The Rules of Birth Order
March 20th, 2016
My baby turned three yesterday.
I wonder how old she will be before I stop referring to Birdie as “the baby.” I’m guessing somewhere in her mid-fifties. Possibly longer. The older my children get, the more I’m starting to understand all the jokes about birth order. I know that birth order is not the end-all, be-all of child personality development, but stereotypes exist for a reason, people!
My favorite incarnation of the birth order memes was one I saw recently on Facebook that read: I’m the oldest, I make the rules. I’m the middle child, I’m the reason there are rules. I’m the youngest, the rules don’t apply to me.
There’s so much truth to that meme. So Much Truth. My oldest is a fastidious rule-creator and rule-abider. My middle child is an extremely lovable maniac. But my third child? That one rules the roost. The running joke between my husband and me is that, if you were keeping score, Birdie’s record would be “infinity and 0.” She’s undefeated in life.
My profound inability to set and enforce firm boundaries with my youngest child stems in equal parts from expediency and nostalgia. Rationally, I understand that caving in to the demands of a pint-sized terrorist is not a wise course of action, but in the moment, “yes” is so much easier than “no.” And by the time you’ve gotten to three kids, that which is easy, is done.
This is why Birdie shared my bed until she was 14 months old. Why get up and stumble down the hall multiple times each night when I could just feed her right there and go back to sleep? This is also why she is under the impression that every toy in the house belongs to her. She screams the loudest and possesses the least rational thought, so the fastest way to achieve peace and quiet is to appease her.
But it isn’t just about finding and exploiting every available parenting shortcut. Birdie is spoiled rotten because, from the moment she arrived, I was acutely aware of the fact that she was my last baby. My last baby!! The thought of it reduced me to tears regularly during her first six months home. I would look into her face and feel the time slipping away from me and I’d actually start to hyperventilate. It was like I could feel her getting older with each second that passed. I couldn’t bring myself to put her down much when she was tiny; every moment apart felt like time wasted.
These days, I still can’t get enough of her (although my desire to spend every waking moment with her has been eclipsed by my desire to occasionally finish a complete sentence). She’s wild and feisty and utterly magical. Her go-to response when asked to do something is to shout – “No, FOREVER!” – at the top her lungs. I hear that refrain at least a dozen times a day. And it makes me laugh every time. Then, as I’m laughing, Kung Fu Panda will cannonball off his top bunk and Miss Mouse will run to tattle on him and I’ll realize again that, whatever their birth order, there just aren’t any rules to govern how much we love our children.