Eyeing the clock, which shouts “You’re gonna be late for school,” I shepherd my 5-year-old to the toilet.
“I can’t do it,” Jacob whimpers.
“Relax,” I tell him, using a voice so strained a Zen master would feel nervous.
My 8-year-old, Benjamin, runs in, nudges Jacob aside and takes a leak, putting even more pressure on my middle child.
After Benjamin skeedaddles, I cheer Jacob on: “Let’s go pee!” Then little naked Ari pads into the bathroom. I assume he’s there as a spectator so I forget about him.
“Go pee! Go pee! Go pee!” I chant and – sure enough – pee fountains out. Warmth bathes my foot. Giggling wafts to my ears.
“Ari!” I shout as my toddler showers my shoe with a firefighter’s gusto.
Feeling the wetness reach my socks, my frustration melts into laughter. I turn from Jacob, who finally tinkles (in the proper receptacle), and kiss Ari’s proud face. The way my littlest child sees it, anything the big boys can do, he can do better.
FAMILY: Verdana">One of my worries for my third child was that he would get left in the dust of the older kids. For much of his early life, Ari was schlepped to the other boys’ activities and restrained by a high chair or stroller as his siblings caromed around freely. Adding to his helplessness, he got sick a lot. In between countless incidents of cold and flu, Ari endured a hospital stay for a respiratory infection and surgery for ear infections.
FAMILY: Verdana">But, in the half-year leading up to his second birthday, Ari developed into a family superstar. Armed with a head of cottony blond hair (in a family of darker-hued tresses) and vibrant blue-green eyes, our smallest child does everything louder, faster and funnier than his siblings did at the same age.
FAMILY: Verdana">When he wants to be noticed at mealtime, Ari wears his bowl on his head. If his siblings fight over the remote control, he snags it, squints at Mommy or Daddy – in his attempt to wink – and tries to tune into his own show. Should he get bored at a concert, he wanders around, hugging strangers (under our supervision) with the gusto of an uncle who’s just come over from the old country.
FAMILY: Verdana">Being the littlest person in a family of five never daunts Ari. In fact, the bigger the group, the more he shines. At a minor-league baseball game, while a dozen other children begged sweetly for practice balls, Ari high-fived every pitcher in the bullpen until he got a ball. Having no idea what kind of cool souvenir he earned, he was just pleased to have outsmarted the other kids.
FAMILY: Verdana">In true youngest-child fashion, Ari imitates everything his older brothers do, then improves on it. If he notices Jacob fighting us to put on clothes, Ari grabs an outfit and attempts to dress himself. When I ask a reluctant Benjamin to scrub his teeth at night, Ari scrambles to the sink to use a spare toothbrush. Seeing Benjamin and Jacob whine as they don school bags, our little toddler disappears into a closet and emerges with a backpack, properly strapped to his shoulders.
FAMILY: Verdana">Although Ari thinks he’s ready to join his brothers at school, he does have to work on one particular aspect of his big personality. He’s kind of a thug. Despite being in the fifth-percentile in height, he steals his daycare friends’ toys and shoves kids down during play. While this behavior works well when he wants to retaliate against a roughhousing brother, he comes off as a kind of “ant bully” among his peers. Making matters worse, he does all of this with a smile that’s more “This power thing actually works” than “Get out of my way, you worthless knave!”
I’ve seen a lot of nice, quiet third children who go about their business, resigned to their last-place finish in the family race. And while we’re working on re-channeling his daycare intimidation tactics, we couldn’t be more thankful that Ari chooses to take his place alongside his brothers.