Last year, on my brother’s birthday, I ordered a box of disposable diapers to be delivered to his house once a month from Amazon.

This was an accident. Somehow I had selected his address as my shipping default for one-click shopping. It was a horrifying mistake on my part, and I had to call up my sister-in-law to explain why she was about to receive a box of 152 size 3s, just in time for my brother’s special day.

I owe a lot to my brother. I don’t think I ever realized how much until I had kids of my own.

My brother was 12 years-old when I was born, and my earliest memories of him are tinged with a touch of terror. He used to try out his new wrestling moves on me on the stairs, until I learned to lie still and play dead. Often he would dive to the bottom of our lake when I was swimming, and then grab my foot and pull me under, or dump a greenish mound of pond slime on my head. Worst of all, when I was six or seven, he would try to teach me math concepts he was learning in college. Playing dead wouldn’t help me here, so I learned to nod intelligently while singing the theme to “Green Acres” in my head. This has proven to be a valuable life skill.

But aside from those moments of terror, I have happy memories of him teaching me to whistle (another valuable life skill!). He taught himself to play the banjo and harmonica when he was ten, and I loved to follow him out on the back porch after dinner and watch him play (and yes, make a pest out of myself by putting my fingers over the strings).

My brother skipped his junior and senior years of high school.  He took a job far away in St. Louis immediately after graduating from college at age twenty.  My older sister had left home for college by then too, so for many years I enjoyed being an only child. Ah, but I had it even better than that. I was an only child with youngest child benefits.

I’ve only recently begun to realize how hard it must have been for my brother. Because now I have an eldest child of my own.

Even before he was born, I worried constantly about my son: I don’t have morning sickness.  What does it mean?! I’m not having contractions. What does it mean?! And then of course, once he was born, it got even worse: He isn’t rolling over yet. What does it mean?! He doesn’t sleep through the night. What does it mean?!

Being a youngest child myself, with little exposure to babies, I had absolutely no frame of reference for what was normal. I wish I could say that things have gotten better as my son has gotten older, that I’ve learned to relax and just be happy to watch him grow and develop into his own unique person, but no. Every new age and phase brings a new cause for panic: He threw sand at somebody. What does it mean?! He likes to play alone at recess. What does it mean?!

But my daughter…with my daughter everything is so much easier. When she was a baby, I was never worried about how fast she was progressing. It’s really crazy how kids all learn to roll over, and crawl, and walk and talk. It seems impossible, but I had seen it happen before, so I knew she would get there. Also, my life had gotten so much busier that, instead of waiting anxiously for each milestone, I was often caught off guard: Hey, look! She’s rolling over! And instead of “What does it mean?!” it’s “Oh, she’s just being two.” Even when she was 16 months-old and throwing herself on the floor of the airplane we were waiting to unboard, and scooting backwards under the seats while screaming her head off, she was “just being two.”

It’s so unfair. I know it is. But my daughter is slowly teaching me to be a better parent to my son, just as he taught me to be a better one to her. And just as my big brother, (and my big sister too), taught my parents to relax and let me grow at my own pace, without worrying too much about my difficult phases.

This year, for my brother’s birthday, I told him thank you. (Also that he was getting old, but mostly thank you). And if he ever does need those disposable diapers, I’ve got him covered. It is the least I can do.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 18:47:11

    Ash, I loved this “column” you wrote about your brother and about the pressures we all put on the first-born of our families! Love, Mom


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