My baby turned one-and-a-half yesterday.
It felt like a big deal, even though it was a relatively typical Saturday, only with chocolate cupcakes for dessert.
My oldest recently turned 5-and-a-half, and since she has a summer birthday, we brought a hot-pink box of sprinkle-topped cupcakes into school to celebrate on her half-birthday. So the half-birthday party was born.
This previous week has been a long one for us. My husband worked a lot, and several nights leading up to this 18-months milestone were the kind when I have to consciously wait until an appropriate time to pour a glass of wine.
One evening at dinner, I sat across from my oldest in her chair and my “baby” in her highchair. My husband wasn’t home yet. The baby started playing with her food, and my oldest mimicked her. It was truthfully innocent on her part, since her little sister imitates her all the time. However, I asked her not to because her sister is watching, and using her good examples for clues on how to behave, and to learn in general.
And then I stopped. I momentarily braked from my over-time parenting role—lately, this feeling of having to always be “on” with my kids; of not having enough time to not be “mom.” I paused, and I just let myself take in how these two little girls are playing together—how despite their age difference, they’ve become good friends.
It hit me suddenly how much pressure my 5-year-old has on her, now that she’s a big sister.
Things that used to be thoughtlessly easy for me are now big deals. Grocery store trips, random errands, getting my allergy shots, and even going to the zoo—these used to be activities that were special, maybe, or somewhat tedious, but it was a completely different animal with only one kid to bring along with me everywhere, instead of two.
It feels like, in some ways, my oldest gets the short end of the stick. Like how we go out to lunch less—okay, never. Or how we go to the zoo a little less frequently. Or how, if I can, I wait for their dad, and we all go to the grocery store together on the weekends.
She’s the big-sister example.
To be fair, my child likes this. She’s a natural little teacher and leader, and she enjoys showing her sister how to do things, and even how to say things. (FYI, watching a 5-year-old use clear diction and over-pronunciation to help out a baby sibling is perhaps the cutest thing ever.)
It’s not the baby’s fault either—don’t get me wrong. Still, life shifts and transitions when we add new people into a small family unit—and that’s a lot of pressure for a little kid.
While older siblings are known sociologically as over-achievers, it’s more commonly accepted that this is because we’re more able to be helicopter-style parents with them—rotating and swirling around our first-born’s every need and concern. Yet if a child is an older sibling, than they clearly have a younger one, and not only are they by default usurped, but they then become known as the family-child-head—this leading example—even if they still grow to be more deprived of this aforementioned over-attention.
I can’t help that my oldest daughter is an “oldest.” I don’t want to–I wanted a sibling for her, and she loves having a sister. But as we sat at our dinner table the other night, I couldn’t help noticing her laugh; her dimples that show only when she’s smiling the hardest.
After a day of of going to the zoo, and getting ice cream, and doing a bunch of things to celebrate some finally-warm, sunny weather, my kids were happy—genuinely, kid, it’s-summer-in-the-air-smile happy, and I dogeared my heart to remember that my oldest is still a freaking kid.
Even if she is an exceptionally good one.
Even if she’s an effortlessly good big sister.
Even if suddenly a half-a-year slips by, and they’re both growing up so fast.