second banana

Caleb is the little brother, the youngest, the baby.  His older brother, who isn’t very tall, nevertheless casts a long, long shadow: Liam almost always gets the top honor, the award, the prize. True, Liam’s competitive spirit would make Napoleon nervous, but–maternal boasting aside–Liam is both talented and a ridiculously hard worker.

Wait. See what happened?

I started this post about Caleb and just spent almost four sentences talking about Liam, who of course can’t help the shadow he casts; he’s just doing his thing. I do wonder what it’s like for Caleb, though, growing up in that long shadow.  How does he find his own light?

A long time ago, a nursery school teacher told me that Caleb had a Luca Brasi problem–too willing to be second banana, too willing to go along with the alpha dog, even if he “knows better”–and her comment has stuck with me.  Perhaps that’s not surprising–I mean, probably anyone would remember having her not-yet-in-kindergartener be compared to a Mafia hit man, right?

Caleb had been disappointed earlier this year when he wasn’t selected for a speaking role in the Year Four play (Liam was, of course, chosen for a role in the Year Seven play even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it); Caleb wasn’t chosen for “development squad” at soccer (promising kids from each age bracket are chosen for an extra skills/scrimmage session – Liam has been picked every term).  And while Liam sails on, frequently oblivious to his younger brother, Caleb wants only Liam’s attention and approval.  Sometimes it seems as if that long-ago teacher is right: maybe Caleb will be happiest as a wing man rather than a pilot.  Perhaps that’s a good thing: the world needs happy wing men and fewer pilot wannabes.

Or maybe Caleb is just a bit like the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” who felt immediately braver when the Wizard gave him a medal for his courage during the battle with the Wicked Witch of the West.  The other day, the soccer coaches gave out their end-of-term awards and Caleb got “Player of the Term” from his coach:


The award is only a plexiglass triangle, but to Caleb it sparkles like crystal–if he’d buttons on his jersey, they would’ve popped with pride. Maybe this trophy will give Caleb the little confidence booster he needs so that he’s less willing to take the back seat.

Of course, the first thing he said after he showed me his award: “I can’t wait to tell Liam.”  Does that mean that he needs Liam’s approval to seal his achievement? Or is he wanting to challenge his brother’s supremacy (Liam has gotten this award three times)?

I’m not sure. But I do wonder if Luca Brasi had an older brother.

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7 Responses to second banana

  1. Dick Horwich March 24, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    What a great picture!
    Dick Horwich recently posted..TO MOOC OR NOT TO MOOC?My Profile

  2. Grace @ Sandier Pastures March 25, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I am the eldest of six siblings. I have four brothers after me and then our youngest sister. My sister and I have this 13 years age gap (talk about the real generation gap!). You’d think there will be no sibling rivalry because of that number of years but no, when she was in grade school and I was already in Japan studying university, she would point out each and every achievement she makes with, “I bet my older sister didn’t do that!” or “Mama, I am better than her right? Right?”

    She was always proving herself even if my tall shadow already left! How hard it must be to be the younger sibling?
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    • Deborah Quinn March 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

      Wow, what a great–albeit somewhat painful – story. I think Liam wonders why his brother can’t leave him alone because, of course, for Liam, there’s not much sense of competition (12 is pretty much always going to beat 8), but for Caleb, yep, there’s that shadow. How did your parents handle this situation, if they did anything at all? I read somewhere that sibling relationships are even more important, in terms of social development, than relationships with parents or other “grownups.” I confess (from one “oldest” to the other) that I’m glad I came first: so much less to prove!!

  3. Ruth March 25, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    I’m not sure it’s all down to birth order. Part of it is the kid’s own temperament. My oldest nephew (now almost 19) is a lone wolf type; my next nephew, four years younger, is totally alpha dog both to his younger sisters and brother and in school (when he was in playgroup, still in diapers, other boys would bring him offerings of “cute bugs”).

    • Deborah Quinn March 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      I do think, yes, it’s partly personality – and then again, personality is shaped at least in part by context, isn’t it? It’s a tough call…and oddly, in part b/c he’s happy as the wing-man (an expression I use without knowing fully where it comes from), Caleb is in many ways easier to get along with than his brother. Dammit! See, there I go, comparing them again.
      I do love your story about your nephew & would like very much to know (albeit from a distance) what constitutes a “cute bug.”

  4. Arnebya March 26, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    I agree with Ruth. Part of it may just be inherent to Caleb. He may eventually tire of searching for Liam’s congratulations or affections; perhaps they will age and Liam will share how proud he has always been of Caleb’s accomplishments. Maybe that’s not important to Caleb at all. What I do know is that as the youngest of three girls, I never had any amount of competition with my sisters. Each of us is three years apart so there’s six years between the oldest and me. As long as you know you aren’t comparing them and each has his own accomplishments that you acknowledge but don’t favor one for the other, I’d say you’re good and Caleb will be fine.
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    • Deborah Quinn March 27, 2013 at 12:14 am #

      I work really really hard to avoid comparing them–particularly out loud to one another, of course–but thoughts…the thoughts run through my head! Awful but probably inevitable, and I think, yes, harder to avoid b/c they’re both boys. There’s more overlap in what they do–younger brother wants to do what big brother does, although we keep suggesting other possibilities. I suppose it will all be all right in the end–but every now and then I get a pang watching #2 trying to keep up with #1.

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