I’m a strong believer in birth-order theory. As the youngest of seven children, I know firsthand that each child has to work harder than the last to get his or her parents’ attention. I’m 29, and I’m still figuring out how to hold my parents’ interest.
My oldest brother was an outstanding football player, thespian and singer, as well as a straight-A student. Whenever he excelled in something, it became a family hobby to watch him do it. So I adopted the same strategy; I tried being outstanding. In elementary school I was always teacher’s pet. In seventh grade I made it onto the advanced drill team, in 8th grade the All-Star baseball team. In ninth grade I was team captain of our volleyball team. Sophomore year I won a French poetry contest. Junior year I became class vice-president, and senior year I made it into All-State band.
My parents, if they should find time to read this, are astonished. They don’t remember any of it.
I should have wised up at the All-State band concert. After three days of intense rehearsals, we had our culminating performance. Afterward, hundreds of parents took pictures and bought souvenirs while I waited in the parking lot with my duffle bag for my brother to pick me up.
Instead of becoming a druggy or marrying one, as a more perceptive laterborn might have done, I went on to college with a full-ride scholarship, the same college my oldest brother attended. When I was ten years old, the entire family drove fourteen hours so we could watch him graduate. Surely, a brilliant college career could garner some praise. So I continued earning A’s, won awards, and was accepted into a prestigious internship program.
When I graduated, my in-laws came to watch.
I don’t hold any grudges, though. I too am amazed by everything my first child does. When she was four months old, I propped her on the couch so I could take lengthy videos of her staring at the camera. The only thing that moves in the video is the drool on her chin. It’s like one of those foreign films my husband loves: we watch for three minutes as a tear drop slides down the wrinkled face of an impoverished babushka. “This isn’t a movie,” I complain. “This is a long photograph.” But he loves it, and no wonder—he’s a first born.
You see, firstborns spend their whole lives with a captive audience. No matter what they do, their parents find it deeply engrossing. Of course all this attention can be gratifying. The downside is that firstborns never learn to be interesting. My husband, for example, tries to entertain me in bed by reading aloud our county’s Democratic party platform, three pages of small print. Poor guy. It’s not his fault. His mother probably thought it was interesting when he stared and drooled.
Now I have three children, and I’ve come to realize that four-month-olds, though very sweet, really aren’t too interesting. My four-month-old gets some love and kisses when it’s time to nurse or change his diaper, then he’s swung up to my hip where he slowly morphs into an accessory, a large ornament on my waist. Today I forgot all about him as I cared for my two older children. I helped my older ones get ready for the day and pick up their toys. We played trains and played with their stuffed animals. Then Grandma called. My secondborn frowned as I announced that once again the phone call was for my firstborn. You see, Grandma was very excited because her first grandchild has lost her first tooth. This was at least the fifth long-distance call placed in order to relay news about the loose tooth.
I offered some attention to my secondborn to compensate for the fact that no one is interested in her teeth. Then the aching in my arm reminded me that I have another child too. I sat down and swung him around to face me.“Hi baby,” I cooed. And wow! What a response! He was stomping, grinning and making wild noises by inhaling sharply. In his little green sleepers, he reminded me of a dancing leprechaun, and I knew just what he was thinking: “Keep smiling! Keep stomping! She’s paying attention!”