Remembering Your Oldest Child

Having three children under the age of eight is difficult. I'll pause while all you kindred spirits nod your heads in agreement. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many ways to divide yourself up. Different needs, different wants, different schedules. Add to that a relationship with a spouse and any pursuits of your own and soon something starts to get neglected or expected to stand on its own more often.

In the beginning, it is fairly universal that the husband/wife relationship gets pushed to the back burner in favor of the new baby, new demands, sleep. As time goes on you find you have learned more and are able to bring more of a balance back into your life. Then just about the time you feel stable, WHAM!, along come more children and knock you for another loop. Again some area of your life is called upon to demand less. It wasn't until today that I realized I was expecting that duty to fall to someone, who while not a baby, still needs me like the dickens.

It started as a whim several weeks back. My oldest daughter, Culley, asked me to curl her long blond hair for school. Checking my watch, I said OK, that we had enough time to try. For fifteen minutes we stood in my bathroom, carefully spiraling her shiny locks and talking of everything and nothing. Everything: Her new school, boys she liked, boys who liked her. Nothing: Pokemon, Catdog, How do Rice Krispies talk to you? When we finished, she turned and hugged me and said I love you. What a great way to start the morning. Well, we have been starting every morning like this for two weeks now. When I asked her if she still liked her curly hair, she looked at me with her huge blue eyes and said, "Sure, but I mostly just like getting you to myself for a while."

I've thought of little else since and her point has been well taken. As the oldest sibling, she quietly sits in the background while I constantly fight with my middle daughter and take care of my youngest. Even in my articles, I write more about Kendallrella and the "baby." I suppose it is the "squeaky wheel getting the grease" theory, because Kendall is always squeaking and Carson is always reaching easy-to-write-about milestones. I suppose part of it is that she has made it so easy to look to the needs of the younger siblings. From the day she was born, she has been quiet, an observer, content to take things in and watch. Just seconds old, she was casting her blue eyes all around, too busy exploring to bother with crying. She is what one often describes as "an old soul," a thinker. She is also a good kid and as a parent I have obviously taken advantage of that. A big mistake, and one I'm certain many parents with more than one child are guilty of.

How often when we are reprimanding our oldest do we include the admonition, "As the oldest, I expect more from you!"? How about the guilt trip of, "You have to remember, your little sisters are looking up to you!"? We tend to expect more of them, which also translates into expecting them to be more self sufficient, less trouble, less needy. I'm realizing that could not be farther from the truth. Sure, a two year old is still learning it is wrong to climb the furniture and walk on the back of the couch, and the seven year old should know this. But in so many other ways, they are learning and discovering just as much as an infant. As the oldest, Culley is leading the charge through the life experiences that will be "old hat" for us by the time Carson sees them. And just as she needed my hands to support her while learning to walk, she still needs my presence to guide her through the minefield called life.

There have been myriad studies and research about the placement of children in the family unit. The youngest is sweet, always looked out for by those above and fairly easygoing. The notorious middle child, having been knocked from the throne of youngest and knowing they will never be the oldest, constantly strives to stir things up and gain attention. The oldest child is characterized by being quiet, responsible, thoughtful. True, true, true. While there are exceptions to these "rules," my children are straight out of a child psychologist's textbook. I am just sorry that it is only dawning on me now that while she is counted on to be more quiet, more thoughtful and more responsible, she still needs some "grease" too. So I plan on curling that child's hair for the rest of my life, if it means ensuring she never feels the need to start "squeaking."