Recently a previously undiagnosed condition in my husband resulted first in our trip to the emergency room and subsequently to his admission to the hospital.
About two hours after our arrival at the E.R., I looked up to see my youngest sister walking toward me. She is a physician, but it’s not her professional position (though her explanations of what was being done and why were invaluable) that created the sense of total well-being when I saw her. It was her family position: my sister was there with and for me.
That sense was then repeated a few hours later, when — after my husband was admitted to the hospital for stabilization and further testing — I saw a second of my three sisters and her husband approaching. What made this startling was the fact that she had just had serious back surgery the week before. When I told her how great it was to see her, but questioned what on earth she was doing, making the 45-minute drive it took to get there, she said “There was never any question about what we’d do. We’re here for both of you.”
Moments later it was a third sister’s turn (the one with a definite dislike of hospitals) to appear and wrap her arms around me.
The support of all three of them remained constant throughout the several days required to provide my husband with, thankfully, a thumbs-up resolution.
I’ve been an oldest daughter since I was four years old. Even as a little girl, I felt like the “protector” for my four younger siblings. Except for one occasion a few years ago when my much larger brother enveloped me in a sudden, virtual bear hug — allowing myself to feel like “the protected” is a turned-around experience for me. I’m cherishing it.
When oldest daughters get together, we often talk about situations in which we are expected — or expect of ourselves — to take care of our birth family’s needs. My husband’s recent hospitalization has created a shift in my assumptions.
Have you experienced any incident that created a change in your relationship as oldest daughter with your own siblings?
Maybe you’ve seen the auto-insurance commercial about a younger fellow with long hair and a stocking cap who has just rear-ended an older, business-suited man’s car. In exchanging insurance information, the two discover that they share not only the same company, but the same agent. “It’s like we’re connected,” observes the younger man with zen-like pleasure. “No, we’re not,” protests the other, obviously not liking that idea at all. But as the younger man’s facial expression points out, there’s no denying it.
In somewhat the same way, the “accident” of being born the first female in our families is a connector that’s not always or immediately apparent.
It’s been surprising to me to realize the number of oldest daughters in my life.
- My first housemates after college were all oldest daughters. So were the four of us who subsequently shared an apartment.
That common characteristic was not realized, I’m fairly sure, at the time. But it’s continued to be a fact in the people with whom I find myself associating.
- Four out of the five women in my writer’s group are first-born females.
- Six out of the eight women in the movie group my husband I belong to are oldest daughters.
- The majority of my close friends, business associates and colleagues in education fall in the same category.
In none of these situations has our family position been identified or discussed beforehand. But our similar experiences, expectations, resulting feelings and personality traits have come to light in the course of conversations.
It’s those common connections that led me several years ago to begin researching this topic. As one person I interviewed told me, “It’s like at some level we simply recognize each other.”
How do you see it?
You may be familiar with “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” a hit recording by James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks. The lyrics, written by Troy Johnson and Marshall Morgan, explain “you gotta dance when the world doesn’t make sense…you gotta loosen up those chains and dance.”
One of those “some days” is February 14, 2013. That’s the day when the organization One Billion Rising is inviting one billion women and those who love us to “walk out, dance, rise up” in protest of the violence against women.
According to the stats, one in three women will be raped and/or beaten in her lifetime.
Two months ago, people around the world were horrified by the because-they-could, repeated rape/murder by six men of 23 year old “Damini” on a public bus in New Delhi, India. Then last month a second second, similar rape took place on public transportation. The audacity of these rapes made headlines. The commonplaceness of rape does not.
Now you are invited, encouraged, urged to help put an end to this violence. To come together on February 14 in planned flash mobs/dances to show “our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders” in demanding an end to the violence against women.
For those of us who are oldest daughters, it’s something we’ve traditionally been asked to do — to protect, nurture, be responsible for those not (or not yet) capable of caring for themselves.
For more information about the event, the organization and where and how you can participate, go to onebillionrising.org .
See you on the 14th. I’ll be at the event taking place at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. Wherever you are, I hope you’ll be dancing too.
Today is a proud day for all Americans. As frequently noted, Inauguration Day celebrates the peaceful transition/continuation of power that is a hallmark of American freedom. Today is also a proud day for us as oldest daughters. As I was watching the coverage of the ceremony on television, I couldn’t help noticing the number of notable women who are the first-born females in their families. Here’s a partial listing –
First Lady Michelle Obama
Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden
Former First Lady Rosalind Carter
Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan
And the above is just a partial listing. The number of oldest daughters taking part in the highest echelons of our nation’s leadership is a phenomenon worth scrutinizing and maximizing.
What do you make of it? Do you notice a pull toward leadership in your own life? In your family, job, career, or community?
In both real time and reel time, three royal ladies currently reign supreme in commanding attention on both sides of the Atlantic: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton; and Lady Mary Crawley of PBS’s Downton Abbey.
The House of Windsor and PBS conferred their royal titles according to English law and tradition. However, it could be said a higher power bestowed another title on each* of them first, one that is literally a birthright — that of Oldest Daughter.
Leave it to the fiction writers, not the historians, to spell out what that means. From the PBS Masterpiece Theatre website: Mary is “a highly capable woman of deep compassion. But make no mistake about it. Mary remains the eldest daughter, with all attendant privileges and pressures.”
Mary will inherit Downton according to the English law of primogeniture–the right of the first born to inherit the ancestor’s estate. So far the fictional family has accepted this as the way things are. But I can’t help wondering if Mary’s younger sibs, Lady Ethel or Lady Sybil, will ever challenge her privileges. Or will Mary’s changing circumstances result in feelings that her siblings should be sharing the various pressures affecting the family? For those answers, we’ll have to stay tuned.
Meanwhile, back on this side of the pond, primogeniture is not the law. But how many of us feel we’ve had more privileges and opportunities just because we are oldest daughters? Or how many of us have complained that as adults we’ve inherited more than our reasonable share of family responsibilities? I can’t help wondering also how our real-life siblings would answer those questions.
* Queen Elizabeth had one younger sister, Princess Margaret, who died in 2002; the Duchess of Cambridge is older sister to Pippa Middleton; and Lady Mary has two fictional younger sisters.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?“
That line from the perennial New Year’s Eve anthem, Auld Lang Syne (old long since), brought to mind a recent incident — one I’m betting many of you are familiar with. A woman came up to me at a holiday gathering and stood directly in front of me. After a moment or two, she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” Before I could stammer a reply, another person fortunately stepped up with holiday greetings, and the first woman melted into the surrounding group. Unfortunately, I never saw her again and still have not figured out who she was. But the incident started me thinking. What auld acquaintances have I forgotten that ought to be brought to mind?
I thought of my auld-est acquaintances — my self and my siblings. We’re all adults now. What do I, as the oldest daughter in my family need to bring to mind to renew or keep what is best in these auld relationships? And so…
My New Years Resolutions for 2013:
Love my (whole) self. Avoid multi-tasking. Enjoy the individual moments.
Show and tell my siblings they are important to me. Affirm their individual strengths. Wait to give my opinion until/unless I’m asked. Throw out any grudge that wants to steal this new year.
Take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.
It is Christmas morning. In our living room, the Scotch pine is laden with individual icicles glistening in the glow of multi-colored lights. Just in front of the tree are two toy strollers, each carrying a curly-haired baby doll. Seeing them, my three- and four-year old sisters squeal, “Santa came! Santa came!” My mom looks over and winks at me. We’ve been successful conspirators.
At age eight I’d been entrusted with keeping the identity of Santa secret; and I had even gotten to help pick out the strollers! I felt big and important. And I liked the feeling I experienced seeing my little sisters’ excitement.
I’ve thought of that Christmas morning in watching news stories about Secret Santa or Ann Curry’s “26 Acts of Kindness” Campaign and the joy brought to unexpecting recipients of such generosity.
I was too young to realize at age eight what every Secret Santa knows — that there’s more joy in giving than in receiving.