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Archive for March, 2014

Gifting away control

March 21, 2014 3 comments

Last week Noreen, a long-time friend who is also an oldest daughter,  told me about an incident that happened while she was volunteering at a local hospice center.

She had walked into a patient’s room and was about to touch the woman’s arm to indicate caring and compassion.  But that’s when it occurred to her that the frail woman might not be comfortable with such a personal gesture. So instead of doing what comes naturally to her, my friend asked, “Would it be all right with you if I hold your hand?”  The patient nodded and seemed to appreciate the question.  A little later Noreen, who is also a former nurse, decided she’d try again.  “Does anything on your lunch tray look good? Would you like some help eating?” The woman responded affirmatively to  both.  Later, the patient was overheard telling the nurse in charge  she hoped “that volunteer” would come back again.

As I listened to this story, I realized my friend had given this person who is in the last stages of life a gift not usually thought of: the gift of control. Over how/if she would allow someone to touch her.  Over whether/what she wanted to eat.  Control.  It’s something obviously important to us from the time we protest at age two, “I do it myself.”  But a sense of control becomes even more important — and often scarce — for those among us who are emotionally, physically, or financially vulnerable.

We, as our families’ first-born females, are certainly familiar with the concept.  Growing up we were often charged with being in control of younger siblings.   As adults, we’ve often found ourselves being asked to take — or simply taking– control as caregivers or  leaders in various activities.  Sometimes (horrors!) we’ve even heard ourselves or oldest daughters, in general, described by colleagues and spouses as controllers.  Another word for bossy.

So what my friend did struck me as something we might take a lesson from.  Suppose we thoughtfully and voluntarily gave  more control to those with whom we share our lives — instead of automatically assuming we know what’s best for them or the best way to do whatever. Might there be both unexpected benefits and beneficiaries?

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Oldest daughters and the meaning of identity: an unexpected tale

March 11, 2014 2 comments

If I ever thought I was the only oldest daughter out there trying to get a handle on who my true self really is, Fannie Flagg has let me know I’m anything but that.  In her latest  novel, The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion, issues of self- and family-identity are front and center–interlaced with humor.

Flagg never comes right out and calls her principal characters  “oldest daughters,” but as readers learn,  each of them is the oldest child and first-born female in her family.

  • The primary protagonist, Sookie (Mrs. Earle) Poole, has one younger brother.    The expectations of Sookie were set early and often–to be a leader in society.  A traumatic revelation leads Sookie to challenge herself and what she’s always considered her fate: the obligation to live up to family expectations.
  • Fritzi Jurdabralinski, the heroine of Flagg’s story within a story, is the oldest of five children.  From early on, there’s no question that the leadership trait exists full-blown in her, as do the nurturing, protecting genes.
  • Lenore, the matriarch of the family is the oldest of the first-born females in this novel.  The mother of Sookie, she personifies the traits that many consider stereotypical of oldest daughters: take charge/bossy.

I find it difficult to believe  that a masterful writer like Flagg would create characters without carefully considering what attributes and personalities she’s giving them.  So why did she make each of three leading characters the oldest child/first-born female??? I googled Fannie Flagg to see if perhaps she, herself, is an oldest daughter.  No such information.

So I’m left to wonder:  Was it just happenstance that these  characters in Flagg’s latest novel are oldest daughters?

Or did Flagg know that readers would find her characters believable as leaders and risk-takers because they are oldest daughters?

Whatever — Have you read anything else in which the main character (heroine or villain) acts as she does because she’s an oldest daughter?