This post started as a brief update on my previous kidmin post - but it has grown into something a bit bigger.
Inevitably this was the week that I did forget one of the events that needed to be attended to. Beavers. It was my son's investment... investiture? investation? Whatever. It was the thing where they touch a flag, make a promise and get their badges. It is a BIG DEAL.
I had completely forgotten it was happening. We bimbled along merrily, said goodbye to the boy and his feral pals and I was about to head home to watch my daughter begrudgingly eat something with actual vitamins in it for half an hour, when the pack leader said 'Errrr, are you not staying?' which meant I was. Of course I was. Sorry second child - your older sibling's activities take precedence over your nutritional needs. We stayed for the ceremony and it was really lovely and heartwarming and nostalgic and my little one was proud of her brother and delighted to skip that meal, so there was no real problem - but it did get me thinking about how I balance their differing and often strident needs and if I am as fair and even-handed as I can be. I find this kind of thing really difficult to balance.
I am an only child; as a kid I did what I wanted, when I wanted, in my own space and time. I had plenty of friends who were nice to me, cousins who taught me my place in a pecking order and bullies at school to shave the edges off my natural self-confidence. I certainly didn't feel I missed out on social interactions or any life lessons due to my siblingless state. However, when I am watching my kids interact, during those golden periods when they are having fun together, I do notice they have a lot more physical contact with each other that I ever had with any other kid. Just that simple act of sharing a bath with someone every night really reinforces the concept that your body is a play thing - your farts are funny, bottom drums are hilarious and wriggling around like minnows in a pond is an excellent way to round out any day. They lie on each other like puppies when watching telly, they engage in rough and tumble, giggly silliness together all the time. I think I was considerably more precious about being touched. I certainly am as an adult.
As an impartial observer I definitely felt that younger siblings got the rougher part of the deal during childhood. [Pauses whilst younger siblings triumphantly shove this article in the face of their older siblings.] They were usually the ones excluded from play, the ones who got hurt when the fists started flying (though the littler fists would fly more frequently, they were less able to land a really effective punch). They were the ones who were put down, corrected and coerced into doing things against their will. My uncle, the youngest of nine, once put an entire pack of Extra Strong Mints in his mouth* because my mum told him it would be funny. It was. For her.
I know my firstborn grew up in a world of affirmation, attention and approbation. He had the time to finish his thoughts and his sentences. He was respected and adored by everyone important in his life. His needs were paramount above all else in the household. As a baby he couldn't cry for more than a minute before some adult descended upon him to make all the problems go away. The poor bastard couldn't settle himself to sleep because of my insatiable need to constantly check on him. I concede this is a hell of a lot of pressure to have put on an infant - he is now so neurotic he pisses himself if the doorbell rings**.
My daughter, on the other hand, settled herself to sleep from about a month old, and continues to sort most things out for herself. She learnt to scale the kitchen cupboards to find my hidden box of treats before her brother who is 3 years older than her. That is the power of self-resolution. I tend to burble words like 'resilient', 'independent', 'problem-solver', 'capable' when talking about her - when I do this she is usually out of sight, doing something terrifying I'm better off not knowing about. She can also play in her own little imaginative world with whatever toys are around for over half an hour without needing any adult support - I bloody love this about her. I think her imaginary worlds are much richer than her brother's, which are based entirely on things I have said/done/watched with him. On the other hand, one of her primary carers (her brother mostly) is sarcastic at her, interrupts her, belittles her and, when he thinks I am not looking tries to trip her or pinch her. Her world is considerably less safe than his was. As a result she is more strident, more easily frustrated when things don't go her way and she definitely has more idiosyncratic ways of expressing this - she is currently refusing to use words and just saying 'nyang nyang' a lot. I cannot express how irritating this noise is. If she don't stop soon she will be nyang nyanging her way on to eBay.**
The concept of how 'unfair' I am being does rear its head every now and then. Jealousy is a fundamental part of childhood, just as much as fear or joy. My son will complain that I spend more time with his sister than with him. I have pointed out that when I spend time with him it is usually pleasant and we have lovely chats, but when I am spending time with Little Miss Self-Resolved a lot more of it is spent fighting. I am trying for quality rather than quantity with the older one - though this argument doesn't always wash with him, he is usually appeased by it. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to spend lots of one to one time with my youngest whilst he is in school, so she gets to have fun times with me as well. Christ knows what will happen when they're both in school.
When it comes to the 'he said, she said' arguments where I have no clue who is in the right, I try to be as even-handedly unfair as I can. I take it in turns to pick a side, dole out an arbitrary punishment to one of them and reassure the aggrieved party that next time it is their turn to be in the right and the other one will get the punishment. I have not seen this technique crop up in any parenting manuals but it works for me. I think sometimes decisive is better than just: it gets the argument out of the way and they can revert to their puppyish state of rolling over on one another and blowing raspberries on each other's tummies.
All in all I think there are benefits and drawbacks to whatever position you hold in a family. I loved growing up an only child, but now I've made siblings I can see the delight in the chaos, silliness and casual cruelty that is part of a shared childhood.
* Do not try this at home, it is horribly painful
* * Exaggerated for comic effect... mostly