A friend and I were standing outside recently when a neighbor’s son drove by. “No way!” I cried. “That can’t be him: He’s only 6!”
My friend’s jaw dropped and I realized what I’d said. “I mean, he was 6 when we moved in . . . 10 years ago. It’s just too weird seeing him drive!”
He’d hit a huge milestone, and later that day I realized my daughter is hitting one as well: finishing her last year in elementary school. And when I say “realized,” I mean that it hadn’t yet occurred to me we were leaving that school behind. When my son “graduated” from fifth grade, it was monumental—my oldest child, moving on to middle school. My daughter’s graduation was on track to be a mere blip on the radar.
I don’t know which child had it worse: my firstborn, for whom I went to every single school event, art festival, ice cream social and science fair, and volunteered for at least some activities, or my second, for whom I did essentially nothing. Well, I did volunteer for a math game here and there, but really, that was about it. And in all fairness, my second child didn’t want me there. I wasn’t cool.
I once read a quip about the difference between the first child and the last child: For the first, you sterilize the pacifier by boiling it; for the last, by blowing on it. And while I won’t admit to going that far—I’m reasonably sure I at least rinsed it for my daughter—I will admit to grasping the concept. Life events often seem to be more. . . eventful, I suppose, for the first child than the last.
It’s not intentional in the slightest, and I know it’s not just me. I know this because as the sixth of six kids, my sister would be hard-pressed to find a photo of herself in the boxes under my parents’ bed. Or any record of her existence, for that matter. I’m sure my parents knew she was there and all, but the urgency of each life event was somewhat blunted by her turn.
The good news for her, of course, was that she could probably have dated at age 6 if she wanted, or stayed out until midnight at 10. The youngest may not get all the glory of the first milestones, but they don’t typically get all of the grief, either. Let’s just say that the rules tend to relax the farther down the line you go.
So in my daughter’s case, she can pretty safely assume she’ll be getting a cell phone before the age her brother was allowed to get a cell phone. And probably a laptop as well. Maybe we just test things out on the oldest to see how they go, and refine the rules from there. Or maybe I’m getting more tired as time goes on and it’s easier to wear me down. Could go either way, really.
Then there are the exceptions to that oldest/youngest rule. My son could ride his bike around the neighborhood at
11. . . but I’m not comfortable letting her do the same. Is it because she’s a girl, or because she’s the youngest? I don’t know. But there are other examples of this—not letting her watch certain shows that her brother could watch at her age, or angst over various books she wants to read—that suggest it’s an age issue rather than gender.
While I may take her for granted, I still don’t want my baby to grow up too fast.
I’m going to try to make sure that my daughter’s last year in elementary school wraps up with the same pomp and circumstance as her brother’s, and that her transition to middle school is met with the same attention. The fact that’s it been done by a sibling before her does not negate the import of the moment to her, and I want her to feel as celebrated as her brother does when he hits his milestones, even though he hits them first.
I need to remember that someday soon they’re going to be driving down the street to the mall. . . to college. . . to their lives, first him and then her. And I’ll be standing there each time in tears, I’m sure, thinking, No—wait! You’re only 6 . . .
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.