As I was carrying my daughter down the stairs the other night, I had two concurrent realizations. The first was that carrying a forty pound four-year-old is a good way to trip and die. And the second was that, when my older daughter was four, she had two younger siblings and she never got carried. Pretty much ever.
My youngest, on the other hand, still expects to be schlepped about with some regularity and for some reason I oblige. I’ll throw her into a carrier on my back for the four-block stroll to church or park her on my hip for the walk to the car. She’s my baby, even though she’s demonstrably not.
A million jokes have been told about the quirks of birth order and they’re funny because they have the ring of truth. Despite all my best efforts to maintain even-handed parenting, it’s laughable to claim that I parent all three of my children the same.
Case in point: my younger daughter wants to be a dementor for Halloween. You know, the freaky wraith-like creatures from Harry Potter that guard the wizard prison and go around sucking people’s souls out. We watched the third Harry Pottery movie the other day and she was quite taken with the dementors, for reasons I’m not sure I want to know. When my older daughter was four, she had yet to graduate from animated cartoons about talking animals. My firstborn saw her first big screen movie when she was six. She was accompanied by her four-year-old brother. Because that’s how birth order works.
I nursed my younger daughter the longest and she slept in bed with me for years. With two older children to wrangle, I was far too exhausted to get up in the night and stumble down the hallway for feedings. Although it wasn’t just at night, either. When she was born, I worked part-time and we’d take naps in the afternoon together. They are some of my most treasured memories. How very different from the frenzied early years with my firstborn when I was working full-time and commuting an hour each way. I’d be up before five so I could drop her at the daycare at six to miss the worst of the morning traffic.
My life was different by the time my third child arrived, but I was different, too. I wish I could go back and tell my first-time-mother-self to Chill the Heck Out. I read way too many parenting books while I was pregnant, with the result being that I was more than a little neurotic. I worshipped at the church of natural parenting and I was pretty sure that cloth diapers were The Way and The Truth. Don’t get me wrong- cloth diapers and homemade baby food are great – but I wish I’d been able to accept that a jar of Gerber and an occasional television show weren’t going to permanently damage my child.
With my first child, I was always overly excited for us to experience new things. I was forever hauling her to programming she was too young for – baby music classes and toddler nature hikes – only to be disappointed when she didn’t get anything out of them. And the playdates. Oh, the playdates. For infants. Baby 3 doesn’t get any designated extracurricular programming or scheduled playdates. She tags along wherever her siblings are going.
I haven’t said much about my middle child. Insert joke here. (It’s National Middle Child Day. Oh, you didn’t notice? I’m used to it.) But really it’s no wonder that, stuck in between the trailblazer and the baby, the middle child is often the clown. My darling son definitely fits that pattern. Add in some alarmingly spot-on gender stereotypes about impulsiveness and a propensity to break things and let’s just say that my middle child does not actually get overlooked.
I don’t think that I did anything truly ‘wrong’ with my first child. I just stressed myself out a lot, needlessly. I’m more sure of myself now and more willing to forgive my mistakes. It’s just too hard to maintain those sky-high parenting standards when you’re outnumbered and on your own. Plus I can see the light at the end of some of those tunnels. I remember worrying so much because my firstborn was a picky eater. Tonight she downed seconds of butternut squash orzo with spinach feta chicken sausage. So the fact that her little sister ate only three green beans for dinner didn’t faze me in the least. I can wait her out.