Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Tale of Two Houses

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and, oddly enough, it was the exact same time.

They have been talking about siblings on NPR and I was just thinking about my own two brothers and one sister and I always think about how different we all are...NOT so much in political views or economically or intellectually…but in our general outlook on life.

My brother and I grew up in a cheerful house where we would all hang out together in the first floor kitchen and dining room which was one big open space with a beautiful old brick floor and a huge fire place on the far wall. We would all be together at the big dining room table doing projects or making snacks or pondering over homework while my mother would either be smoking and drinking coffee with her friends or throwing together some barely edible meal—cooking was not one of her creative outlets. Neighbors—both adults and kids were constantly in and out of the kitchen. They would stop by for a cup of coffee and chat and to see what was going on.

My eldest brother and my sister grew up in place that was bleaker than a Dickensian orphanage . It is not that my brother and I were adopted by some kind couple and the other two siblings were left to the demise of our real troll parents, but rather it was just perspective—we lived in the same house with the same parents at the same time.

My sister and eldest brother saw our childhood as one long, painful trial that we just managed to squeak through with our bodies and sanity intact. The ancient house’s heat never worked on the upper floors—we were forced to be in on the first floor together near the fireplace. We had to make our own fun because we never had huge color TVs or vacations in Disneyland like other families. People cluttered the house…commenting and budding in with their opinions on everything that we did.

To my brother and me—our house was warm and cozy and full of life. To my sister and eldest brother—it was a place of non-stop annoyance…cold and drafty and crowded with people.

In my younger years when I lived in Manhattan I went to a therapist, like all true New Yorkers. My therapist explained that it is often the case that siblings grow up in the exact same house but with completely different experiences. “ It is purely personal perceptions.” she said—“Both realities are true.”

I worried when I was pregnant—what if our child did not like us and found our lifestyle depressingly dull? So far my fears have been unfounded. The Beast’s default setting seems to be bubbling over with happiness. She sings in the shower, giggles with her friends, chuckles over computer videos, chatters happily with the cats and acts out an endless stream of stories for us.

I am not sure if you can ever change a person’s default setting from a gray outlook on life into one that is in 1950’s Technicolor, but I am sure with the right combination of mood elevating drugs and regular exercise that perceptions can change.

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