Ask any of my three boys and each will vehemently argue that he has the worst position in the family, that one (or both) of the others has it best. It’s a highly annoying and counterproductive debate that repeats itself in almost every home with more than one child.
I’m the youngest of three. My older brother Will — or, as we like to call him, “The Golden Child” — could get away with anything. Mom let him (encouraged him, even!) spray paint his bedroom wall to look like a New York subway. When Will burped his ABCs, people said he was “talented.” My grandfather Big Jack once said that Will was the most beautiful child he’d ever seen. When Big Jack gave us the usual knickknacky souvenirs from his travels, Will always got the best one.
My oldest brother, Van, born when my mom was still quite young, got to enjoy time with our parents before they were fully resigned to mature parenthood. (“Mature” parents only take vacations in the summer, when school’s not in session for the older kids, and they make decisions based on what is best, not what “sounds good.” New parents spend their weekends flying kites and having picnics. Mature parents spend their weekends mowing the lawn, catching up on laundry, and shuttling older kids to baseball and soccer.) As a toddler, Van lived in a rented house on a beach in La Jolla, Calif. He traveled the country. Mom took him to the pool every single day.
By the time I was born, my family had already seen the Grand Canyon and Disneyland. There were no plans to go back. When I complained about this, they said, “But we did go to the Grand Canyon and — oh, wait, that was before you were born.”
Mom decorated the pages of Van’s and Will’s baby books with her own colored-pencil drawings of little boys. I helped her finish my baby book — when I was 16 years old.
But if you ask my brothers, they will say that I enjoyed my parents once they were broken in, the parenting how-tos long ago sold at a yard sale. They will say that Mom spent much more time shopping with me for back-to-school clothes, and that if I screamed loud enough, I got whatever I wanted.
Clearly, sibling rivalry and comparisons are nothing new to me. Yet, I regret to admit that at various times (depending on my level of motherly guilt) I’m inclined to agree with Ford, Owen or Lindell’s plight.
We might have made more trips when Ford was a baby, but I was very young (22) and kind of stupid. I didn’t know the first thing about being a good parent, and I’m sure I made mistakes. Ford has always (perhaps unfairly) had to live up to the highest standards, because “[he’s] the oldest, that’s why!”
As a baby, Owen, God love him, spent an awful lot of time strapped in his baby seat and highchair. I was busy chasing Ford; Owen had no choice but to be good (and quiet). In the mornings, Owen waited patiently in his crib while I dealt with Ford before it was his turn to get up and dressed.
And then there’s Lindell, the baby. Like me. Lindell has been given an extraordinary amount of exception: “He’s loud, but he’ll grow out of it.” “He’ll sleep in his own bed eventually.” “It’s not like he’ll still wear diapers when he’s a teenager!”
Ford is not allowed to cheat at a game, but he has to remain patient while Lindell does.
Owen has to go to bed at 8, but needs to understand that his roommate (Lindell) might cry and complain until 9:30.
If Lindell hits Ford or Owen, they are not allowed to hit him back.
“It’s not fair” is a common refrain.
Then, in June, we took the boys to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Lindell was amazed by the size of the stuffed lions and elephants. He couldn’t stop staring at the giraffe (also stuffed) and its large neck. I thought maybe he was exaggerating his excitement. I mean, they were dead and stuffed, after all. But I humored him, of course, and expected Ford and Owen to do the same.
Once we were in the car, Ford and Owen began talking about a past trip to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. They mentioned that seeing stuffed animals was “OK,” but seeing live animals is “way better.”
Lindell had been unusually quiet through all of this. He sat in his car seat with his mouth held open, his usual deep-thoughts expression. His eyes looked concerned, perplexed.
Then finally, in a quiet voice, he said, “You mean there’s a place where we can go see animals that aren’t dead?”
And that was the first time any of us realized Lindell has never been to a zoo.