July 24, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Today is a great day, as it has been for many years

Cynthia DewesToday is the birthday of our oldest child. It’s special because his arrival was like the culmination of our married love. And the advent of his sister and brothers was the further enrichment of that love. It was something to be shared by an entire family.

New parents are often clueless about what to expect when Baby arrives. They take all the birthing and parenting courses, furnish the nursery and try to prepare themselves thoroughly. They may even be a bit arrogant, thinking how hard can this be? And then, when the new child appears, all that goes out the window. Here he or she is, this tiny version of Mom and Dad combined, breathing sweetly into your neck and making nestling noises.

Still, because he or she is number one, parents expect great things. The oldest child is like a third parent. He or she is usually responsible, quiet and helpful. Of course, being first, parents also expect him or her to be all of that plus reverent, clever, thrifty and any other virtue you can think of. That’s a hard expectation to follow, but our son has pretty well hit the mark.

Somehow, that feeling of authority holds over. Will is still the “boss” according to our other kids, and his children regard him the same way. He also proved his leadership with a 30-year career in the U.S. Navy.

Now, I believe that birth order has a lot to do with kids’ attitudes and personalities. Child Number Two doesn’t have to be “on call” by the parents, as it were. So she (in our case) could afford to be a dreamer, creative and given more to imagination than practicality. She was always pleasant and amenable, but she always did exactly what she wanted—within the parameters of Mom’s patience, of course.

Numbers Three, Four and beyond can just be themselves, too. They go along with whatever’s happening, amusing themselves and their families, learning, and generally observing what works and what doesn’t in life. They learn how to be married and how to raise kids, and how to be generous in loving.

They also learned all the tricks, including how to avert blame. Whenever Mom made the mistake of lining everyone up to learn the identity of the culprit, the kids would point to Peter because he had a bad heart and wouldn’t get in much trouble. Pete, in turn, knew his role and would nod and try to look guilty.

Two kids seemed to me to be the greatest adjustment, because after that they all “took care of” each other. They’d keep the toddler amused while Mom fed the baby, or corral the others for lunch, or search the neighborhood for whoever was missing at dinner time. They certainly helped us raise our two children who were handicapped, never showing impatience or resentment when their desires were thwarted or delayed in some way.

In fact, our fourth child once told us he was grateful for having had such a happy childhood. Naturally we were pleased, but also mystified because that poor son was largely ignored in his infancy. His younger brothers demanded so much time and attention that his nurturing consisted mostly of food, clothing and shelter. Go figure.

We remember this day fondly every year because it marks the beginning of a new and wonderful phase of our married lives, with Will as its symbol. Happy birthday, son, and thanks for a great start.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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