Until I was 10, our family of nine shared one bathroom. Before I rock back with my corncob pipe and describe us playing records and dancing in the living room for fun, here’s how so many people in one small space can flourish, due to the creativity of our parents, who never had to suffer the presidency of Donald Trump, as they died before that happened.
“Divide and Conquer” was their parenting style. She managed the money, kid-job assignments and food, and he did entertainment, organized chaos, and basic hygiene. Without Dad, who would know how long a standard army shower should last? (Answer: a couple of minutes.”)
Mom shopped Warehouse Market for two weeks’ worth of staples, trusting her more reliable kids to roam the aisles for items on her list. Shopping was a chore, performed every other Thursday night, after depositing her paycheck on the way home from work. The younger kids stayed at home with Dad, who didn’t learn about shopping until he retired.
When we went along, it was to help out. Usually wearied at the end, however, when it came to unloading the car and the bags, we scattered like the 4 a.m. cockroach crew when the bathroom light comes on. In short, we were a raggedy girl army; willing, but sometimes able to sneak away in order to pursue our own thing.
My parents’ dividing us into dedicated groups, designed to address certain projects, would work well as a template for the DNC in handling the Democratic presidential hopefuls vying for the nomination to beat the current occupant in 2020.
There are too many candidates running to list, or even discover, their individual talents. But since there are only seven of us sisters, I can quickly explain the concept of “Divide and Conquer” as it existed in our house.
In short, we were an uneven number, so voting was always a first option, because of the possibility of a majority. Once a decision was made, roles were assigned, rules gone over, and actions, if necessary, were taken. According to her ability and powers of persuasion, each member of the family had a say in some small way, usually very small. We felt that we had a chance to contribute, sometimes, and weren’t just helpless in determining our own fates. But mostly, we danced in the living room.
First-born Mary Jo was good at directing kitchen traffic without getting her hands wet, when it was time to do the dishes, for instance. She was assertive, let’s say.
And second-in-line Katie, born right after Mary Jo and right before Clare, was occasionally left behind as we drove off on vacation, then her duffle bag in her seat instead of her reminded us to go back and get her. Clare was good at boy things, so she was a tomboy; then I arrived, and developed into a bookworm.
By then my parents must have realized they almost had a half-court girl’s, extremely short basketball squad, but I guess they were going for the softball team. Kris was born with an innate love for any living creature who couldn’t talk, followed by Molly and Aileen, who were living proof that two babies from different years could seem like twins.
We were seven individuals, but we shared a lot in common, and our parents’ examples got us through life: We do not shrink in a crowd, and we like to give advice.
Such as, “Divide and Conquer” while running for office:
1. Know that what you’re attempting to do can be successful, so divide into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Don’t take on all of Trump’s lies at once. Choose a topic you know, and challenge. Don’t worry; he’s not good at anything, except lying.
2. When you conquer, mention it every chance you get. People like winners, though sometimes, obviously, they like losers. But most may be embarrassed and sorry they voted for him by now.
3. After conquering, give credit to those who helped you. If you say, “I am the only one who can fix this,” you are lying. No one can do this alone.
The main thing is, try not to lie.
Ellen Murphy can be reached at email@example.com