Sibling rivalry

Birth order — and age differences — matter as we move through different stages of life

I am what was once called a “change of life” baby, as my mother was 38 years old and nearing menopause when I was born. She had already reared three children and was tired out.

Her method of dealing with yet another child was to indulge me simply to keep me quiet.

I, of course, took full advantage and became a bratty little princess who was used to getting her way.

My two sisters had the dreaded chore of babysitting me. Adeline, who was the eldest in the family and 14 years older than me, soon married and moved away. Betty — age 9 when I arrived — bore the brunt of it.

And they never let me forget it!

Even years later, after I’d grown up and gone out into the world and fended for myself, whenever Adeline, Betty and I were together, they cast a certain air of superiority over me.

My friend Michael Kearny, a retired psychologist, described my place this way: “Carol, being the youngest and having two much-older sisters, was like an only child with three mothers. Betty, who was the youngest of the sisters, was ‘dethroned’ by the arrival of Carol, so she was envious to boot.”

This motherly status was never clearer than when we three would go for a drive in the countryside near our home town. Betty and Adeline invariably sat in the front seat of the car, talking endlessly to each other, occasionally tossing a question to me in the back seat, but not really listening to my answer.

I was unable to command their attention even after I’d become an airline stewardess, and had what I considered fascinating stories of my travels to share.

Instead, Betty seemed a bit hostile hearing that I’d gone off to Paris for a weekend, using an airline pass, or had a four-day trip layover in Scotland. I thought Adeline would be pleased that I — having prompted the pilots to point it out — had seen clearly from the air her very own home town.

But it didn’t seem to impress her at all.

Indeed, it mattered not what exciting experience I related to my sisters. They’d just give me the “Oh, that’s nice,” brushoff and go right back to their conversation — that is, until I told them Paul Newman had been a passenger on one of my flights!

Betty and Adeline each had a daughter. Today, the three of us often go out to lunch.

Eerily, it’s déjà vu “all over again:” They talk endlessly to one another, largely ignoring me. Go figure?

Also due to my later birth, I’ve become the family matriarch. Every older relative of mine has passed on. I’m left with a large assortment of nephews and nieces, including greats and great-greats, of various ages, some who I babysat when they were little.

I’m trying — really trying — to treat each of these individuals as an adult, but it isn’t easy!