Professional Jealousy


I had no idea that when I put The Curmudgeon through law school 30 years ago, he’d morph into my toughest critic.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t read my blog.

It’s probably a good thing. I asked him to read my post about Mothers Against Drunk Driving because it contained some legal jargon and in his spare time, he’s an attorney. I was also looking for feedback because he tells me everyday how much he enjoys reading a sports columnist in our daily newspaper.

“Have you read his column?” he says, pulling out his article about University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie’s firing, and reading it to me word for word. “This guy is really amazing.”

It reminds me of listening to my grandmother brag about our cousins. I love them, but she insisted on carrying on about them when she was visiting us. It’s like dating a guy who talks about his ex-girlfriend, or a mother who brags endlessly about her children.

Growing up, we knew a family with three children – a biological son, an adopted daughter, and a biological younger daughter. I felt the adopted girl’s pain every time her mother carried on about her younger sister. I think everyone did. It was incessant, over the top and embarrassing. It taught me empathy at a young age, but more importantly that some adults are complete jackasses.

Kids notice when parents, grandparents and in-laws do this. And about the only thing it does is stir up feelings of jealousy and competitiveness. You end up resenting people who are the focus of incessant bragging, even though you realize it’s not their fault.

I didn’t have to worry about this because my parents didn’t talk about us. The last thing they wanted to do when they went out was talk about seven kids. I’m not even sure my mother knew that I played tennis in high school. Oh wait, she did. She sewed me a few tennis dresses, including a pale yellow one trimmed in white rick-rack. But outfits were as far as she went. She didn’t come to matches, nor did she ask if I won or lost.

She wasn’t my co-pilot; she was my mom. She was smart enough to know my victories or losses were not hers, that I had to learn to navigate the world on my own. We could all take a lesson from that generation. You can bet those moms weren’t receiving letters addressed to “co-pilots” from college admissions offices, as one of my sisters did last week.

We didn’t have to worry about my parents’ friends rolling their eyes hearing stories about us on Saturday nights. They did their thing, we did ours. We didn’t hang out with them on vacations – that’s the last thing any of us wanted. My parents socialized with the adults. We hung out with our three cousins and four “fake” cousins, kids of my father’s best friend.

There was a great divide between parents and kids, and we all liked it that way. Being away from adults gave us time to bond. Anyone with cousins knows what I’m talking about. It’s a unique relationship. You’re related, but you don’t live with each other so there are no fights.  You share the same grandparents on one side, but there’s a whole other side you know nothing about, nor do you much care. You always believe that your cousins like you better than their cousins on the other side. I’m pretty sure mine do.

Like many adults, I don’t see my cousins often enough. I’m not sure why that happens, but it does. Plans to get together are complicated by distance, work schedules and kids’ school and sports commitments. Nothing takes a bigger toll on family time than sports, particularly in high school with mandatory practices and benching for skipping. It’s unforgiving, a little like The Curmudgeon reading my piece.

He didn’t even get to the end of the first sentence when he began nitpicking. “Do you mean you drove drunk once when you were a teen-ager or more than once?” he asked. “I think maybe this is what you’re trying to say, or you should re-word it so it’s clearer.” “Are you sure this is the right word, because it doesn’t sound like it is.”

Two seconds later, he was asking for more information about a kid I mentioned, and clarifications about other statements. “Geez,” I thought. “Are you done yet?”

“I’m just acting like your old editor John. Think of me as John,” he said.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if John questioned my work like he did, I would have walked out on the first day. I’m pretty sure that nothing would get printed if attorneys were editors. This wasn’t a brief. It was a blog post whipped off in a fleeting moment of inspiration. If I didn’t publish it soon, it was destined to linger in my draft bin with more than 100 other unpublished posts.

He continued to read a few posts, saying nothing as he scrolled. He finally got up without a word. He doesn’t know it, but he’s a perfect follower. He didn’t say anything negative – just nothing at all. I don’t mind, but if I have to hear another word about that sports writer, I’m going to be really mad.