Monday, May 23, 2011


Alex has always felt really close to both of us.  I've always felt really close to Danielle. My mother treated us like twins - even though there was the same age difference between all three, Dani and I were treated as equals and Alex was the baby. But Danielle has never really felt close like we have. She's always wanted to be alone, doing her own thing. She didn't want to move in with Josh. She wants to go away for college, even though it's only free if she stays within the city. To go somewhere else, she'll have to get scholarships. Big ones. Dani has always viewed me as the popular one, Alex as the cute baby, and herself as the nerd. Even though she's totally popular. She's just popular AND nerdy. You can be both, and Danielle definitely is.

On Saturday she told me she got into an Italian immersion camp. That's sleepaway. In Italy. Not only that but she got a scholarship for it. She never even told me she wanted to go to Italian camp! I'm proud of her for beating out hundreds of other kids to get it, but I'm also pissed. Danielle barely works. Now she wants to go to fucking CAMP for the summer? Summer is the best time to earn a lot of money. It's not like she'll work in Italy - Dani will flit around with other high schoolers improving her Italian. Josh tried to point out at least it's Italian and not Spanish, but still.

The only reason Dani even told me is because she wants me to help her get a passport. Screw that. She can pay for it herself.


Abby said...

Let her go and don't make a big deal out of it. This is the kind of thing that a) usually only comes around once, b) she'll resent the rest of her life if she doesn't get to go, and c) on balance, is worth a lot more than whatever she'd earn this summer. Also, it's a link to your family for her, probably. Try not to be mad.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are confronting something most parents deal with sooner or later with a teen (or younger child). Danielle is different than you are. She has a different sense of responsibility for the family finances and she's comfortable with a level of independence that differs from yours.

Try not to take it personally that she's making different choices than you would in her shoes. If you can, try to celebrate her strength and independence and congratulate her for pursuing her interests.

On the other hand - if you have a specific need of her. Say: a fixed contribution to the family finances, a set amount of time/support for Alex, a limit on how far away she can go to college, you should articulate those needs. And insomuchas you are her guardian (I think you are..) you can make such demands on her. "We need you to contribute $XX to the family income this year. If you can accommodate your trip to Italy and still make that happen, then you are free to go."

Just be careful. As Abby says above, you have a long-term relationship with her to consider. (Like any parent who forces him/herself to take a measured response to a teen's independence...) Do your best to separate your own "needs" of Danielle from your "wants" of her. Because she's going to grow up to be her own person and will remember the care you took in letting her be free to make her own choices (and mistakes).

Sounds challenging.. good luck!

Anonymous said...

Abby has it occurred to you that sam needs dani to work because they need the money? or she needs the help with taking care of alex who acts like a big baby? i highly doubt sam wants to say no just to be a bitch.

OTRgirl said...

I like the idea of figuring out what the budget needs to be and what her contribution to the family needs to be in order for you to feel comfortable with letting her go. If her overall goal is to get a scholarship to an out-of-town college, this will help a great deal.

Anonymous said...

I think this is something to discuss with your therapist. I think part of it (your reaction) falls under the anger issue.

Anonymous said...

Of course you are angry. And jealous. And frightened. At Danielle's age, you were already working all the hours you could to support yourself and your sisters. You didn't get to go on any such summer program. And you realize that if Danielle can get herself into and get a scholarship for this language immersion camp she is capable of attaining her goal of going away to college.

All your feelings are valid and understandable. It isn't fair.

But you are you and Dani is Dani. You've sometimes stated in the past when asked how you feel about having to be the head of your family that it's just the way it is. It's also just the way it is that Dani has a little more freedom than you've had.

You can't stand in her way. This is an incredible opportunity. It really hurts to work hard for and be granted an opportunity like this and not be allowed to take it. Though her summer income will be lost, if it's a free ride it isn't going to cost much besides incidentals for Dani to go, and you'll save on household expenses while she's away.

Still, she does need to start taking some more responsibility for your little family. Things should be easier for you now that Danielle is old enough to share the load. Remind her gently how much you were doing at her age to take care of her and Alex and to plan for all of your futures. Tell her that you will be expecting her to contribute more to the household expenses in the next year. If you are still helping her out with her own personal expenses, tell her you will need to be doing less of that too.

Tell Danielle that if she pays for her passport and all other related costs herself, and she comes up with a plan for earning money for her own needs and the needs of the family over the next year, and she will call you every day while she is away, than she can go.

And tell her how you feel! Tell Dani that you are angry and jealous and frightened, but you are also excited for her and proud of her! Tell her that you will miss her.

And maybe you'll help her apply for the passport, even though she'll pay the fee. And maybe when she is leaving you'll slip her a twenty, just to be a nice big sister.

Danielle isn't just stating what she wants but is going after it and making it happen. That's impressive and mature and should be a relief to you.

While it won't yield immediate financial benefits, fluency in a foreign language will make Danielle more marketable as far as both scholarships and job opportunities are concerned, putting her in a position to be more of a financial help to the family.

And you really don't want Danielle to resent you. A resentful sister won't be happy about contributing to the household expenses, will be more eager to get away, will be less willing to look after Alex when you are away, and so forth.

And it could be good to have it be just you and Alex for long stretches over the summer.

You love Danielle and you want the best for her. Feeling her pulling away from you is difficult. It stinks you didn't get to have a similar amazing opportunity and instead have to bear so much of your family's burden, but please don't stand in the way of this for Dani.

And while it wouldn't be exactly the same, you can start thinking about a short session abroad during your remaining college years, to Italy or elsewhere. You could get scholarships too, and your existing scholarships might cover the tuition costs if you do it through CUNY, similar to however you'd orchestrate paying for summer credits. If Danielle is legally an adult, she can look after Alex, and if you let her go to Italy this summer, she won't feel resentful when your times comes, and if she does follow through on contributing more to household expenses, then you all will be more easily able to afford the loss of your income for a month or whatever.

And, you know, it is actually respectful that Danielle seeks your permission for this -- she could just decide to leave.

Nina said...

I get why you have mixed feelings about this. And I don't want to read too much into things or make you feel misunderstood, but here's what I think, for whatever it's worth (or not).

This is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience for Dani that could have a positive impact on the rest of her life and her future career. And the fact that she made it happen and pursued it independently is pretty awesome (like you said).

It sounds like even though you two were treated equally by your mother, you've obviously taken on a really different role in the family than Dani has since your mother's death. And it's natural that with you carrying the lion's share of responsibility, you feel upset when your sisters don't carry their weight. I didn't have anything like the burden you do, but I'm the oldest sibling of three and I felt similarly all the time. Still do, sometimes. But, at the same time, you were thrust into a really unusual situation at a very young age and, in a way, you've made it possible for them to have a very different adolescence than you had.

That said, it seems totally reasonable (and right) that you would expect them to contribute to the family expenses at their age. When you say that Dani hardly works - what does that mean? Does she hardly work because her schoolwork takes up too much time or could she spend more of her "free" time working? This seems like part of a larger conversation about the sacrifices you make for your sisters and their lack of contributions to the family (like sharing cooking responsibilities).

Mizasiwa said...

I wrote a lovely comment - and blogger ate it!! Anyway i just wanted to say well done on putting your foot down. The problem with being the oldest is that were programmed (most of us anyway) to plan for everything and make sure all the bases are covered. for some reason younger siblings miss this vital life lesson. iv been waiting around for the last ten years for my siblings to become just like me - responsible! and although one of them has, sort of they are not like me at all. this has caused huge fights between us becouse i want them to take the load off me every now and then but i realised that i put this responsibility on myself when id didnt give them their own responsibility. while i appreciate this is a lovely opportunity for your sister - she knew it would upset you and thats why she didn't tell you. Thats not fair. you plan so much in advance we all know this about you so i hope that this all works out but im glad your making her do this on her own.

Mizasiwa said...

Im just wondering why Dani's "big 'once' in a lifetime opportunity" should become your responsibilty? Youve done an amazing job Sam. I think that she needs a slight reality adjustment? Maybe its time for that hard conversation - budgets going forward plans for all of you - even Alex? Not to say you cant do this but i think it would be nice if you could have an open conversation about all of this.

Anonymous said...

First, I think it is great that Dani received a scholarship to a camp abroad. Maybe it will work out for her to go, maybe not. Either way, congratulations to her for applying and getting a scholarship. It is always good to try and work for, and achieve, what we want in life.

It sounds like you are mad about 2 different things. First, the money. Second, that Dani is very independent and maybe (?) that makes you feel like she doesn't love you as much as you love her....or that she doesn't feel the same obligation to the family as you do.

The first issue you guys definitely have to work out in terms of having a financial plan. A lot of other posters have given good advice on tat.

The second issue....well...that is just one of those things. The people that make up families have different ideas about family, different personalities, and different needs and desires. And, no one, not even the oldest child (or the parents) can force other people in the family to accept their view of the family and how close it should be, how much "secrets" should be shared, how involved everyone gets to be in each other's business, etc. That isn't to say everyone shouldn't have to hold up their end of the responsibilities, just that the emotional tenor and boundaries of a family are not drawn by one person but rather are a constantly shifting landscape that is created by everyone involved.

Suzy said...

Let her go but make her read a least one book on how to network with people before she goes. She'll likely think you're being ridiculous but she will meet all sorts of folks with all sorts of connections at a camp like this. If she's going to do it, we want everyone involved to be glad she did later on!

Suzy said...

Let her go but make her read a least one book on how to network with people before she goes. She'll likely think you're being ridiculous but she will meet all sorts of folks with all sorts of connections at a camp like this. If she's going to do it, we want everyone involved to be glad she did later on!