[Quiet Thoughts] “It’s Not Fair!” and Other Complaints of the First Born


Photo: I’m pretty sure this is my only school photo before my little sister came into the world and sent everything all upside down and inside out. Look at the happiness…

My Quiet Thoughts are about parenting this week, because we hit another interesting milestone. With The Husband distracted with the playroom and with me distracted with the embroidery and baking, the boys decided to add a little something to their relationship this week: Hitting.

That’s not to say that hitting hasn’t been a part of our daily lives all along. Ursa Major has taken his frustration out on his brother with a good slap from time to time, and when that has happened and I have seen it, I’ve lost my shit. “You do not hit your brother!” I have screeched on too many occasions. “You didn’t create him! You cannot hit him!” There have been some hard moments, some time-outs, some yelling, some other disciplinary actions. I’ve thrown the hammer about this because I have to teach Ursa Major early that violence, in any form, is unacceptable. Especially in anger or frustration. He can’t hit or fight in school, so he can’t hit or fight in the house. Furthermore, and probably more importantly, when Ursa Minor was a baby and didn’t understand and couldn’t fight back, I found Ursa Major’s outbursts to be especially egregious. My forceful discipline on this issue seemed to do what I needed it to do, but it didn’t make the hitting completely go away.

Well this week, Ursa Minor started hitting back.

The boys are 15 months apart in age, and that 15 months has been pretty profoundly noticed for the last 2 years. But Ursa Minor has caught up to his brother in a lot of ways: He runs, he speaks, he understands, he plays… Ursa Minor doesn’t have all of the abilities of a three year-old, but he’s a pretty solid two year-old with all of the skills required and more. And more importantly, he reveres his brother. He wants to do everything that Ursa Major does and be everywhere that Ursa Major is.

So when Ursa Major hits him in anger, Ursa Minor hits back because he thinks its a game. And because he thinks it’s just what we do around here.

And there is where the justice in the house started to get a little funky. I haven’t consistently given the time-out, nor have I lost my shit when I see Ursa Minor hit his brother (usually in retaliation, but not always). I just haven’t had the same reaction because the context is just different. Furthermore, the time out just doesn’t seem to be effective with Ursa Minor. He needs something else (I’m not sure I’ve pinpointed what, exactly, yet) to really get the point across. And my eldest, acutely tuned-in to “justice” and how it works, has been crying foul.

I want to tell my son about how hard it is to be the first born. We bear a lot of burdens and expectations, and they never really go away. Furthermore, are milestones are double-edged swords: Our parents are joyful that we’ve achieved something important and yet, as new challenges present themselves, their anxiety never ever dissipates. Ever. Hell, I’m almost 30 with kids and a mortgage and my mother is still anxious about what I’m doing and such. Even when we prove that we learned the lessons that our parents have tried to teach us, they always seem to expect more, and they always have the next task waiting for us. Somehow, the second born (and subsequent borns thereafter) always look like they are having an easy time of it. Their milestones are enjoyed. Their needs are met before they even know it. They often get to delay or escape some of the super-big obligations because we first-borns have filled the need (See: Big weddings, grandchildren). I want to tell my son about how special being the first born can be, and how you kinda don’t understand it until you’re old.

Right now, “it’s not fair!” is the only thing he’s interested in speaking to me about right now. And he’s right. The way I parent him and the way I parent his brother will be different, and those differences will be perceived as unfair. Maybe, in ways, it will just flat out be unfair. It was never going to be perfect, or even balanced. Especially when they are so different, but I’m trying to get them to the same ultimate goal. I suppose I have to think about how I can discipline them both in ways that respect who they are, comes off as just, gets the point across, and still conveys that I love and care for them both.

I’ve been thinking about this all week because I was once the first born who was screaming about how “unfair” it all was. My sister is four years behind me and there were plenty of times when it seemed like I lived in a world without justice. It took a while, but she and I became partners and friends. The world is what it is because she’s in it. And especially now, as our parents are crazy for different reasons and we each have burdens and joys, it’s nice to have someone to share with and laugh with. It’s nice to have that inside joke with only one person in the world. You know? I know that there will be a time when, as first born, I’m going to have to make some difficult decisions and I am so grateful that I’ll have another person in the room to help.

I guess, ultimately, that’s the measure that my parents did something right all along. That even in the difficult moments, I never became resentful and I ultimately found understanding. I have a sister, and we’re different, and we require(d) different things from our parents. Yet we were still loved deeply and equally. That’s the standard that I need to hold my discipline and parenting up to: Not to worry about the tears of today, but the bond that the boys will share tomorrow.

Buds are turning into fledgling leaves here in Massachusetts. Color found its way to the lawns weeks ago, but the trees have been slow to reveal their vernal offerings. They are still quite bare, but more present themselves to the eye each day. Warm, too, is reluctant to arrive and stay, but we’re looking at a 10-day stretch of 60 or better. Just another reason to smile on a Friday.

I wish you the opportunity to lay on a blanket in a green space this weekend, looking up at a blue sky and naming the shapes that puffy white clouds make as they float by. I wish you a treasure found at a yard sale, at a price that will leave you smiling for the rest of the weekend. I wish you a browse through a book store that happens to have its door open as you stroll by, the smell of paper and leather inspiring you to walk the aisles and turn the pages. I wish you the sight of a ladybug flying or crawling by, and I hope you’ll send her off with a wish to carry. I wish you the distant rumbles of your first thunderstorm of the season, giving you an excuse to curl up to a warm cup and a good book (or netflix). I wish you a taste of the first strawberries of the season, preferably on a short cake with freshly whipped cream (make it yourself!) or maybe in a bed of tender lettuce greens and drizzled with some vinaigrette, I wish you a chat with a sibling or cousin or close friend, and the opportunity to show them your appreciation. And I wish you joy, because you deserve it.

We’re going to the paint store tomorrow. Will imperialism win or will I find some earth tones or something else just in time? Find out Monday. Until then, take care.

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