You didn’t sign up for this position. You didn’t choose to be the ones born first, a few years earlier, and if you asked to be in this situation, you probably didn’t know what being the older one actually entailed. Real babies and real toddlers, well, they’re a whole lot different than the stuffed animals you used to push in the toy stroller and put to bed in shoe boxes, aren’t they? Yet, you handle the younger ones with an unexpected patience and gentleness (OK, usually), and a lot of the time, you “Big Kids” do a better job of not totally losing it in the face of an unruly 2-year old’s demands than most adults. It’s inspiring.
Big Kids are a parent’s unsung heroes. Thank you for holding the fussy baby while we fumble through our trashcan of a purse looking for our credit card so we can just pay for these diapers and get the hell out of the store and home before nap time. The 10-year-old who took a parade of toddlers on a scavenger hunt around the park that one afternoon so all the moms could rest and enjoy some adult conversation? Thank you. You have no idea how much we needed that break.
Every time you’ve shared your treats, danced with our preschoolers, tickled our cranky little ones and made them giggle in delight, you’ve done everyone an enormous service. You’ve helped us carry some of the burden of parenthood, and when we were weary and irritable, you stepped up with a smile and your youthful enthusiasm and restored our hope for the future.
Sometimes adults ask a lot of you. “Watch your little brother!” “Buckle the baby in her car seat! NOW!” “Carry this into the house!” “Do something, ANYTHING, to get your brother to go potty so we can leave on time!”
On behalf of grown-ups everywhere, I apologize for this. We aren’t perfect. We get tired and harried and we often feel like we are thisclose to needing a straitjacket. But that thing you did where you had your brother pretend that he was a kitty so that he would finally go potty so we could leave? That was genius, man. That’s why we need you guys so much. You’re old enough to be responsible and have some authority now, but at the same time, you’re still a kid, and that means you’re young enough to still see the world with fresh eyes and new ideas, and you come up with creative solutions to things that sometimes adults are too jaded and “over it” in that moment to think up themselves.
But look, it’s not just that you help us out. You are so much more than an extra set of arms in the middle of another chaotic afternoon. You’re more than a built-in babysitter that allows us to shower in (relative) peace once a day. Your true value is far beyond that.
Over and over, we tell the older children how much the younger kids look up to them.
“They idolize you,” we say.
Sometimes it almost comes out sounding like a warning, but what we really mean is that everyone admires you – the hours you spend practicing your vault, your determination to perfect that piano concerto. It’s beyond amazing to watch that level of passion and commitment in someone so young. You kids are more of a role model than I could ever be, not just to the littles ones, but for us grown-ups too. I am grateful that we have you, so that my 4-year-old can go to your gymnastics practices and your piano recitals and your middle school spring musical and see in her future the possibilities for the things that she can do if she works hard the way she’s seen you do. That’s a life lesson only you Big Kids can teach her, and you do it without even trying.
As the mom of one of the “little kids,” I thank you, older cousins, big brothers and sisters, teenaged babysitters, older kids of my friends, and middle-schoolers at the park. When you diligently finish your homework, when you stop to wipe your little sister’s nose, when you gladly scoop a crying baby into your arms so his mom can go to yoga, or when you hypnotize a squabbling flock of preschoolers with a spontaneous game of freeze dance, I often get a little hitch in my throat. I’m moved, and I’m joyful. You guys are awesome, and I know that pretty soon, when these little kids turn into a new set of big kids, they’re going to be awesome too because they had you guys to show them how it’s done.