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elder brother is jealous of a pile of gifts that are gifted to younger brother
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Small Talk: Agony of the ‘unbirthday’

Is there any agony like the agony of having to stand by and watch your sibling celebrate a birthday?

Not around our house. I have no recollection of being obnoxious and miserable when it was my brother’s birthday. Perhaps that is selective memory or perhaps it is because mine came first every year and was just two months before his.

In any case, around this family the angst and weltschmerz that the “unbirthday” sibling suffers seems to get worse every year. It begins with the first serious mention of a party and escalates through the planning, preparation, ecstatic day of and even a few days after the actual birthday (until the birthday child has grown adequately ho-hum about the new gifts).

Those gifts, by the way, could be an item completely contrary to their normal tastes, something my son or daughter wouldn’t even glance at in the toy store. But wrap that thing up, stick a bow on it and give it to their sibling and they will covet it ferociously enough to prompt another commandment.

My two, with birthdays conveniently placed about six months apart, refuse to give any credence to my obvious explanation about how the other fella felt when it wasn’t his birthday. Not even the tiniest sliver of how they felt on their birthday can be mustered to ease the pain of watching mom shop for party favors, bake cakes, wrap gifts and so forth, for “the other guy.”

We used to get by with a little “birthday brother” or “birthday sister” gift to be opened during the festivities. A coloring book, a small toy or book would do the trick. As we hit 5 and 6, that scarcely made a ripple. This year, my daughter began bargaining for her “birthday sister” gift in advance and the only thing that would ease the impending shock and pain were major, brand-name items. Consequently, the shock and pain are here to stay. I can barely afford the time or expense of one birthday at a time. I have no intention of letting if officially escalate into a birthday and a half.

I briefly felt guilty that I might have been doing too much for each one, making the sense of being left out more acute. After examining my conscience, however, I find I do far less than many moms in my circle. Our birthday parties have always been held at home and generally are limited to ice cream and cake, with a fun theme, maybe some water play, but no traditional games. We have not gotten around to Chuck E. Cheese, G. Wilikers, Discovery Zone or even the local park or beach. We have not had a sleep-over, cranked up piñatas, rented a bouncy house or a pony or put in a pool.

Still, the attitude I got from my daughter for half of June and all of July was pitiful. Her memory simply would not call up the joy of last December, when she had a life-sized Candyland game in her front room. She did not remember that she has twice the number of guests her brother got this year, hence twice the loot.

I took her to shop for party favors, hoping that would make her feel less put upon. Instead, she perceived inequity between her favors and his. The fact that it was all purchased at the Dollar Store was lost on her. I let her lick the icing bowl from his cake preparation, hoping that would tip the oh-so-sensitive scales in her favor, but the minute I handed her brother a beater to lick, the slate was wiped clean again.

I know I can’t win. It is clear I should quit worrying about the whole problem. If I can learn to tune out the endless whining, I should just let this whole syndrome be a chapter in their book or something they tell their psychiatrist 20 years from now.

But I plan to get his name and demand equal time.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who still loves birthdays anyway. Contact her at [email protected]