I was tucking the little one in and silently lamenting the frayed edges of his hand-me-down comforter, the worn-in knees of his hand-me-down jammies and the scuffed toes of his gently worn shoe collection. “Poor little guy, he never gets anything new.” But then as I snuggled next to him, I felt how soft and loved his blanket felt. Like those jeans you wore ALL through high school and your mom finally made you wash. It occurred to me that the blanket on his bed was not the only thing with soft edges around it; around him. In fact, his brother has broken in all the hard sided-scratchy-tagged-stiff-heeled-shoes for him; his big brother has made his little world entirely a soft place to land. He’s broken in the parents, taking the brunt of the first-baby-neurosis so his little brother can experience a world that feels only like your favorite pants– cause that’s all he’s ever worn. Big made up songs for him when he was crying as an infant, offers him puzzles and pretend “homework” when there’s frustration that he can’t do big kid work, lets Little fall asleep in his bed, and loyally responds to his incessant cries of “brother, brother, brother!” He has infinite patience for this younger, scrappier, wilier, and louder human that was thrust upon him just 2 years into life– and has paved the way so effortlessly for him, ironing the wrinkles and making sure all the rough tags are cut out.
When I was little I often fantasized, sometimes to the point of lying to an unsuspecting play-date’s Mom, that I had a big brother. I wanted a big brother more than anything in life and I think what really I may have been seeking what just that– the person to smooth out the rough edges. To crawl into bed with when I was a little scared. To do all the firsts that I was too nervous to do. I have always come off as this infinitely confident and cool cucumber, but inside I am a wobbly MESS of a person who is just overly-feelings’ish and completely neurotic.
For those of us who are only (or oldest) this is our cross to bear. Our burden of being is to barrel headlong into the path of on-coming things, terrified and curled in a ball on the inside, headstrong and resilient on the outside. I am pretty sure this is why we (I) tend to like spreadsheets, calendars, bike helmets and Purell so much. We are BIG into prevention, but also BIG in our accomplishments. We do nothing small, lest the younger, wilier, louder ones drown us out. It’s contradictory in nature, but alas, here we are.
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to have a second baby (hear ye, hear ye all parents of one kid: that is not a judgement, that is not a message. Your kid is awesome and I love them and you, this is an observation on my own life.) To have this little firecracker of a boy who has no idea what it means to be alone. Ever. To give his big brother a person for life. They belong to each other. They are each other’s for-better-or-for-worse, built in emergency contact, bail money and place to crash. I gave them the thing I so badly wanted as a child. If I do nothing else: I gave them each other.
So what about me? And the other somewhat-neurotic onlies and oldests? (Sidenote to all of you well-adjusted ones: congrats, please continue to organize the world for us, grow our GDPs, invent our things. Carry on.) I think as we grow we find our people who make the world a softer place for us, if we allow them. I have girlfriends who have been there/done that in their relationships, with their kids, and their faith. Who share a willing “me too” or “expect this next” or “girl, yes you will sit on a floor for a while, but I promise you will get up.” I have a boyfriend who is wonderfully protective and careful with me; who totally lets me be strong and barrel ahead, leading the pack– then quietly picks up the pieces if they need to be gathered and dusted off.
The hard part was letting these people in– the beautiful part is continuing to say yes.