15 July 2011

Musings on firstborns and parental hazing

a few things that have been on my mind lately. a pre-warning: the tone of this entry is not meant to be aggressive or "im better than you"...intrigued are you? ha. read on at your own peril of being bored...

first borns.
this topic has been on my mind, for, i kid you not, a decade. since college really, when i started to take stock in who my real friends were and ive been obsessed with it ever since. i am a first born (two younger brothers). dave is a first born (one younger sister). most of my male and female friends from high school were first borns. most of my college and grad school friends are first borns. most of the other people i tend to socialize with with any regularity are first borns. this is not a rule, as i certainly have a few great friends who are not first borns (amy, jody, angela, lily are the first ones that come to mind, though i know i have several more in my life), but they are the minority. also true, many of these first born friends of mine have chosen mates who are first borns. again, not all, but many. what is my point?

im wondering, now that i have X...what does it all mean? why are we first borns drawn to each other? is there something parents do to us? it seems highly likely that there is something specific about being the oldest, the leader, the responsible one. i hear parents say that they behave differently when kid #2, 3...8 comes along because they are more relaxed and know what is worth worrying about and what tricks to use for different situations. but i wonder if something interesting in their parenting style is lost from baby number one to baby number two and beyond. something that makes us first borns who we are. maybe because as they parent us, every age, every stage is new and foreign and approached with creativity and thought/reflection. and maybe once they see the results of those actions, they dont reexamine things for kid number two.

i dont know. i mean, i certainly do NOT get along with all people who are first borns. and i absolutely DO have dear friends who are not first borns. its just something ive found deeply intriguing for quite some time now and as we move and meet new people, i am still finding it interesting that the people i click most with along the way happen to be first borns. i think there is just something about their thought processes, their sense of place in the world, their outlook that i understand and find comforting. and as i say, the idea that parenting style might come in to play to make us the way we are, is very fascinating and thought-provoking. for me.

parental hazing.
on another note, the hazing of newborn-dom has also been on my mind. lately i feel like ive had this conversation with a number of different people (parents, or soon-to-be parents).

you find out your pregnant. hooray! you have an easy pregnancy or a challenging one. you deal with this accordingly. you wait, and wait, and wait. anxious to meet the baby. people give you opinions, advice, congratulations, and unexpected (unwanted?) belly pats. you envision your new life, new child, a million different ways. you are stressed about prepping for the babys arrival. do you have enough onesies? the days are going quickly and you are anxious to be "ready". finally one day, one weekend...it all comes together. the nursery is done, the dresser and closet are filled with clothes and the changing table is waiting for its first poop. now you are bored. you have weeks until the baby comes and you are having trouble sleeping and you just want this thing out! come out, come out, wherever you are. things have got to be better once you come out right? right? come out please....please....please!?

and then labor is upon you and the baby is here. thus it begins. the parental hazing dealt out by the newborn. its such a brutal and rude awakening. one that cannot be described or imagined beforehand. you went from weekends on the couch watching movies in your pajamas....to this! your life was calm, flexible, and largely up to you. now it is ruled by a little person who you want to give the best things in life to. the hazing is harsh but of course you deal with all of the serious challenges and time sucks because you are in love. you are nurturing a little soul that you built inside you for 9 months.

im coming to my point. this immense and total life change is the largest life change youve ever experienced, except perhaps the day you were born. nature, however, kindly blocked that out for you. the baby and toddler years demand huge, nay colossal, amounts of focus, energy, time, and creativity from you. you must find new ways to fill your bucket up with this stuff each and every morning. each stage brings new, foreign, challenging hurdles you must find solutions for out of thin air. solutions to match your life, your philosophy, your child. thankfully, i do see (from observing others) that, over the years, the demands become less physical (for the parents) and more mental and emotional. this i am certain will continue to be demanding, but my poor, tired body is so looking forward to a little break.

this leads me to another point, i can see how western society has found any and all ways possible to take "short cuts" when raising kids. while i personally dont agree with some of these "short cuts", i do totally understand the mantra: you have to stay sane. however, i do wish they didnt have to feel like sacrifices. the mom has to give up her image of perfect parenting and deal with the guilt, in whatever amount she doles out to herself. the child and his/her development is affected, in some way. hopefully, only a small way, but they are affected nonetheless when we take one of these "short cuts". and as i mention above, with the first born thing, i wonder if, to stay sane, moms need to take more "short cuts" as they have more children. working moms especially have so, so, so many demands on them. they are some of the most impressive creatures on the planet, and in order to survive, they must find ways to stay sane. every choice made has a ripple effect, the burden is great. dang, love is a powerful thing.

this brings me to my final point (are these really points? i think they are just ramblings). i really only miss, MISS, from my old life...the ability to veg, even just occasionally. i usually performed my best when i got one day per week to sit in my pjs and have nothing required of me. it helped me to restart, refocus, and refuel. i even liked to come home from work an hour before dave, just so i had decompression time. the silence, the freedom, it was like meditating. i was rejuvenated after these "me" times.

as i have had little-to-no "me" time since X arrived, i suppose this means that ive been functioning way below my "best" for some time now. and i think, in some cases, i would agree that that is true. its kinda sad, and this is why i look forward to getting a little more breathing room as she gets older. its in everyones best interest.

last thought i wanted to note down, for myself at least: there is no actual way to know when you are ready to have a kid. and there really is no way to prepare for what your life will be like (short of having no expectations). but i found, for myself at least, that i was feeling bored in my life. yes i loved my movies, pjs, and couch. yes, i loved all the traveling i got to do with dave during college/grad school and beyond. but that was all i had. it could have continued on to the grave like that. it would be a peaceful life, an adventurous life. but it felt like i was driving toward a cliff. nothing on the horizon. at least the idea of family means the road continues and lifes adventures go on, even without you. and i like that. plus, im sure i will be reunited with my pjs, movies, and couch soon enough. and boy, what a reunion that will be! :)

**and in the first instance where i stare directly out at you all from the blog...i was wondering, if youve read this far, if you have any opinions on either of these topics. just cuz im curious**


nlk731 said...

As I'm not a parent I have no comment on the newborn hazing topic other than to say that I'm glad that even with all the stress and torment there are parents like you guys willing to take the hazing to bring amazing kids like Dex into our lives. As for first borns, we are birds of a feather. Mostly highly type-A, tightly wound and extremely ambitious in various aspects of our lives. It makes for friends who understand not only the stress of the world but the stress we place on ourselves. As the oldest children it's our job to set the example, it's not until we're adults that we realize how much of that behavior we've internalized - leading us to become the tightly wound people that we are. That said, one of my dearest friends is a youngest and while our relationship often resembles the big sister/little sister set-up, she reminds me all the time that life can be as mellow as you make it. In short, we're all good for each other in different ways. But you first borns, my kindred spirits, hold a special place in my heart.

You wanted an opinion, you got a long one.

Trav said...

dude, i'm glad i got a shout-out as a non-firstborn, as i immediately thought, "hey...HEY!" when reading that you seem to prefer firstborns.

here's a musing from my mom: she maintains her being so tightly wound and so concerned with being a great mom impacted firstborn-julie negatively. in other words, that she didn't feel like she was a great parent (in fact, she felt like a worse parent) even though she tried to be a super-parent by investing everything she had (or maybe because she invested everything she had). maybe that's something to support ntina's tightly wound point: your parents stress out and pass on the stress to the firstborns. on the other other hand, my mom just IS tightly wound, and i feel like she passed that on to me, the second-born, regardless of other circumstances.

as a parent currently being newborn hazed, i can tell you right now that i have no idea what is going on...

to your point about "being ready," yeah... i got the whole "your life will change" thing in theory, but i didn't GET it. as i nurse, sprawled on the bed like a beached whale, i glare at tony, thinking "i am trapped... my choices to do things are effectively gone... now i can't pee when i want to at work and at home..." i feel like this part of the hazing process really is deprogramming me: the message i'm getting has convinced me that any purpose i might have as an individual must include sam in some respect. it's weird that tony's birthday and our anniversary are so close to his birth: we tabled any real birthday celebration and we think we're going to pass on significant first anniversary celebrations, too... how's that for proof of sam's influence?

and i haven't even gotten to the part of parenting that requires knowing your child's personality!

Sarah said...

So how does the first born thing work with Nick who is technically #2 but there are 8 years between them? I think he's got a lot of first born traits but he is also pretty chill like a middle or youngest child would be.

I also agree with Amy's mom - my mom has said similiar things to me in the past. I try and keep that in mind with Madelyn and remind myself that 2nd and 3rd children are not constantly being entertained by their parents and they get along swimmingly. I remember reading in some book how parents were shocked when their second one came along because they could watch him figure things out on his own whereas they were always "helping" #1 reach the next level and what not. I also know from my own childhood that my fondest memories are not the elaborate events or plans my parents created but more the moments that just happened.

Tying in trying to be more relaxed and your desire to veg - I will just get Madelyn some toys and put her on the floor with them while I watch myself some Real Housewives, check Facebook, blog, whatever. I don't know if that's possible once she starts walking or if you were even looking for suggestions but it works for me!

See you soon Mama!

Billiam said...

Regarding the fact that one is never ready to become a parent: AG and I started to "try" once I finally realized that we'd NEVER have satisfactory answers to the many hesitations I'd been having, the most significant being "How can we afford this (on our perpetual student paths)?" (AG, the relaxed second-born, was way ahead of me on this realization.) We felt led to just go for it, and we continue to feel encouraged by the many couples we know who started families while students -- and, through discipline and probably some hard times, turned out just fine!

My approach to pregnancy so far is to learn and prepare as much as I can, but to maintain a strong sense of openness and lack of expectation -- because we, like all parents-to-be, truly have no idea what we're getting into, but somehow welcome it from some very deep place within.

As to parenting and birth order: I think it's reasonable and probably inevitable to parent a firstborn differently than subsequent kids. My own parents were much more conservative with me than they were my little sister; when in doubt of the effect that some new thing would have on me, they'd tend to restrict me from it. When they finally accepted that said new thing would not corrupt me as feared, they'd let me have it -- and let Little Sister have it, too, four years younger! So not fair. :)

However, I feel that most of my identification with typical firstborn characteristics has more to do with my role as an older sister: protecting, counseling, leading (she would say "bossing") my younger sister.

Anyway, don't be too hard on yourself. We do the best we can!

Hope you're well up there.