It's all about taking life's knocks on the chin - with the odd compliment

Joseph Bulmer

I was flattered to be the recipient of some generous compliments recently, observations I was only too happy - and willing - to perceive as irrefutable truths; after all, if someone were sure enough of them to deliver them to me, there could be no doubt that they had a sound base, could there?  
Well, of course there could. Once my initial rosy-cheeked blush had faded and the smile had slipped from my lips, I examined my conscience, recognising - for perhaps the very first time, in my dotage - how readily I accept benevolent judgement.  
And - perhaps reflexively, in my defence - how quick I am to disagree with and rebuke negative criticism.  
It is not an epiphany, this perception that I don't handle a poor critique well, but its acknowledgement is still tender to the touch, like the purpling bruise that no longer provokes acute pain but still causes you to wince if inadvertently poked.  
And I believe I know its evolution. Growing up, I had - and still have, I am very glad to say - the kindest brother.  
He lacked my spiky edges, was always willing to give the benefit the doubt, and was generous to a fault. There is a short age-gap between us - he is 17 months my senior - and we were only an academic year apart.  
He set high standards at school that I scrambled to emulate (I never quite made it), but didn't make me feel as though there were any sense of superiority in his loftier achievements.  
He let me hang around with his friends, was sweet to mine, was an excellent conspirator in childhood schemes, tutored me, chauffeured me, defended me. My attention must have been an irritant at times, but he was careful to conceal it, and never teased me.  
Which is a great blessing, except that I have lately realised that I am rubbish at being teased. I am defensive, easily wounded and quick to retort. Regrettably, when my dander is up, I lose all cognitive ability and often end up sounding ridiculous as I splutter and stammer an incandescent but incoherent response to whomsoever has irked me.  
I shamefacedly recall an episode that took place at my best friend's house a few years ago, in the middle of band practice. We found ourselves at loggerheads over a difference of opinion, and so impassioned was I that I became utterly unable to articulate my point.
Frustrated and impotent, I stormed down two flights of stairs, seized the front door keys from the hook in the hall, made my escape, locked the door behind me, thrust the keys through the letter box and stalked off into the night.  
Outrage lent a ferocious speed to my steps, and I was very nearly home before I became aware that my friend was flying along the dark road after me. My temper was cooling by then, and I knew I was behaving unreasonably; I halted in my tracks, waiting for her to catch up.  
After checking that I was okay (scarlet of cheek but otherwise unharmed), she expressed her burgeoning regret that, in her haste, she had grabbed the nearest warm clothing to pull on without first identifying it.  
We both gazed wordlessly at her black hoodie, silently regarding the huge bright-yellow Batman image emblazoned across the front. I can only imagine what any passersby must have thought as they witnessed her racing through the dark streets, long black hair streaming behind her like a cloak.
When my husband and I had our first child, I was desperate to recreate the close sibling relationship my brother and I had enjoyed, and we had our second child 18 months after the first: two beautiful daughters.  
Unfortunately, things didn't really follow the desired route, and although the girls were inseparable in early childhood, they grew apart as they grew older and, to my disappointment, didn't develop the uncomplicated, good-natured affection my brother and I shared.  
However, as time went on, and I became excruciatingly aware that my own sibling harmony had done me few favours in this regard, I encouraged the children to rag each other - in an affectionate way - knowing it would benefit them ultimately when they formed thicker skins.  
I didn't expect them to fulfil the brief as enthusiastically as they have, and am now finding myself regularly wishing that they would better consider each other's feelings. But I largely resist intervention, optimistic that, unlike their sensitive mother, they are honing the skills to take criticism and mockery in their stride.  
I just hope a few compliments get thrown their way too, because those, of course, will be irrefutably true.