I have three sons. They all love each other very much, and they all have their own special dynamics with one another. At seven and five years old, my middle and youngest tend to be playmates most often. At nine and seven, my oldest and middle sons tend to be readers and explorers together. But my oldest and youngest sons share a really special bond.
My sons come in almost exactly two-year stairsteps, so my oldest was around four when his youngest brother was born. He was immediately entranced by the baby. Unlike his other brother, who was two and doesn’t remember much, he wanted to help. No matter what the age, I think, when the youngest is born, the oldest becomes the special helper. They fetch diapers. They help feed the baby — whether that means giving the baby a bottle or, in our case, bringing mama more water while she sits on the couch and nurses. They want to make the baby laugh, to make the baby smile. They want to hold the baby. They are almost as obsessed with the baby as adults are. The baby’s partly their baby. That special bond starts right away.
But in our case, the special bond began even before birth. We were trying to decide on a name, and had floated several. From the back seat, a small voice piped up, “His name is Simon and he’ll be born on Halloween.”
I looked at my husband. “Guess his name is Simon,” I said. And dammit if that baby wasn’t born on Halloween, despite us constantly assuring Blaise that no, the baby would be born around Halloween, not on the actual date itself.
This isn’t odd. The oldest child usually cares about the pregnancy, too. They’re old enough to understand that another baby is coming into the family, that the baby is going to arrive around a certain date. They’re old enough to get excited, to help with baby preparations. Younger children might be clueless. But the oldest gets it. They know what they’re in for — and they’re excited.
The oldest usually becomes that baby’s fiercest protector. It’s part of that special bond they share. If I had a nickel for every time I had to demand, “Who’s his mama? Are you his mama?” — well, I’d have a lot of damn nickels. When Simon falls down, Blaise is the first one there. When Simon cries, Blaise tries to make him feel better. When Simon wants something, Blaise gets it for him.
My oldest child babies the baby more than I do. Trust me. He’s always on hand to read him a book, or make him a sandwich, or get him a Band-Aid. Blaise is now nine; Simon’s five. And the babying hasn’t stopped.
As the kids grow, oldest siblings become something almost magical to the youngest siblings. They aren’t just siblings. They’re still the same helpers they were when that baby was born, but that special bond has changed: no more are they helping to hold them and feed them. They’re picking them up off the playground, tending to boo-boos, and reading them books.
This doesn’t mean the oldest and youngest magically get along all the time. Trust me. “Simon, you’re so whiny,” Blaise snaps at him all the time. He cries harder when Blaise says it than anyone else. He can’t stand to have his biggest brother angry at him.
No, my middle son isn’t getting the shaft. He’s an important part of the family dynamic. Like I said, he has a special bond with each of his brothers. Closest in age to the baby, he’s the one my youngest looks to as a playmate. When Simon wants someone to play a board game or have a toy soldier battle, he goes in search of his middle brother.
And when my oldest son wants someone to go outside and catch bugs or snakes, he doesn’t come find the baby. He looks for his middle brother. They’re explorers together. They talk about more sophisticated topics (like aliens and Bigfoot). They also have a special bond.
But it’s a different bond. Still a special bond. It’s just … different.
My oldest has been aware of my youngest his entire life. He can tell you the story of what happened the night he was born. That’s special. He remembers the baby as a baby. My baby, meanwhile, has always had my oldest to look up to as his biggest role model, cheerleader, and helper.
All my boys love each other. All my boys are friends. All my boys want to be around each other, to play with each other, to help one another. But if the baby needs a sandwich, he’ll definitely ask the oldest.