. I could, by playing with Lorna, play with her toys, which I had been told I was too big to play with when she was born. My childhood was rescued somewhat by keeping Lorna quiet and taking her for walks when I was home from school.

When I was eleven Lorna started school and was obviously occupied on weekdays, Pearl now fourteen was feeling her feet more than usual. Both Amy and Pearl found boys and fashion, dances and youth clubs, they went to school, clubs, and everywhere together. My role was babysitter and cook except when Dad was home, then it was my place to lay the table and do the dishes, because that was when Mother cooked. Pearl was little Mum, overseeing our hair and uniforms, making sure we got to school and had lunch, Amy and Pearl did the cleaning between them.

Mother had taken to meeting Dad at the door with a list of misdemeanours, ones that we had already been punished for. I can’t say what happened in other rooms but Dad would come in, wink, ask in a loud voice if I had answered back, spilt juice, or whatever I had supposedly done wrong, then would crack the belt on the bed and I would squeal. The ritual would happen in the room shared by Amy and Pearl also.

Friends of mine talked of chores, I remember thinking they had it so easy. One night I had homework which didn’t happen often, but Mum wouldn’t allow me to do it as I had vegetables to peel. Pearl got mad and told her “I will do dinner tonight, she has a test in the morning”. Pearl felt Mothers wrath, this time she grabbed at the hands that scratched and slapped her. That day the one where Pearl fought back was when I finally could see what Mum was doing.

Teenage years were hell in our house. Pearl didn’t see the boundaries as I did, I think the word meant something different to her. I would walk up to them, not too close and weigh them up, making sure I knew how far I could safely go. Pearl, however, thought a boundary was a test of how high she could jump; how far she could go. Amy didn’t seem to have any, or if she did, they were different. And so our world, as if it wasn’t hard enough progressed, separators intact.

 


Author Notes

18 Comments for “Separating Girls”

Tim Hillebrant

says:

Hi Ellen,

I liked this autobiographical write, and I applaud your courage to write about your family and they dynamics of it, as that is something I have a hard time doing myself.

I can see where this must’ve been theraputic for you in many ways, and it makes me wonder how much writing of this subject might help me. Food for thought at the very least.

In my family, I was the middle child. I have two elder brothers, one I barely know, as I’ve not seen him since I was 3. My oldest brother, or half brother, Doug, is disabled mentally and has schizophrenia as well. Living in our house with him was challenging at times for this reason. He’s older than me by 11 years.

I was born, and I think a lot of my upbringing, both the good and bad of it, came as a result from my parents only experience being with my brother. While I don’t have his disabilities, I think since raising a child with them was all my parents knew, it colored the way they raised me, so to speak.

My sister is younger than I by 5 years. She was the wild child, and could do no wrong, that I could tell. My parents denied this, of course, but I’m not sure if they’re doing so was them answering me, or trying to convince themselves. I did, however, hear from my dad as an adult that of the three kids, I was by far the easiest to raise. While I got into my share of trouble, he knew by and large that I was aware of the lines, what I could cross, what I needed to toe, and what lines I wanted to steer away from meeting. Maybe that’s why I was given the freedoms I was in my youth. LOL

I appreciate this write of yours, Ellen. I appreciate your courage in talking about the things you did. I appreciate your wit and candid demeanor. You’ve helped me more than you know by posting this. Thank you.

says:

Hi Tim, our lives are coloured by our upbringing, some grow thick skins, others crumble and a few outwardly deal with everything that’s thrown their way… covered with a *wink and a cheeky smile*.
We can only ever try to do better at parenting than our parents. If the dislike of me had been consistent I could have let it go by now. Nothing worse than swinging from tolerated to despised and back. On a positive note this was cathartic, but my family won’t see it, so it wasn’t truly brave. Who knows? We could be better stronger people despite them.

Lisa Doesburg

says:

What a sweet, poignant story, Ellen! This brought to mind, ‘Little Women’, but in a modern sense. Growing up, we were a mixture of two families. My step dad, mom, two half-brothers, and a step sister. Lots of fighting and arguing, but we stuck together like glue when it came to one of us being threatened in school.

says:

In my family, it was my father that was so strict and rigid. We grew up under the “Children should be seen and not heard” rule. But mother was kind and loving. My brother Keith had the burden of being the oldest and most responsible. He was fiercely competitive with my brother, Lee, who was the second child. Lee was “the golden child”, handsome and athletic, and successful. I was the third child and only daughter, and played the role of “scapegoat” and peace keeper, I think. I was not able to live up to my father’s expectations, as he was not interested in a girl who was plain, intelligent, and a tomboy. He compared me to my cousin who was a “proper” girl, shining and beautiful, and would make somebody a good wife someday. My youngest brother got kind of lost in the shuffle, and was a “pill” baby, so felt he was not planned or wanted.

I enjoyed your story very much, and could relate to many things. Great job with this, Ellen!

Write On!
Becky

says:

Ellen, great write. Sometimes kids create their own roles, their own identities. Sometimes it’s the parents that do it, for better or worse. This was a great descriptive piece; I can see it being used as the beginning paragraph of a much larger story.

Of course, I do have a few nits…

* “one year and three months between Amy and me (‘me’ is grammatically correct, but personally, I prefer ‘myself.’ It’s just a matter of choice).”

* “Most of all I prayed in hope that I could make Mum be kind and Pearl be good and not antagonise (antagonize) her.”

* “Lorna was loved and carried everywhere (there should be some kid of pucuatio here. A period or semicolon, maybe.) she stayed home and was wanted.”

* Pearl got mad and told her “I will do dinner tonight (more punctuation here…) she has a test in the morning”.

* “And so our world (comma) as if it wasn’t hard enough (comma) progressed, separators intact.”

Mostly punctuation. Keep up the great writes!

says:

Hey, Ellen,

I enjoyed reading this piece about you and your sisters. I found a smile in this post as growing up I was and still am the ‘peace keeper’ too. I hate to argue and get mad, so if my two older sisters are having a spat, I’m usually the one that’s quiet and watching or doing something else. Lol. 😛 My older sisters are very close in age, 11 months apart, so they’re like the same age about a week before my older sister Rochelle’s birthday. Actually, all of our birthdays are pretty close. My oldest sister Erica’s birthday is Nov. 7, and my is Nov. 1, but we’re four years apart. It’s true that some parents treat their children differently. I know I’ve felt that way. Great write!

says:

We raised teenage daughters who were close in age. Fiercely competitive with and loyal to each other. Great bit of writing here, Ellen.

Edit note:

I was also the one {that}(who) made them laugh and {the one that}(delete) covered everything up with a smile{,}(; or –) the storyteller the person who bought fun amidst the rigid rules.

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