Mom’s Tattling Policy Meant You Never Had To Say You Were Sorry
Our mother had a unique way of handling her daughters telling on one another; she simply believed that the tattler should be punished. This benefited me but not my sister – Susan couldn’t get her head around the unfairness of it all, she was the offended one yet she had to pay for my indiscretions. I loved the anti-tattler policy and on occasions used it to its fullest advantages. Susan refused to stop telling on me, she kept thinking that the terrible things that I did to her would soften my mother’s heart and she would punish the guilty instigator. She pleaded her case like a state prosecutor but to no avail – my mother could not be swayed. These were basically the only times that Susan ever got assigned time in the corner and she acted like she was sentenced to hard time. She would bawl her little eyes out at the indignity of the whole thing, yet she didn’t want to miss too much playing time with her untrustworthy sister. Go figure.
I wasn’t that terrible, I mean I asserted my rights as older sibling and rightful heir to all toys and first dibs to taste any cookies or candy offered by an adult. I chose the story, the TV show, cartoons, crayons and dolls. I chose when Susan could choose first. She chose when to move out of my bedroom and I chose when to let her back in after several weeks of whining and constant pleading. “I will never play with you, talk to you, draw with you, ride bikes with you … ever again,” played to Susan’s fear of being lonely. She actually believed that she would become invisible to me if she didn’t do whatever I asked of her. She cried her eyes out until I relented and we resumed our play, after all, who else was there to play with close at hand?
One day Susan was being stubborn and wouldn’t do as she was told which led to sharp words and some shoving and I pushed her off the twin bed into the sliding closet door. It popped out of its track and I accused her of being fat and breaking it without any way of fixing it and that Mom would know and that she’d be in big trouble. Little Susan howled with genuine umbrage at the lopsided injustice and after a suitable period of time sulking she readjusted her feelings forgave my misdeeds and blame. Friends again, Susan helped me fix the closet door so that Mom wouldn’t find out we had been fighting. Uncle John aided and abetted our behind the scene lives and probably knew far more about our closeness and rare fights than any other adult in our world. It was he that consoled Susan when she was banished from my room for being too self-righteously pious, too goody-goody, a big pain in my …
Another time Susan was starving but we couldn’t snack between meals so I naturally thought why not tell her that dog biscuits were tasty and that kids ate dog bones all the time. I couldn’t believe Susan was that hungry she would eat anything, that nothing seemed disgusting to her sensibilities. When mom found her munching on dog biscuits while watching TV Susan tattled her that I had told her to eat them when she was hungry. My mother gave me a withering look and ordered Susan to the corner and then moved the dog biscuit bag to a higher shelf in the closet. I think that her tattling policy was supposed to hinge on remorse felt by the wrongful party (me) which would lead to moral feels of guilt and compassion toward the wronged party (my sister). Sure, I knew right from wrong (I just had a large gray area and believed in pushing the envelope), but I couldn’t help from manipulating situations to my advantage especially when I was rewarded for being so creative.
My mother waited until after I had graduated from college to ask me why I thought I was passed on class after class in elementary school when my grades didn’t support advancement. (Thanks Mom, way to reenforce that I had been such a loser!) My peers wondered this at the time too, and weren’t subtle about it either. I never wondered because I didn’t care. My teachers didn’t seem thrilled to see me each September but then again I wasn’t too excited to be their classrooms. The only one excited to go to schoolevery day in any weather was my sister and she was rewarded by being the teacher’s pet. I never held this against her, her drive for achievement amused me, I’d been playing school with her ever since I went to kindergarten and she did extremely well with rote exercises. I disliked rote learning and responded better using my imagination and with fixing things. I had little patience with slow readers that dragged down my reading groups and busy work just tipped me over the edge. I loathed SRA self correction time fillers and it was for that reason I never was first or even 15th turning in any assignments. I had the teacher’s routine and triggers figured out pretty early in the school year to be able to breeze through with little effort – which was what my mother was asking me about after graduation: why wasn’t I ever retained because I had certainly deserved to be according to all indications?
It turned out that I had the highest IQ test score of my class, of the school even, higher than Lee’s score, a notable student and a measure all other students (except me) measured themselves against. I was a grade school genius but acted like a future highschool drop-out. What I would have done with this information (which was exactly why I had never been told – I guess I was more obvious than I thought!) if I had it when I was in fifth grade and Mrs. F____ asked me to call out my spelling dictation test grade so she could record it in her grade book. She couldn’t even be bothered to get out of her seat to collect the tests from each row, or even ask a student helper to collect the tests. 43, I said softly. What? she said, raising her voice. Every face now turned in my direction as I said 43 a little louder. I can’t hear you, you’ll have to speak up, she called out. This caused the boys to snicker, so I defiantly said 43 just a little louder. The teacher knew she was in a stand-off and that by the time she recorded my 43 she knew she lost. The 43 became a token grade, that even though it was the lowest, or near lowest, my self-esteem was increased because I had stood up to her bullying and degrading methods.
My feistyness bewildered my classmates, they couldn’t figure me out which made them uncomfortable and I wasn’t invited into their social circles too often. Feisty was my middle name, I was tall and stood up for myself – in all honesty I was passive-aggressive but my classmates didn’t know this. Plus, I never did any homework and put off projects to the last-minute. My firstand last names were never erased from the blackboard throughout the entire 3rd grade school year, kids made sure to clean the board around my name leaving it emblazoned forever in my memory. The only thing I learned that year was that the The Wizard of Oz had been filmed in color – I had a black and white TV at home just like 97% of the other students and faculty – but Ursula watched it on her color TV and informed the class that the munchkins had greenish skin and that Dorothy’s shoes were red. I also learned about social class distinctions that year (haves vs. have-nots) which was not 3rd grade curriculum even though that’s what put the public in public school. I struggled with new math and speaking French, but mostly I failed to thrive. I wasn’t challenged until 6th grade and by that time it was almost too late, what saved me was Mark Twain’s essays, Frye School and Mr. Le Clair. I shared my frustrations with my sister and to her credit she didn’t laugh at me or run and tell mom, she helped me soldier on.
Sure, I took advantage of my sister’s innocence, it would have been just plain wrong not to, and I needed someone to do things that I didn’t want to be caught doing. And, more importantly, I had to make it so my sister would offer to do things for me to keep up the goodwill – we needed each other – I inspired her imagination and she was the buffer between me and my mother. Susan’s need for fairness often broke the strain of our mother’s silent treatment directed at me – Susan would intervene on my behalf and try to convince my mother that even though I was a bad girl I had redeemable qualities. Susan was the peacemaker and my assigned role was troublemaker, this didn’t change until I left for college, leaving Susan on her own to fill my shoes. Susan wasn’t prepared to handle both roles set up by my mother, after all she had never been a real bad girl.
When Susan and I were on the same page and I wasn’t too bossy, our relationship was rosy and we were up to our old tricks. I looked out for Susan and made sure that she knew I would take the heavy consequences if caught. We were a good twosome, Susan would eat the parts of my sandwich that I refused to eat, loved to wash dishes to my wiping them, loved cooking with mom to my gardening and mowing with dad. She was yin to my yang, my petty-thief-in-training and excellent lookout, we had a whole black market secret world going on for us that no adult was even aware of, especially our mother. Susan was Bat Girl to my Cat Women. Pretty good, huh? Oh, and Susan finally gave up her need to tell on me, my mother’s tattling policy was corrected and revised when our brother was born … but that’s another story.