Staying One Step Ahead of the Second Child

It’s this cutie’s 38th birthday today! Here’s one from the archives.

November 1999

Next year at this time, my youngest daughter will almost be sixteen. She figured this out the other day while I was driving her to work or cheerleading practice or a football game or maybe Walmart. I can’t remember. I just drive.

“Isn’t that exciting!” she said. “Then I can drive myself everywhere!”

She was born twenty months after her sister, and ever since she’s been playing catch-up, always wanting to be her sister’s age.

When she was eight she wanted to be ten. At eleven, she was convinced her life would begin at thirteen. Now, at fourteen, the magic age is sixteen—the age to drive, date, and plan her life for when she’s eighteen.

I can understand her feeling that she has an inherent right to the same timetable as her sister. When they were small children, I lumped them together as a group rather than seeing them as individuals of differing ages.

Youngest Daughter stopped taking naps and gave up Barbies the same time as Oldest Daughter, and started listening to (and stopped listening to) New Kids on the Block when her sister did.

But age became an issue when it was time for the big stuff, like staying up a half-hour later, putting on fingernail polish by herself, riding in the front seat, shaving her legs, wearing makeup, getting her ears pierced a second time, and dating. She had to wait.

“Wait?” she exclaims each time her sister gets a new privilege. “That’s not fair!”

“Those are the rules.”

“Well, when can I?”

“When you are your sister’s age.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes,” I always say. “I promise.”

Parents, learn this lesson well: Never promise a child anything hoping she will forget. She won’t. And if you do promise something, make sure you write it down. Verbatim. Have it notarized. Sign it in blood. Or you’ll be matching wits and memories with a kid who has documented proof you made a promise exactly as you said it years before while you were making Thanksgiving dinner for thirty and would say anything to get her out of the kitchen.

This lesson applies mostly to the second child. With a first child, parents are fledglings and rarely promise anything because they have no idea what they’re doing. For example, if your oldest child asks to stay up a half-hour later, you might say something like, “I’ll think about it,” and then run to the bookshelf for advice as soon as she’s out of the room.

I’m going to let you in on a secret the books never tell: When you render your decision about the first child’s request, your second child is taking it all in, memorizing the date, the time, the exact age of the first child (to the day) and the place you were standing when you said, “Yes, you may stay up a half-hour later tonight.”

Be prepared when your second child comes to you, detailed charts with analysis in hand, at the exact same time in her life and asks to stay up a half-hour later. If you have forgotten when you allowed the first child the same privilege, you will have no defense. God help you if you say no.

If these second-born children could apply these awesome memorization and organizational skills to their education, they’d all be rocket scientists, brain surgeons, or concert pianists. However, being adamant about being right is usually reserved only for fairness (as they perceive it) in family matters. Being driven to memorize their spelling words or the periodic table is not in the same league as showing up their mother or older sister.

Being second doesn’t always mean having to wait, or being vigilant for injustices or wearing hand-me-downs, though. It does have its advantages. My youngest makes mental notes every time her sister and I have a difference of opinion and some kind of punishment is handed down. With this advanced knowledge, the youngest rarely repeats the mistakes of her sister. Where she doesn’t avoid punishment (or at least a dirty look) is when she reminds me of mine.

The second child is almost always compared to the older child, especially if they’re the same gender. But second children rarely walk the path of their older sibling. My oldest is a bit reserved, a little shy. It is my youngest who makes the most noise in our world, the one who will not be ignored, the one who will try the things her sister won’t. She is the child my mother couldn’t wait for me to have—the one who is most like me.

And I wouldn’t have her any other way. Her smile lights up a room. She can tune into a person’s emotional frequency just by looking at their face. She’ll be anything she wants to someday because she is brave and honest and can see the truth and not run away.

Yeah, so she wants to be older. Who, at fourteen, didn’t? If the years have taught me anything, it’s that our desire to be older than we are stops at about twenty five, the age auto insurance rates (and some body parts) start to drop.

Besides, when she’s twenty five, I’ll be forty five wishing I was thirty five. Thank God for my grandmother who used to tell me that one day, we’ll all be happy to be any age.

2 thoughts on “Staying One Step Ahead of the Second Child

    1. Even though I wrote it in 1999, it still holds true today! Both of my girls are in their late 30s, but there’s definitely no doubt who is the first and who is the second-born 🙂

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