The Other I

March 8, 2016

A story for Women’s Day

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:36 pm

When I was ten years old, my mother had twins – a boy named Bob and a girl, Mary.  Within a year, my brother Tom and I had assumed the responsibility of socializing them, teaching them essential tasks such as learning to walk, to button one’s shirt, and critically, the highly abstract and complex task of learning to tie their shoe laces.

To fully understand the implications of the story I am about to tell, it is necessary to understand that the subtle indoctrination of Roman Catholicism in our family included the indisputable truth that men are more intelligent than women.  Bob, therefore, had to learn to tie his shoes before his sister Mary, or suffer the humiliation of sexual failure at the mature age of two.

So Tom set about teaching Bob to tie his shoe laces, and I took over the job of tutoring Mary.

Mary learned to tie her shoe laces first.

But when I told this momentous fact to Tom, and he asked Mary to prove it, she pretended that she couldn’t do it.

In fact, she refused to admit that she knew how to tie her laces until Bob had learned and demonstrated his achievement first.

My temptation is to say that this illustrates that girls really are smarter than boys, or that I was a better teacher than my brother, but of course it doesn’t.

But do you think that sometimes girls are just kinder than our counterparts?  I can’t ask Mary what she thinks because she died of cancer 20 years ago.

But that’s my hypothesis.  I think even at the age of two, there was no way she was going to play a game of one-up-man-ship  with her dear twin brother.

I Can Tie My Own Shoes (I Can Books) by Ltd. Top That Publishing







  1. interesting, but i am wondering, too, if kindness – as we define it now, is also more easily absorbed or displayed by women than men because kindness somehow means giving in – a diminishment of power or control kindness, i think, takes great courage – but i do think that it is innate – but needs much nurturing to develop – support and encouragement – one question why was the mentoring of bob and mary by you and tom abrogated?


    Comment by kateritek — March 8, 2016 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

    • I agree. True kindness takes not only courage, but ultimately even wisdom. Until we achieve that exalted state, I think the best we can do is stumble along and keep trying.

      Arrgh! I used the word “abrogated” because I was writing the post when I was too tired to think straight. I was rooting around my brain for something like self-assigned, allocated, apportioned, appropriated, appointed. You’d think I would at least have chosen a word that didn’t mean the exact opposite of what I meant. It’s what I’m calling Old Age. (But maybe I’ve always been like this?)

      On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:05 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — March 9, 2016 @ 7:57 am | Reply

  2. Oh my…you sister Mary died at the age of 45? of Cancer? did she have family? Spouse? Kids?WOW!very sad.I think you mean you “appropriated” the task…maybe your mother abrogated it?I had to look it up…just felt wrong. Hate to tell you this but knowing you I think you’d want to know.My guess is that this is not something that you do often, if at all…your expression is so right on!!! My wondering is this…even at the ripe old age of two did Mary know that there was a place for girls and not to get out of it?When I was taking parenting classes at the local Jr. College, a preschool teacher who was big on equality told us about a little boy of three who wrapped himself up in a big red skirt for dress up and twirled in joy all around the room until a little girl of three stopped him cold: “You are a boy…you can’t twirl in a dress. That is for girls.” Sadly true. Both genders do it…roles. That’s why Tom takes care of the yard and I shop and cook the food.Oh, also he takes care of the car. I pay the bills. He can make hot water for coffee or tea and on occasion will do the dishes. Like when I’m wiped out and lounging in front of the TV and he sees that I’m fried.But you know what else I notice — my divorced women friends do everything and do it well. I’ll wait til I have to…and who knows, I could die first!HAHAHAHappy International Women’s Day!!! Love your blog!Beth Date: Tue, 8 Mar 2016 21:36:31 +0000 To:


    Comment by E Bastasch — March 8, 2016 @ 10:46 pm | Reply

    • Beth – Thank you for your stimulating comment. You are absolutely spot on. I meant “appropriated,” and instead used a word meaning exactly the opposite of what I was thinking. And you point out my error with such considerate kindness. I can but say thank you.

      My sister died at the age of 48 of cancer. She was not married but had set up a successful business in court reporting. Characteristically, her twin was the main beneficiary of her will. Like my mother, she died with courage and grace and generosity. It amazes me how much I miss her still. It has made me think how terribly painful it must for a parent to lose a child.

      Gender roles are a fascinating phenomenon, aren’t they? One of the greatest delights of my marriage is the differences between our talents and insights. I like that we have different contributions. The limitations can be profound, though when society enforces rigid rules about what each gender can do. And then allocates different status to each. So cooking and housekeeping and changing diapers is given less status than the work men do “at work” every day. We so often seem to insist that “difference” must mean inequality. And it doesn’t. The human species *depends* on diversity. But we so often seem so afraid of it, whether it’s in relation to gender roles, religious affiliation or skin color, even such things as height & weight, or who knows what else.

      Well, as I said, your comment was a stimulating one. Thank you again.

      On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:46 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — March 9, 2016 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  3. It is said here boy with a sister is lucky – they’ve a second mother. Voluntary subordination at that age!


    Comment by tskraghu — March 9, 2016 @ 2:11 am | Reply

    • “A second mother” – I never thought of it that way. But it is a good description of three brother-sister pairs in the family I grew up in. In one case, it was even a younger sister who was solicitous about her brother who was 14 months older. Is this a world-wide phenomenon?


      Comment by theotheri — March 9, 2016 @ 10:15 am | Reply

      • It was not unusual in our younger days! These days with one or two children in the family it’s probably less evident. The second child – boy or girl – in our families turns out more pushy!


        Comment by tskraghu — March 9, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

      • Hmmm: it would be interesting to see what impact these small families have on gender roles when the children grow up. China might give us some indications of future developments for the rest of the world. Or perhaps the cultural/political differences would be too significant.

        On Wed, Mar 9, 2016 at 12:26 PM, The Other I wrote:


        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Terry Sissons — March 9, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

  4. I wish everyone were as considerate of the feelings of others.

    But—– no matter how kind you are, German children will always be kinder 😊


    Comment by rayvoith — March 9, 2016 @ 4:00 am | Reply

    • Not in my family! The girls were “Polish” like my mother; only the boys were “German” like my father.

      Seriously, that hierarchy did exist and expressed by my brothers in exactly those ethnic terms. But in fairness, it was my father who believed deeply in women’s equality. He even put his sister through college during the depression when he himself was just beginning to practice law. And all his girls were given an education on equal par with the boys.


      Comment by theotheri — March 9, 2016 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  5. so sorry terry = it never crossed my mind that you used the wrong word – i was trying to make sense out of it, given your amazing use of vocabulary – so not being able to make sense of it (says something about me!) i decided to ask. next time i will email beth privately and ask! k


    Comment by kateritek — March 9, 2016 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

    • You don’t owe me an apology! I consider it a compliment that you assumed I knew what I was talking about. It’s not a compliment I automatically extend to every writer, and I would be most surprised if you said that you did.

      So thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. You did give me a compliment even if it might have been a rather unconventional method of delivery.

      On Wed, Mar 9, 2016 at 11:41 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — March 10, 2016 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  6. Lovely story. What enormous social sophistication on your sister’s part.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — March 10, 2016 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks Terry for telling the story of your sister Mary. While it’s said by some that women have come a long way, there’s a long way to go for true equality.
    Sports and politics, work inside and outside the home….as I scan t.v. with my grandkids Madeline (10) and Ethan (9), there is baseball, football (ugh), basketball, almost always male games primetime televised. (True, women in tennis get good coverage. And yes, women are given equal opportunities in colleges for sports)
    A more equal playing field! yet, until there is equal sports coverage in the media of women we have hurdles for sure. And politics….so few women running for office, so few female chefs, movie directors, etc. Yet, changes have happened. Example, in a religious order as Maryknoll. In “the old days” pre-Vatican II, seminarians and priests could spend the whole summer at home with their families, working or whatever. We Mkl. sisters couldn’t even stay overnight in our homes, if there were a funeral. When my Dad died (1968) I went home to Brooklyn, but had to have a companion sister and stay at the local parish convent.
    Things are different, yet way to go.. . someday I hope Maryknoll magazine will have Sisters, lay folks in the letterhead, etc. Will stop now. Thanks for your, as always, thoughtful reflections. love, Carolyn (Cook) Grassi


    Comment by Carolyn Grassi — March 14, 2016 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

    • I agree with you, Carolyn. There really are huge changes in the Maryknoll sisters. When my mother died in 1959, my experience was very much like yours on the death of your father. I was not allowed to go home alone or even to take my younger brothers & sisters swimming because it would have meant wearing a swim suit. Now I see that Maryknoll sisters sometimes have returned as carers for someone in the family – sometimes even for years.

      What I don’t understand, though, is why Maryknoll Sisters continue to live under the auspices of Rome. Why don’t they just say they are a group of women dedicated to serving the poor around the world? I can’t see any benefit in submitting to the rules of so many men who still think that they are someone intrinsically superior to women.

      Anyway, things are changing. Let us hope that the backlash we see in so many places is only that – a backlash that will subside.

      Thank you for your comment. I would be interested to hear your further thoughts on the subject down the line. Terry


      Comment by theotheri — March 16, 2016 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

      • my semi-educated guess is money – funding – and legal protection.


        Comment by kateritek — March 16, 2016 @ 11:31 pm

      • Ah, yes, my guess would match yours. And perhaps that in part explains why fewer women are entering the convent – since women more and more can earn income independently using their own abilities. Although there are other reasons, too, of course, for the decline.


        Comment by Terry Sissons — March 17, 2016 @ 4:33 pm

      • right when i entered options were wife/mother secretary nurse teacher no peace corps – i was accepted by MIT, my thought is was that i was one of the few females applying at the time, not that i was the brightest. then there is the issue of birth control – changing sexual practices, think that maryknoll’s highest enrollment was around 1962. when i entered in 1958 there were about 1700 members about 125 women entered maryknoll ny, or to Missouri, or the Philippines now lucky if one or two enter and mostly from third world countries. Now maryknoll is under 200 members in order to survive, it is best to be part of a larger organization – ,many many congregations are merging; others are planning for phasing out convents are being converted to senior housing, nursing homes to include their members and support them until the final journey. religion has always been – a psychological need for most – so i am certain, it will revive – when and how??? no clue. right now i am trying to wrap my head around president trump much more critical for me. not so much because of his presidency, per se but because of supreme court. my guess, if he is elected, there will be an assassination – the American solution. o lordy lordy am i in a state! think i will turn on the tellie and watch the pipes and drums going up fifth avenue. this is first year they have allowed gays trans-gendered, bisexual groups to march. since our mayor was elected 2 years ago, he refused to march. he is marching today. he (Caucasian Italian American) is married to a. black bi-sexual woman. ok ok enough!


        Comment by kateritek — March 17, 2016 @ 6:25 pm

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