Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled program

Remember how this is a foster care blog? Yeah, well I actually have a foster-care related post! Unless it is just a post about siblings.

As you may recall, Gary is fantastic, especially at martial arts. He knows more moves than anyone, including the teachers. His technique is beyond compare. Of course when he spars with the fighters they often beat him, but that is because he doesn't have the confidence they do. They aren't better than he is. He just has to get his confidence up. Then we get to hear again about how great he is. Periodically I will say something like, "you don't think that maybe the other fighters have specific skills you need to learn, like being able anticipate their opponents' moves?" For the record, he does not think so, or if he does those sort of things are not the kind of thing that counts when deciding who is the bestest of all.

I tolerate it better than Roland and Brian do. I tolerate it better than Roland because he is a better listener than I am. Okay, so he doesn't seem to listen to me, but he does listen to other people. I'm a good listener as long as I want to be, but I don't have any problem letting myself zone out and periodically saying, "uh huh."

I tolerate it better than Brian because I am not a teenage boy.

Yesterday evening Brian's school had the all-band concert. His band did really well. Gary did not come to listen and was instead dropped off at the gym to practice with the fighters. When Brian was done we got into the van, told Brian how great he was, agreed that ice cream was in order and went to pick up Gary. Gary got in the van and started telling us about how wonderful he was. The instructor picked him to help demonstrate some new moves. HIM! He was picked because he actually knows more than anyone there. He knew how to do the move and the other fighters didn't have a clue. They really aren't very good, there is so much that he could teach them. Maybe he would stop going to class [with Brian] because sparring with the students isn't a challenge he can beat every single one of them every single time. It isn't a challenge for him and it isn't fair to them.

Brian was annoyed. At first he tried making a joke about Gary being all that "and modest too." Gary missed it entirely and said that he didn't need to be modest, because he was honest. Fighters shouldn't be modest. In fact professional fighters brag all the time. It is part of intimidating your opponent which is part of being great. Brian then informed Gary that he wasn't as good as he thought he was. Brian apparently remembers every single sparring match that Gary has lost, every exercise in class that Gary had difficulty with.

Normally I let the boys settle their own fights, but Brian was getting mean so I told him that was enough. Gary, by the way, did not respond to Brian's criticisms at all. I don't think he really knew what to do, or what we would allow him to do.

Anyway, we got through the moment and this morning I asked Brian what was going on. He said that he just got tired of listening to Gary brag. I told him that I understood but he needed to figure out a different way of handling it. He stared at his cereal like it was the most interesting thing in the whole wide world. So I said, "Well, maybe you should talk to Dad about it. I really think you should come up with a strategy that allows you to cope and appear to be the mature one at the same time." (Yes, I said that, I'm shameless.) He nodded.

It seemed this was a foster care post because it made me think about how every time a new kid joins the family there is this whole process of everybody trying to figure out what the rules of the game are. It's like foster families are a lot like in-laws. You have the instant relationship with all of the expectations of family but without the history of how conflict gets resolved. You don't know how they fight.

Every family has conflict, and every family has ways of dealing with it.

My family was not the healthiest in the world. My mother and sister dealt with their conflict by fighting with each other and complaining to me. I generally went back and forth negotiating peace agreements. My mother and I, and my sister and I just quarrelled and generally managed to resolve the issues, or not. Still, no one was every in any doubt about whether someone was angry with them. Even though my mother and sister didn't resolve things well, they sure did express them.

I didn't realize that we had a set of rules until I was dealing with Roland's family where no one ever fought. There was conflict, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how they dealt with it. No one every raised their voices or said, "would you PLEASE stop doing that!" Eventually I realized that they passed messages through other members of the family. As in Roland tell me, "I over-heard Mom telling Dad about what happened with you two in the laundry room. My mom is really upset about what you said about the lint trap in the dryer. She really didn't know that every dryer has one." I didn't realize that I was expected to either go to her and apologize, while pretending that no one told me about it, "Oh hey, I hope I didn't hurt your feelings yesterday when we were talking about the dryer" or, even better, say to my father-in-law that I was so anxious because I thought she was upset about what I did and what did he think I should do? (He would then tell me not to worry about it and and pass on the pseudo-apology to her.)

What I actually did (yes, this is a real example) was say to Roland, "You have got to be kidding? She's upset because I told her that all dryers have lint traps? You must have heard wrong." Then I went on my merry way assuming that if she was hurt she would say something, because that's what people do, right?

And that is sort of what happened in the van yesterday. Brian said, "all that and modest too" which he thought clearly meant: stop bragging. Gary totally missed that signal. He didn't laugh and say, "yep, modest AND handsome" and then either shut up or ask Brian how the concert went. He kept talking about his greatness and then Brian decided that Gary had been warned and so went on the attack.

I don't really actually have a point here, just noticing and thinking.


  1. Poor Brian. And poor Gary, too. Someday he's going to overhear people making fun of the way he brags, someday he's going to commit his ego to something and get it beat, and what's going to be there to bolster him up when that surface starts to crack?

  2. My family is like Roland's. I think it's very dysfunctional and refuse to participate. Then I get complaints about why I didn't tell someone something that I knew. So I feel like I am always in a no win situation.

  3. I feel for Brian- what a struggle it is to deal with a sibling that announces to the world their own perfection and superiority.
    Does Brian understand (which I'm sure he does) that Gary is probably tooting his own horn because he's had years of no one else tooting it for him?
    Or that he actually knows/feels like he's not worth much, so telling the world that he is worth a lot is like using reverse psychology on himself?

    I know with my "almost" siblings (and heck, my bio sib too), it really made a difference to me to understand that (which I didn't really get until I was an adult).

    Tell Brian there is an alternative- if he'll catch Gary in the act of praising himself, instead of pointing out his failures, try praising him for something non-related to MMA. Completely randomly. It actually works pretty well. For us, if you make a habit of telling the bragger (like as soon as you see them that day) what a great job they did on something (especially some little insignificant thing like folding laundry, even tying shoes in a perfectly even bow), it seems to decrease their need to endlessly brag. After a while of consistent random praise, the need to brag seems to dissipate unless they're around a threatening person/situation.

    Good luck.

  4. Gary's bragging sounds incredibly annoying.


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