The clipboard incident

I find the search terms that people have used to find my blog absolutely fascinating. There have been a few phrases that have popped up recently involving anger towards siblings, with overt, fantasy, or implied violence. Which reminded me of this time…

Let’s just say that I’m a bit of an uptight perfectionist. I have the feeling that, like many of my other personality traits, I would have turned out this way regardless of Lily’s influence in my life. Being smart and an uptight perfectionist meant I was a serious student. When I was in high school, I had a course in United States history in which we were required to write summaries of each chapter in the textbook as we moved through the year’s curriculum. Smart as I was, I totally and completely missed the point of summarizing (which I didn’t truly master until my doctoral work) and essentially re-wrote each chapter. I now feel I should have lost many more points on these assignments than I did, but hey, it turns out that I am not so bad at memorizing stuff if I’ve rewritten it and imposed my style on it, so I aced the exams. (If I’m permitted a moment to brag, my scores were actually removed from the curve for my section, because they were so much higher than everyone else’s. I think that was my best non-science academic performance ever, and I’m proud of it.)

Hopefully this setup gives you, my dear readers, the ability to infer that trouble was brewing the night before the assignment was due when I had gotten somewhat behind…and I was asked to babysit Lily while our parents ran some errands. Lily was not in the best of moods that evening, and I was basically ignoring her in my efforts to do my work. I was sitting with her in our family room, thick textbook in my lap with my clipboard of papers on top. The clipboard had been a gift, part of a stationery set of the sort marketed to teenage girls – clear acrylic with a cute design in the middle. I rather liked it.

Anyways, I wasn’t being the most attentive sister/babysitter, and Lily’s continued yelling got on my nerves. The tension built…and built…and built, with each of us squawking and trying to get the other to respond. I wasn’t allowed to use phrases like “shut up” or to do anything more drastic than perhaps imposing a time-out, which I think was appropriate, even if I chafed against it a bit, and I wasn’t much interested in compromise or being mature or anything else reasonable. Ultimately, I got so pissed that I closed my book over my clipboard and threw the two items on the ground…

…so hard that the acrylic snapped into two pieces.

This scared the everloving hell out of me, of course. I had been far too close to wanting to hit or otherwise physically lash out at Lily, and the violence and magnitude of what I had done were a huge shock. I started crying and ran out of the room, up to the second story of our house and into my bedroom, unable to be in the room with Lily or the broken clipboard. I stayed there for a bit; I don’t remember anymore what happened with Lily, except that I was much more alert and responsive to her and much, much more cautious until my parents got home. I tried to tape my clipboard back together in such a way that I could still write on it, with moderate success and a huge amount of guilt and shame.

I know that typical older siblings also get warnings from parents not to hurt younger typical sibs. I had felt for years that it was unfair that I had to be so restrained around Lily, because I was a frequent target during her hair-pulling and pinching phases and resented greatly that I wasn’t allowed to retaliate, her disabilities be damned. The night of the clipboard incident was the night that I finally understood how important that stricture was and why it had been imposed on me. Even if Lily was (and is still) incredibly strong, tenacious, and had an uncanny ability to locate vulnerable spots, I was bigger and had better fine and gross motor skills and was capable of doing a lot more damage than I had previously understood.

That said, sometimes it’s still really hard not to feel the urge to simply smack her sometimes. I never do, and always am vigilent to eradicate such impulses (because I know better and am still bigger, with better coordination) while remembering that it’s okay to be mad at her. She does some really upsetting things, like screaming with an escalating voice pitch in order to get attention when not part of a dinner conversation, or throwing a basket of toys across the room, or sneaking up while you’re sitting on the couch, immersed in a book, to bite your foot – or worse yet, to do that to Mom. She sometimes does those things deliberately and almost always with zero understanding of what collateral damage and unintended consequences she might be causing while working towards her goal of the moment. As she becomes more independent of my parents, she’s going to do this kind of thing more and more often. But to stop myself from even acknowledging disappointment, anger, or other negative emotion doesn’t help any of us; it’s better to try to deal with it in an honest, healthy manner than to repress it.

I think that clipboard will haunt me forever.

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