Sep 11, 2010

When Being First Doesn't Pay

It is not easy to be the first child.  Sure, there are some benefits to it.  Like if you are royalty, being the first born means that you are first in line to the throne.  You can call family meetings.  And you are usually bigger, so you can enforce your will with force if necessary.  So, there . . . you have that going for you.  But, there are two very big problems when you are the first born.  And those two problems are your mom and your dad.

Think about it.  New parents have no clue what they are about to get into.  They may think they do.  They may read and research and watch other people's kids.  But there is just nothing that can truly prepare you for your own children.  When you are babysitting or serving as a nanny, you go home at some point.  Things like doctor bills and schooling and future plans are not your responsibility.  Reading a book will serve you well if your child is a two dimensional sketch on a page.  But when your child is a real life boy, the book doesn't do you a lot of good - unless you use it to throw at the child to stop them from knocking over a lamp.  As a first time parent, you are in completely new territory every single day.

When they are babies, they are small and helpless.  Every day there is the fear that something is going to happen to them.  When they cry for some bizarre unexplained reason in the middle of the night, you jump up and worry.  "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?"   We learn it was nothing - and we know better the next time. We have to deal with the feedings and changings and putting to sleep.  And each time, it is a new effort - something you are unprepared for.  Basically, a new parent is winging it.  I don't know what to do in each situation.  I am just doing my best and hoping it is right.

The kid starts to grow and explore.  They begin to crawl and pull up.  They stick things into their mouth - like deodorant, vitamins, money.  "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?"  They survive and everything is just fine. We know better the next time. Then they start to walk and talk and interact with their world. And they fall and bang their heads and split their chins on the bathroom counter. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" But the doctor glues their face back together and they are fine. And we know better the next time.

Next the child continues to sprout like a weed. Now they are in preschool and potty training. They have to interact with other children - learning to share toys, play nice, and not keep touching the one girl's really curly hair. They get in trouble at school. Other kids want to have them come over to play or spend the night or introduce them to new shows and movies that you weren't ready for your kids to see. Now your child is acting like an insane robot and you don't know why. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" So you make them take a break from the character and know better the next time.

Your boy now is in older elementary. He has his own passions and desires. He develops his own quirks. And he is not your clone - even though you desperately tried for that. So all the weird noises and crazy games and uncontrolled insanity is completely foreign to you. Maybe something happened to this child at some point that you were not aware of. Maybe they have fallen off the monkey bars and banged their head. Or they have been learning subversive messages in their Sponge Bob cartoons. Or they could be part of a massive international conspiracy where children are trained to bring a country to its knees through annoying parents. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? THEY ARE GOING TO DIE . . . IF THEY . . . DON'T . . . SHUT . . . UP!!!" But it is just a phase and you know better the next time.

As parents. we always know better the next time. With the next kid, we understand not to stress out so bad about weaning and potty training and socialization. Things happen in their time. We become more relaxed and less panicky. We used to carry twenty pacifiers with us everywhere we go to switch out the second one touches something filthy. Now, we carry one and just wipe it off on our jeans. Or, better yet, we forego pacifiers altogether, knowing they are just a big waste of money and the kid is more content to gnaw on a four hundred dollar cell phone instead. When they fall, our first response is not to call 911 before we assess the situation. We scan the room and look for missing body parts. Finding everything still attached, our new goal is just to stem the flow of blood and make the crying stop.

That oldest kid, though, just gets the big shaft. Every single phase they go into is brand new for the parent. We are never prepared. It seems like we are just hanging on, hoping to survive the newest annoying and challenging life change - the arguing, the sassiness, the pigheadedness, the taking their life into their hands on a frequent basis. It just isn't fair for the poor kid. They are just growing up and being a kid and we are freaking out. "OH MY GOSH!!! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? ARE THEY GOING TO DIE!?!?!?" Then we take a breath and know better the next time.

Tomorrow is my Josiah's ninth birthday. The poor boy has had to put up with nine years of his father's ineptitude, over-reaction, and hasty (and usually poor) decision making. He has put up with it, and honestly been the best oldest child I could ever have imagined. He is absolutely incredible. The little guy is brilliant, imaginative, talented, silly, and very loving. And he has been extremely patient with me learning how to be a dad. I am glad that he is the first born. He challenges us. He raises the bar and pushes us to be the best we can. Laziness is not an option or we will get run over. I honestly have no idea what he is going to do next - and I have no idea what to do when he does it. I do know that I'll survive and know better the next time. And I"m glad I get to learn these lessons with him.

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