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Reality Check – The second-born advantage

Posted on June 18, 2014 by Maple Creek

My husband’s a paediatrician, and so a parade of parents pass through his office everyday. And he brags that without even looking at a chart, he can always tell whether the new baby in his office is a firstborn, a second born, or just another in a long line of offspring.

It all comes down to pacifier protocol. If the baby is a firstborn, and the pacifier falls on the floor, the mom will throw it out. If it’s a second born, the mom will pick up the pacifier and stick it in the diaper bag, to take it home to wash. But if the baby is further down the list, the mom will pick up the pacifier, lick it off, and stick it back in the baby’s mouth. The more kids we have, the more laid back we become.

My oldest daughter is often complaining about this, since she had to fight hard for privileges her younger sister was given without even having to ask. When Rebecca finally was allowed to stay up until 10 p.m. a few years ago, her sister, who is two years her junior, inherited that privilege, too, because I couldn’t be bothered to supervise two different bedtimes. My standards on what is appropriate clothing also changed. Rebecca swears she looked like a nerd when she was 12 because I still bought her clothes in the children’s store. Katie was wearing American Eagle castoffs at 11.

On some things, though, I have held firm, to my immense pride. Katie did not get Facebook until she was 13, just like her older sister. She couldn’t wear lip gloss and mascara until she was 14. She still can’t have a cell phone until she can help pay for it. But nevertheless, she is acutely aware that her big sister has broken in her parents.

Right now that older sister is busy acclimatizing us to the idea that she will soon be driving. We’ve had her do the smart thing. She has taken the Young Driver’s of Canada courses, which basically teach you “every other driver out there wants to kill you.” And while she once felt children were cute and adorable, she now sees them as threats, lurking behind every tree, van, or telephone pole, waiting to run in front of the car. She is so safe she makes me feel like I’m a major road hazard.

Rebecca can now parallel park (something I have never accomplished, even on my own driver’s test), back into a parking space, and avoid all small miscreants threatening to careen into traffic. She is safe beyond all measure, because she is a firstborn.

She has broken her father and me in, as we have gripped the door handles, white knuckled, screaming for her to go, or pass, or stop somewhere in the middle of one of those stressful left-hand turn intersections. She declared she didn’t really want to drive with either of us, and went running to her driver instructor again. I guess he doesn’t freak her out. He just laughs at her.

When Katie is 16, likely we will be able to laugh, too. But right now I’m still in the throw-out-the-pacifier stage. Recently, in Keith’s office, another parent in a tremulous voice explained that he found the car seat very threatening, because what if he didn’t put the baby in properly. My husband replied, “Just wait until the car seat is the driver’s seat.” And so here we are, playing the role of paranoid, overprotective parent once again. So far, though, it’s worked out pretty well for us. Rebecca’s a great girl. But it’s worked even better for the younger one, who is reaping all the benefits.

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