My husband and I are both first-borns. We’re super uptight A-type crazy people. My mother has described me as “manic” on more than one occasion. I prefer the label of “boss”–it just sounds better and is more affirming.
I have always had a soft spot for second sons. I loved history when I was in grade school, and learning about all of the things that first-born sons got as compared to second sons always felt unjust to me. What do you mean the eldest son gets the castle but the younger sons were shipped off to the life of the priesthood? And third sons? They didn’t even get that? (But they escaped a life of celibacy, right? That’s got to be good for something?) Further studies found that some of those wayward second sons found their way onto ships destined for New World shores, so that’s kind of cool. But even in 2013, second sons are still second best: The first born gets a lot of responsibility heaped onto him and he is still destined to ascend to head of the family when the patriarch passes on. No wonder a lot of middle and younger children end up becoming comedians, entertainers and other great artists. Who wants to be a sterile doctor or lawyer anyway?
While I have had a soft spot for them, I’ve also been worried. How do I make sure that I nurture this second son, not smother him and also not compare him to his brother? How do I honor him as his own person, on his own trajectory? What can I do to elevate this son in a way that he’s my baby, but he’s not the baby? I’m still grappling with these questions, but I feel like I’m finding my way.
I am finding that there is a relaxation in mothering second sons. Indeed, I’m having a lot of fun enjoying all of the little things that make Ursa Minor so special.
Bringing up Ursa Major has been an intense study in milestone marking and competitive pushing. “Why yes, he did start walking at 10 months. That’s early? Well, I guess we’re just awesome!” [High-fiveing a million angels]. “Where are his teeth? Why doesn’t he have teeth?” “Why isn’t he talking? Shouldn’t he be talking?” “He can sing his ABCs and he just turned two!” [High-fiveing a million angels again]. We’re always ticking off the things that he should and should not be doing. He fills us with the greatest pride and also brings us the greatest worries. He brings out our hopes and dreams. He is, in a word, magnificent if only because he profoundly brightens our world by his presence. We try not to pressure him too much, and he seems to enjoy being at the forefront of everything. Now, in the role of big brother, he loves being a “teacher,” too.
It should be noted that his current terrible-two obstinance drives me to the bleeding edge of my patience. The bleeding edge!
I could describe Ursa Minor with the same language. He, too, is magnificent. But his magnificence comes with a twist: I’m not as worried about him as I am about Ursa Major. When it comes to him, I’m totally in “been there, don’t that,” mode. That is not to say that his milestones aren’t important to us. They are. We’re just not micromanaging them like we did with Ursa Major. Ursa Minor has a lot more breathing room, and that has ended up making him a pretty cool baby. I noticed this yesterday to great delight when I was vacuuming the apartment.
You see, Ursa Major is now two and a half. All of his life, he has hated the vacuum cleaner. I have to announce, 10 minutes in advance, when I’m going to vacuum so as to give him time to gather his wits (and his favorite toys) and then get to the couch to camp out while I handle my business. Ursa Minor, who is only 14 months old, doesn’t give a what-what about the vacuum. When it comes to the vacuum, Ursa Minor is a dragon slayer. Ever since he could crawl, Ursa Minor has chased the vacuum and loves the thrill of having me chase him with it now that he can walk and run. This boy, upon my finishing and unplugging the thing, tips over the vacuum with much maniacal laughter. He loves to examine its contents like some sort of CSI scientist, pocking at it and spinning its wheels to assure that it is dead. Mind you, Ursa Major is still on the couch, cowering in fear. Ursa Minor often looks as his brother with a pitying look. So yesterday when I was done cleaning, when Ursa Minor walked up to the vacuum cleaner hit it and then roared, I practically fell over with laughter.
I love Ursa Minor because he has every ounce of his father’s beauty, yet he has a bad attitude that rivals my own. He is second born with first-born expectations. He takes none of his brother’s tyranny, snatching toys right back from his brother, stomping on train tracks that he has been forbidden to play with, throwing things in his brother’s general direction after being instructed not to play with this or that…of course, I have to enforce rules and tell my sons to play nice…but on the inside, I’m laughing. A lot. Ursa Minor is the stallion who mounts the world (Game of Thrones readers will know what that means). I don’t know what ya’ll are going to do when I release him into adulthood.
It is so much fun to love both of my sons equally for different reasons. I love being able to appreciate them and honor them for being different and special. While my expectations for them are high and their training in compassion, honor, virtue, dignity, and thinking will be the same, I look forward to watching their different interpretations of what I teach them. Ursa Major will be methodical, almost orthodox in his learning. He’ thinks so much like his father does: Rules are rules, and then again, rules are rules. Never meant to be broken. Ursa Minor is very much like I am: Rules are rules, and then again, rules are often arbitrary, selectively enforced and certainly meant to be broken when the ends justify the means. He is going to drive us to the edge of madness when he becomes a teenager (Hell, when he turns two!). I hope, however, that I’m able to appreciate his resistance and rebellions in the way that I appreciate them now.
I think that I also appreciate Ursa Minor’s last few months of baby-ness because I think he will be my last baby. As much as I want to have a third–to go for the girl that my husband so badly wants–I don’t see how we can afford another one. I know that there are many people who have lot more children with a lot less money, but we just aren’t those people. The thought of how much preschool is about to cost us, let alone two simultaneous college tuition in the future makes me dry heave. I’m not ruling it out, but the more that we think of it (and our ever tightening budget), I don’t know how it is possible. That makes me sad, but that is life. Besides, is there room for a second diva in this house? (The answer is no!)
So I have two little bears that I get to chase and love. One of them will be a dragon slayer, the other a powerful thinker and rule follower. I’m ok with that. Balance is a good thing!