I'm perplexed. Do parents have Jekyll and Hyde personalities? I'm asking because I hear such contrasting perceptions of the same set of parents, depending on who is doing the talking.

There's the first-born, who is mindful of the importance of her place in the hierarchy. She will rub it in every chance she gets, conveniently forgetting that her pride in order of birth also implies that she should be a role model for the ones who follow.

Instead, she will speak of a childhood where her every move was monitored by martinets who insisted on complete obedience to their rules. Any deviation threatened dire punishment. This will be said with a meaningful look directed at the youngest sibling who, she feels, shares a relationship with the parents that she has never enjoyed.

She is convinced that her sacrifices as a youth paved the way for those who came after her, making their lives so much more comfortable. What she perceived as inflexible natures now seem to have become as pliable as dough. She sees the difference in the way these youngsters have been reared by indulgent parents who seem to have mellowed with the years.

She cannot recall ever feeling free enough to joke with these figures of authority and watches bemused as the newest kid on the block sasses his elders even as the latter laugh and look amused. Can these two be the same people she has known all her life? Surely they have undergone some weird transformation, changing before her very eyes from ogres to the epitome of benevolence. Are her eyes deceiving her or did she actually see them bestow a doting look on that brat who has just said something which she would never have dared utter?

Encouraged by this sign of thawing of the icemen, she decides to go for it and comes out with what she considers a smart retort. But the faces that turn in her direction no longer wear an amused look. The glances seem to say, "Are you all right? Did we hear right?"

So, she mumbles an apology even as she directs a glacial stare at the person who she feels is responsible for this setback. The recipient of that glance knows the reason behind the look. There is even a feeling of guilt swiftly followed by indignation. Why should she feel apologetic about her rapport with the older generation? How is it her fault if her sibling was too spineless to stand up to authority? But the defiant mood is shortlived. She will at some time in the future find herself alone with this green-eyed monster, without benefit of the reassuring presence of parents. So, she tries to make amends. Laughs long and hard at the wit of her older sister, pointing out to the unappreciative audience the subtle nuances in the words spoken in jest.

The uncomfortable silence is broken by the entry of the middle child. Her timely appearance forces everyone to acknowledge her presence, something which thrills her no end. This is a departure from the norm as she is convinced she is always sidelined in favour of the older or the younger. Cheered by the attention, she comes up with a non sequitur. Since no one in the room can see any point to her remark, the conversation resumes as if there had been no interruption.

That is when she muses over the significance of ranking within a family. There's the eldest who always gets a patient hearing merely because people presume she has something of note to say. As for the youngest, she takes the good life for granted, basking in the glow of parental love. Never have these two known the pain of being invisible. Even as she thinks these thoughts, sibling number one reflects aloud on the unfairness of life, at always being expected to set an example for others. As for number three, she just can't understand what all the fuss is about. As far as she's concerned, all's right with her world.