*and yes, the middle ones, too
The subject of how we are raised and, in turn, raise our kids is not exactly ground-breaking material. It keeps many a therapist in vacation homes and many a comedian on the talk show circuit. We say that we will raise them all the exact same way. We say we won’t make the same mistakes our parents made. We are really, really good at this whole parenting thing until we start actually having kids. Birth order theories are as contradictory as they are fascinating; all holding a kernel of truth.
In this essay, from my vastly researched and statistically analyzed data points, I will demonstrate… Just kidding! I have completely anecdotal evidence that will thoroughly center around my three boys; mostly how I’ve apparently raised my oldest and my youngest in completely different universes. As an aside, we’ll eventually address how I’ve raised the middle one, because, of course, we’ll leave the middle one off. That’s how this works, right?
- Oldest: knew them by age 2. Could recite them, sing them, list them with a corresponding object, had started to figure out that they spell things. We declared, “He is a genius – surely the next Doogie Howser, MD!”
- Youngest: at age 4, claimed “I don’t know. I forget the middle. They all mash together. Does it really matter?” We acknowledged that an extra year of preschool wouldn’t hurt, and the world needs ditch diggers, too.
- Oldest: watched ad nauseum. Could list all characters. Loved The Count. Had a Cookie Monster-themed eighteen-month birthday party (because OF COURSE he had an eighteen-month birthday party).
- Youngest: still has never watched a full episode. Knows one of them likes cookies and there’s an annoying red one. Always demanded we just turn SpongeBob back on, even though his brothers had left for school. Eighteen months passed without acknowledgment (we realized as we threw together last-minute plans for 2ndbirthday).
Playdates in Grade School
- Oldest: My conversation with husband, “Ooh, that kid is allowed to play Call of Duty and watch PG-13 movies. Do you think it’s okay to have oldest play with him?”
- Youngest: My conversation with husband, “Ooh, that kid is an oldest child. Do you think it’s wise to send youngest over there? I don’t want to get the dreaded “Do you know what words he taught little Timmy?” call.
“Bad” Words in Kindergarten
- Oldest: “Mom. You can’t say the word “stupid” – it’s mean and hurtful.”
- Youngest: “OLDEST! Stop being a Goddamn DICK and give me back the stupid ball!”
- Oldest: No toy guns of any kind. POSSIBLE exception for squirt guns after age five. No other weaponry-like toys allowed.
- Youngest: At age two, “Mommy, have you seen my Battle Axe?” Answered with, “I don’t know – check the nerf gun drawer.” (My aside to husband: “I think he’s gonna kill Oldest” to which husband replied, “I’m guessing Oldest has it coming.”)
School Spirit Weeks
- Oldest: I planned them out meticulously. Oldest offered no complaints when dressed up. Pictures were taken. I was waiting at the bus stop with bated breath to see how each day went.
- Youngest: My attempts to recycle ideas from oldest were met with “I’m not wearing that.” (sigh) My response? “Okay, whatever. Just please wear something that doesn’t make you look homeless.” (One victory included dressing him as Vanilla Ice for 90s / decade day, which I CANNOT believe the school let us get away with!)
Being called “Baby”
- Oldest: “I AM NOT A BABY! Stop treating me like a baby!”
- Youngest: “Well, I AM the Baby. Baby should never get in trouble and should always get what he wants. I mean, I’m just a Baby.” (This somehow still works for him at age 12.)
Being told “Maybe”
- Oldest: “So, you mean “No,” but you don’t want to deal with me right now.” Sulking ensues*
- Youngest: “YAY! MAYBE MEANS YES!!” Celebrating ensues*
*These are absolutely BOTH correct
The truth about Santa
- Oldest: He still believed at age eleven. I prepared an entire discussion, including a reading of “Polar Express” and explanation that, as an adult, I still hear the bells and enjoy the magic. Imparted wisdom that being a secret member of the ‘magic maker society’ for helping the younger ones enjoy the season is just as fun. Thought I was in the clear until he gasped and said, “Wait. So, this means everything is fake? Tooth Fairy? Easter Bunny? All of it?!” and burst into tears.
- Youngest: He came to me at age eight as I was gearing up to tell his middle brother. He sincerely asked if I needed help with the tough conversation, “Yeah, I figured it out last year, but I didn’t want anyone to feel bad. I still get gifts and tooth fairy money, right? Because I can keep pretending if it means better stuff.”
Cell Phone/Social Media
- Oldest: Much hand-wringing and major debates for years until we finally relented as he entered middle school. First social media account (Twitter) as a Freshman in High School – but only because he needed it for his baseball recruiting. Promises were made; chores were completed. I insisted on knowing his password so I could spot-check for inappropriate use or texts.
- Youngest: We handed him one in third grade so we could “lo-jack” him when we sent him off ALONE to sports practices and friends’ houses. He immediately started an Instagram account that I maybe check once or twice a quarter. Only reason I know his password is because pre-teen boys aren’t that creative, and I guessed right the one time I needed to check something (that I couldn’t find on my phone).
Speaking of… SPORTS
- Oldest: We walked him into practices or had a parent coaching him until seventh grade. Made him try every sport. Stayed to watch most practices. Always at least one (usually both) parent at every game. Always volunteering as team parent. Wrote a Little League column so passionate, it actually went viral on the Little League site. Wash uniforms religiously to keep them fresh; buy best equipment to keep him safe. Constant social media posts on his successes.
- Youngest: Drop him off in front of buildings (not even always correct entrance) and tell him to text that he’s OK (like he’d be able to say “nope; got kidnapped”?!) Stopped coaching/volunteering by second grade. Made him try 2-3 sports; he immediately rejected all but one; basketball. Don’t go to any practices. Rarely both parents at the games. No videos, barely any pictures. Couldn’t write a column because still not 100% sure of the rules in youth basketball. Often forget to ask about washing jersey. He has played in shoes too small because I forget his feet grow.
- Oldest: “You qualified for all honors classes? Great! Sign up!” or “What do you mean, you didn’t qualify? I’ll talk to the teachers!”
- Youngest: “I know you qualified for all honors, but do you really want to do all of them? No? Great! Which ones should we tell them you don’t want?”
Finally, the inevitable differences in what media and pop culture they consume. Oldest (at eighteen) hasn’t seen some of the stuff that youngest (at twelve) watches with middle guy. Conveniently, they all seem perfectly capable of the same crude jokes, disgusting references, and anatomy/sex act nicknames. We have been very close to getting asked to leave during family BINGO because they all hoot and holler every time “O-69” is called – even when no one has it on their card.
Speaking of the middle guy, did you wonder if we were ever going to get to his upbringing? Yep, with him, the basic mantra is: “Here’s a journal. Write in it all the things I’ve done wrong. Hand it to your future therapist and tell him or her that I really did try.”
In all seriousness, though, his experience is such a hot mess combination, that sometimes both and sometimes neither of the aforementioned rules apply. He’ll tell you he always gets the worst end of the deal, but the other two would vehemently disagree with this.
Thankfully, they are all incredibly kind, compassionate, and intelligent. They all succeed in their own ways and are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. They are all very quick and more than happy to point out when one gets preferential treatment, but they know the answer to the question “Am I your favorite?” is “YES!” – to all of them.
So yes, we raise them differently. But if we raise them with buckets of love, unconditional acceptance, and plenty of laughter, we’re doing alright.