When Being Smart Becomes A Burden

Our oldest has an intellect well beyond his 10 years. He absorbs details with little effort and I can’t remember the last time he DIDN’T achieve high honors. But sometimes I forget that he’s still a kid.

Mood music:

He likes to tell us he’s a tween. To that, I tell him he’s more like a half tween.

But he is mighty mature for his age, nothing like the immature, messed up kid I was at 10. I’m proud as hell of him for that, but I think I sometimes put to much pressure on him as a result.

We spend a lot of time working with Duncan to manage his ADHD. Making matters more complicated, Duncan recently broke his arm, which means even more attention for the younger brother.

I sometimes wonder if, in that craving for order I sometimes get when my OCD is running hot, I put the greater burden on Sean because getting a mess cleaned up quickly is more important to me than making sure they each do their fair share. Since it can be hard sometimes to get Duncan to do what I want when I want, I immediately turn to Sean.

I’m starting to see it for the unfairness that it is.

Ironically, though I had nowhere near the intellect Sean has, I can still relate to the very pressure he might be feeling.

I started my life as the youngest of three kids, the proverbial baby of the family. Michael was the oldest, and in the Brenner family much has always been expected of the oldest son.

My father was the middle child of his generation, but he was the only son. My grandfather, who came off a boat from the former Soviet Union with all the typical old-school values, expected the world of my father. As my grandfather descended deep into old age and illness in the mid-1960s, my father became increasingly responsible for the family business.

Growing up, my older brother became the one my father leaned on the most. Michael was encouraged to chart his own course and was studying to be a plumber. But he was expected to help out with the family business and do a lot of the grunt work at home.

I was the baby, and a sick and spoiled one at that. I came along almost three years after my sister Wendi, and by age eight I was in and out of the hospital with dangerous flare ups of Crohn’s Disease. I got a lot of attention but nothing hard was expected of me. I was coddled and I got any toy I wanted.

The result was a lower-than-average maturity level for my age. At age 10 I acted like I was 5 sometimes. I would crawl into bed with my father for snuggles, just like a toddler might do.

During Christmas 1980 — the first after my parents’ divorce — I wanted it to look like Santa had come, even though I knew by that point that he didn’t really exist. I clung hard to the delusion, because my parents played Santa all the way up to their last Christmas as a couple, when I was nine. So on Christmas Eve 1980, I took all the gifts I had already opened and arranged them as if Santa had dropped them in my living room. I even wrote a “To Billy from Santa” note. Christmas morning I got up, went in the living room and expressed all the excitement of a kid who discovers that the jolly fat guy had come overnight.

My maturity level hadn’t changed much by the time I hit 13. I probably regressed even further right after my brother died. But as 1984 dragged on, I was slowly pulled into the role of oldest son.

All the stuff that was expected of my brother became expected of me, and I wasn’t mentally equipped to deal with it. My brother had a lot of street smarts that I lacked.

So I have to shake my head and wonder if I’m causing history to repeat itself.

I hope not.

I am indeed proud of Sean for all he is. But I don’t want to force him to grow up too fast.


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