Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bringing Up Baby

There are many people who subscribe to the school of thought that our birth order greatly influences our personality. I have not spent a great deal of time looking into this, but my mother has. According to her, I definitely embody many of the stereotypical “oldest child” traits. I’m not here to argue with that idea, but it makes me think about I came to be the oldest child.

Obviously, I was the first child born to my parents, plain and simple. However, for almost the first three years of my life, I was not the oldest; I was the only.

For most two-year olds the concept of “baby” is a bit one-sided. I hadn’t met many of them, and I certainly hadn’t been allowed to play with one.

So when my parents started talking about “the new baby,” I really had no idea what to expect.

The only “baby” I was well acquainted with was the beat-up doll that I carried around with me everywhere. It used to belong to my mother and I called it “Baby Jennifer.”

Although I didn’t really know what a baby would look like, I gathered that they were cute. This made me wonder if they were anything like kittens, something that I also found to be cute.

All confusion aside, the date quickly came when my mom was due to deliver this “baby.” I don’t remember much about this time, but I do remember what we were doing when she went into labor.

As a child, most of my good friends came to me courtesy of the fact that the women my mother was friends with had children my age. Fortunately, we all got along very well and would play for hours while our moms sat and chatted over refreshments. I really don’t know what they ate and drank, but I always assumed it had something to do with Hostess Cupcakes.

Somehow, my mom and a couple of her good friends ended up getting pregnant in very quick succession. This meant that our play times were supervised by increasingly larger mother-figures.

On the day that the “baby” arrived, we were out at the house of one of these pregnant women (she was carrying twins) who was due about two months after my mom. I spent the time playing with her other two daughters and generally having a grand old time.

Whilst we children continued our merriment, up in the adult world, things were starting to happen. Basically, my mom went into labor. A hasty decision was made to leave and go to the doctor. Sounds simple, right?

Well… not really. As a child, I was quite attached to my social play time. At this point in my life, I was still technically an only child, so any interaction with other kids was a big deal to me. I was also a bit stubborn at this phase of life, but to be fair, I was still in the “terrible twos.”

Perhaps you can guess where this is leading. My mother came to fetch me for our quick departure and I did not react well to her unwanted interruption of what I’m sure was an intense game of My Little Pony or Sylvanian Family.

Not only did I become quite irate, I had to be forcibly carried (kicking and screaming) by my 9-months pregnant in-labor mother. Nice.

The rest of this day is a bit of a blur from me, probably because I took a while to come out of my super-charged rage episode. After that, I was likely quite worn out, so I am not sure how much I noticed that my mother did not come home from the doctor’s office and that I had to spend some time at the neighbors.

The baby, who turned out to be my brother Michael, arrived around 5 p.m. that day. Talk about your easy deliveries – go into labor in the morning and pop out a 10 pound baby before nightfall. When my grandfather called to speak with me about my new brother, I managed to carry on a successful argument with him over the name of said new sibling. It was the first of many debates that would teach me an important truth: sometimes kids are smarter than adults. My grandfather insisted that we had named the new baby Matthew, but obviously I knew better (and I was right).

My first interaction with my new brother and true confrontation of my loss of only-child status came with our visit to the hospital. I was accompanied by several relatives, including my father. The hospital in our small town was not large, but it did boast multiple floors, which meant that it had need of one of the most fascinating pieces of equipment known to most 2-year olds: the elevator.

Upon our arrival, we all rode up to the baby floor in the elevator and my father let me push the buttons. Not ALL of the buttons, mind you, just the one he told me to push. While this was not ideal in my mind, it had to be enough under the watchful eyes of so many adults.

When we finally made it to the room where my mom and new brother were waiting, I was picked up to see what all the fuss was about. I’m pretty sure I was happy to see my mom, but I do not really remember registering any strong feelings of interest in the wrinkly little red thing she had in her arms. If THIS was the baby I had been hearing so much about, it would really need to get a lot more interesting for me to focus attention on it at this point.

Anyway, after our brief introduction, I was placed back on the floor and promptly ignored. Rather than wallow in self-pity at the fact that I now found myself demoted to second cutest child, I opted to ditch the boring baby-love session and find my own adventure.

After casually exiting the hospital room, I wandered away down the hall and approached the only item of real interest to me since entering the building. Obviously, this was the elevator. Once I had carefully ascertained that no adult supervision was imminent, I boldly pushed the call button. When the doors opened and I still was not being pursued by a grown-up, I decided to walk right in to the unoccupied chamber.

As the doors slid closed, I pondered the switchboard. Normally, I was restricted to only pushing one button and it was always the one that my parents told me to pick. This time was different. I had no one telling me what to do, and I was free to push as many (or all) of the buttons. So I did.

When the doors opened again, I was on a new floor. I decided to check out my entertainment options in this new location, so I wandered down the hall. As there were still no adults in sight, I decided to check out the scenery a little more closely. From my brief perusal, the only familiar item appeared to be a drinking fountain. Feeling a bit parched from my journey, I decided to demonstrate my working knowledge of drinking fountains to the invisible hallway audience.

It is at this point in my story that an adult reappears in the form of my father. I’m not really sure how upset he was, but it was apparently entertaining enough to warrant a photograph of me by the drinking fountain that turned out to be too tall for me to reach. I don’t have a copy of that picture here, but I have recreated it in this artist’s rendering:

This shall be the conclusion of my faithful retelling of the day that represents the end of my solo reign as top banana in my family’s child pecking order. The ensuing adjustment period had occasional rocky periods involving pacifiers, My Little Pony and hair rollers, but I eventually learned to accept the fact that I was a big sister. I also learned how to exert my continued dominance in our sibling dynamic that continues to this day.

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