oldest child

March 23, 1973

March 23, 1973 Plan B

Leaving Melnitz Hall
Leaving Melnitz Hall

I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.

S's High School Graduation
S’s High School Graduation

Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.

A at his graduation
A at his college graduation

Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”

CD's graduation UCLA
CD’s graduation UCLA

CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.

CD and classmates at UCLA graduation

Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit.  So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.

January 22, 1978

January 22, 1978

While combing my diaries for a suitable blog entry, if I find a snippet about CD, I usually send it to the adult CD just to give him some idea of his life as a two-year-old.  Since he has no conscious memories of his infancy, he can’t enlighten me about what actually ran through his mind.

CD at the park 1

A child psychiatrist might hazard an informed guess about which cognitive skills were in development but no one will ever know for sure. Odds are, my instincts were right and what amused him involved repetition.

CD at the park 2

As my diaries suggest, by nature I wrote down almost everything that happened, no matter how apparently trivial. I’m glad I did, now, since some of the things that seemed mundane – even then – acquired significance in the ensuing years. I forgot almost everything I failed to record for posterity.

CD at the park 3

As my firstborn, CD was the beneficiary – or the victim, depending on your point of view – of my meticulous record keeping. Sometimes, in bursts of energy, he’d run races with himself, up and down the family room, shouting “Go!”  a few seconds after he started. We could guarantee a smile by throwing a towel over his head, asking “Where’s CD?” and yanking it off. Hilarious! Two-year-old’s – the best audience ever.

J & CD at the park

 

 

August 14,1983

August 14, 1983

CD, Nicky and I are all excited about the new baby sister in our house.
CD, Nicky and I are all excited about the new baby sister in our house.

My brilliant niece Carly wrote an essay in high school about how their family’s animal hierarchy suffered a seismic upheaval every time a new feline entered the household. When a new human being joins an existing family unit, the reverberations can be – and usually are – far more extreme.

Aunt Joyce and I looking on as others fuss about the new baby.
Aunt Joyce and I looking on as others fuss about the new baby.

In the case of S and CD, not so much, unless both of them have successfully hidden their trauma for years. In my mind, the seven-year gap in their ages was as responsible for the smooth transition as their respective temperaments. CD was more engaged with his peer group, less dependent on his parents, therefore less inclined to resent her intrusion.

The princess asleep on her royal pillow.
The princess asleep on her royal pillow.

However, just because sibling rivalry didn’t rear its ugly head doesn’t mean our home avoided an earthquake. I’d repressed all memory of 3 AM feedings and dirty diapers but total recall returned with a vengeance. We all rose and slept to the rhythm of a baby. Sometimes the sheer exhaustion was overwhelming.

CD does a closeup check as Grandma K. holds the baby.
CD does a closeup check as Grandma K. holds the baby.

What I wouldn’t give to live through those golden days again…

CD telling Grandpa K. All about his new sister.
CD telling Grandpa K. all about his new sister.

 

 

May 13, 1964

May 13, 1964

 

My family back during those darn times
My family back during those darn times

There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.

With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.
With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.

At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.
At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.

My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
3K Sisters

 

November 29, 1968

November 29, 1968

Royce Hall, UCLA
Royce Hall, UCLA

I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)

The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.
The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.

My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.

Life was paradise as an adored only child.
Life was paradise as an adored only child.

Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.

The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart
The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart

It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.

From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.
From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.

Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child.  You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.

 

November 25, 1993

November 25, 1993

John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.
John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.

In the early years of our marriage, John and I alternated holidays between my family and his – Thanksgiving in Fresno, Christmas in San Diego, reversed in the following year. Gradually we spent more holidays with my family because my parents and sisters all moved within five miles of my home.

Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell
Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell

I don’t recall when both of our mothers stopped volunteering to host Thanksgiving but they powered through longer than I could’ve. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house, largely because when the question arises – “where are we doing Thanksgiving this year?” – I’m hiding in the bathroom.

CD and cousin Jeff Rowell
CD and cousin Jeff Rowell

Fortunately, my failings as a cook and hostess are compensated by my sister Janet and her husband Jim McCann, who do Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas ninety percent of the time. They are an indefatigable team, toiling from dawn till dusk to present the perfect meal without complaint (not entirely without complaint – but within civilized limits.) My contribution? Diet Coke and sparkling water.

Sam, John, and Evie Rowell
Sam, John, and Evie Rowell

Their house is well-suited to entertaining, with its vast rolling dog-friendly lawn. Singles and stragglers are always welcome.  A good time is had by all.

Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell

Although I have a thousand photos of Thanksgiving at Jani’s, this blog is ostensibly about Thanksgiving in 1993, the first and last time I hosted the Rowell clan at our house.  I’m posting those photos today to prove it.

Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton
Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton

November 2, 1965

November 2, 1965

I don’t have much of a defense here. I thoughtlessly exaggerated my victimization – why? To garner sympathy? To make myself sound more interesting? What’s worse, I did it where I could be overheard and hurt my aunt’s feelings. Is this incident why I’ve never ranked as one of her favorite nieces or nephews? Suffice to say, it didn’t help.

Aunt June with all the cousins
Aunt June with all the cousins

In truth, I didn’t mind sharing a room with her that much although odds are that conflict would’ve ensued as I got into adolescence and rock and roll. In 1965, our challenge wasn’t a clash of temperaments but rather lack of space.  Since my father was a Lutheran pastor, my family lived in whatever “parsonage” the parish provided. In Santa Clara, it was a tract home in a subdivision called Lawrence Meadows (adjacent to Killarney Farms. Funny the weird details I remember.)

Lawrence Meadows
Lawrence Meadows

The house was new and fancier than the parsonage where we lived in Elgin Iowa but it wasn’t a McMansion – at most, 1500 square feet. When my father’s younger sister June moved in, there were six people under one roof. So there was a smidgen of truth about my dearth of bureau drawers – just not enough to justify whining about my aunt.

My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.
My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.

I wasn’t above eavesdropping myself to catch a false friend talking behind my back. Eventually, I realized how self-destructive that impulse was. Why sneak around to hear something that will – at best – hurt my feelings and – at worst – destroy a friendship forever? Far better to assume the best of others – and try to behave so they can safely assume the best of me.

October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

When my sisters and I bought tickets for the awesome Desert Trip last year, it never occurred to us we’d be too wiped out to cross the finish line – Sunday’s double bill of Roger Waters and the Who. I can’t recall who broached the subject of leaving early first – not me. I objected strenuously but my heart wasn’t in it. Desert days were sweltering and nights didn’t cool fast enough plus my feet hurt. As painful as it was to admit my lack of stamina – another way of saying, I’m getting old – there’s nothing like some first-class pampering at a spa to ease the agony.

The Players
The Players

For the record, we were disappointed with Dylan (who won the Nobel Peace Prize the following week) due to his disregard for the audience. No hello, goodbye, or introduction of his band – his face hidden under a hat, rarely visible even on the huge video screens. I’m a fan of his music, not so much his performance. The Stones, as expected, were spectacular.

The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip
The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip

The next night, Neil Young was great and what can I say about the love of my life, Paul McCartney?  Spectacular, as always. Realistically, a third rock concert the night after McCartney couldn’t help but be anti-climactic. There’s no one like Sir Paul.

Aglow with the excitement of the evening.
Aglow with the excitement of the evening.

Then there’s my embarrassing behavior in the tiff with my sisters You’d think somebody too old to handle three consecutive rock concerts would be mature enough not to act like a baby. Unfortunately, the most obnoxious sides of my personality surface with my sisters, who I love dearly.  I’m guessing echos of old behaviors from the childhood we shared seep into our present interactions and catapult us back to primitive childhood emotions.

Oh Gosh!_edited-1

Sour Lemon

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

It was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.
But, it was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just a bitch.

Who, moi!
Who, moi!

 

 

May 11, 1965

May 11, 1965

The picture in the front of that diary - still hideous after all these years.
The picture in the front of that diary – still hideous after all these years.

 In 1965, I was foolishly over-optimistic about how easy it  would be to conquer my tendency to talk like it’s a race to the finish line (and the loser dies) whenever I speak to a group. The larger the group, the faster I gallop.

I call this facial expression "the Silent Scream".
I call this facial expression “the Silent Scream”.

Obviously, nerves – or more accurately fear – is the root of this malady. A doctor explained it’s due to a primal burst of adrenalin – speaking in public triggers a “fight or flight” response in my reptilian brain.

Given my father, a Lutheran pastor, delivered a sermon to a large seated congregation every Sunday, you’d think I might acquire this skill naturally – by osmosis.  I did not.

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

I made up for it in small groups – such as my nuclear family – where I felt comfortable. There, I morphed into “Chatty Cathy”, a nickname I loathed. It was all Janet could do to get a word in edgewise.

Word in edgewise

My father recorded us after dinner and doing family devotions. I belted out every verse of every hymn I knew by heart, barely pausing to catch my breath. In my monotone shriek, it had to be excruciating. My father tried to slow me down. “It’s Janet’s turn. Let Janet sing.”

She's too little!

(atonal shrieking)

Joy to the world

 

Let Earth recieve her KING

And on and on, all recorded for posterity. Clearly, I was desperate to entertain them lest they decide I’d become redundant now that Baby Janet was on the scene. Photographic evidence of my terrifying ordeal can be seen in my gallery, “Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby”.

 

 

 

February 23, 1964


February 23, 1964

 

The four of us in 1964 - From the left, Me, Natalie, Janet & Joyce
The four of us in 1964 – From the left, Me, Natalie, Janet & Joyce

From today’s vantage point, life looks simple in ‘64 but it didn’t feel that way then. I obsessed over what other people thought of me (which they didn’t, much). Subtle shifts in friendship sent me reeling. I stewed about my performance in school. I wanted to be number one in everything but I was afraid to be best at anything.

My need to be number one began in ‘53, when my parents shattered my fragile 2-year-old psyche by bringing my sister Janet home. I got their message loud and clear. If I’d been a better baby – cuter, smarter, more entertaining – they wouldn’t have needed another baby. I ran outside and bawled my eyes out.

Me, on the day they brought Janet home.
Me, on the day they brought Janet home.
It's nice to have Janet to play with sometimes.
It’s nice to have Janet to play with sometimes.

They flat-out refused to return her. Over time, I discovered she – and later Joyce – had some good points. Little sisters were easy to trick. Gradually both of them became fun to talk to. In fact, it was easier to talk to them than anyone else in the world.

We can talk to each other about things other people don't understand. Because it's a Knutsen thing.
We can talk to each other about things other people don’t understand. Because it’s a Knutsen thing.

Because we knew which buttons to push, emotions ran high. They could cut me to the bone, infuriate and inspire me, rouse my jealousy and my compassion. On balance, we shared more laughter than tears.

Sharing some laughter.
Sharing some laughter.

I trust them with my deepest secrets, my darkest self. When I fail and feel all is lost, my sisters raise me from the dead. They’ve got my back when I need them most. They love me when I don’t deserve it, believe in me when I give up. They’re the wind beneath my wings, my bridge over troubled waters. They light up my life. You get the gist.

We learn how to share precious puppies and kittens.
We learn how to share precious puppies and kittens.

Maybe all things considered, what my sisters give me is bigger than the narcissistic wound Janet inflicted. Maybe gains always come with pain. Maybe I should stop whining about what happened 63 years ago.

Is it finally time to let this go? Now that we're all so mature?
Is it finally time to let this go? Now that we’re all so mature?

Nah. Not yet. More on this in my three photo blogs – When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss), Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.

 

They're so happy and normal. I would be too, if everyone loved me best.
They’re so happy and normal. I would be too, if everyone loved me best.