Being an oldest child has got to be hard.
You’ve fulfilled all your parents’ dreams just by being born. They delight in every facial expression, every little sound you make. They take videos of you doing all those cute things you do. (Then, when they watch them back years later, they think, “What is this supposed to be? She’s just lying there.”) You are used to four eyes staring at you, four hands ready to pick you up. Everything belongs to you. Your room. Your toys. Your mom and dad – until they get this deluded idea that you want another person around to use all your stuff and take up your space and divert their attention.
But they never asked you, did they? So eventually this other baby arrives and grows, becomes mobile, follows you around and does your bidding and worships you and agrees with you and you totally take advantage of this. It’s awesome, actually. She lets you pick out her clothes and what book to read at nap time. When you play, you’re the teacher, she’s the student. You’re Cinderella, she’s the ugly step-sister. You’re the star, she’s the audience. When you call your mom a “poopy poop” she laughs and laughs. To her, you are the epitome of cool and amazing – until one day she decides she has opinions and preferences of her own and she (gasp!) says NO to you.
Where does that leave you? You are bereft of power and influence, set adrift in an unfamiliar world where other people are just as important as you. How does a person live like this?
Take this episode that happened with my oldest daughter just a few days ago. A little bit of background: Maggie is four, almost five. When she was about two and a half, while I was pregnant with number two, we went to visit family for Easter. She was given a Pillow Pet as an Easter gift: a purple and pink ladybug with a little velcro tab that, when undone, transforms it from pet to pillow. (Not that normal humans keep ladybugs as pets, but we’ll overlook that.) She was like, “Ooh, I love my pillow!” for about two seconds, and then, like most nice gifts my children are given, it was soon forgotten about.
Over a year passes. The pillow is in Maggie’s room, in a heap on her bed with all of her other stuffed animals, but she shows absolutely no indication that she would care if it were given to Goodwill or ripped to shreds by the dog. By that time, her baby sister Ceci is not a baby anymore. She is walking and smiling and ready to have a pillow in her crib, and one day Maggie says something like, “Here Ceci, have my pillow.” I promise you, this is how it went down.
Fast forward another year, to the present. Ceci and the Pillow Pet are inseparable. She calls it “my poo-ple pillow” and shows it to everyone she meets. She rubs the soft side of the little velcro tab to soothe herself to sleep. She freaking LOVES this thing that her older sister bestowed upon her in what we now know was a blackout episode of generosity. Because suddenly, from out of nowhere, Maggie says: “I used to have a pillow just like that when I was little.”
I believe in being honest with my children, even when the truth hurts. “Maggie,” I say very calmly, as if speaking to a cornered Rottweiler, “This is the pillow you used to have. But you didn’t really care about it, so now it is Ceci’s special pillow. It is very, very special to her.”
The kid just falls apart. I have seen pretty much every type of crying known to man, and these weren’t bratty tears. These are bona fide, from the bottom of her soul, I just lost the thing most dear to me in the world tears.
“IT’S MY PILLOW! YOU GAVE IT TO HER AND NOW I DON’T HAVE IT ANYMORE!”
Oh. My. God.
When she turns to Ceci and asks in her most pitiful voice, “Can I have that?”, I brace myself. Ceci has been asserting herself and standing up to Maggie, at least on occasion, for the past couple of months. But the sweet, submissive middle child hands it over, saying, “Sure. Here Maggie!” It was the least she could do to atone for ruining her sister’s life.
Unfortunately for my persecuted eldest, I wasn’t going to let that fly. In the end I had to compromise and promise to buy her a new Pillow Pet. I’ve been to several stores and haven’t managed to locate one, and she already seems to have forgotten all about it, so it looks like the oldest child gets shafted once again. Her pillow torn from her unjustly, her demands for its return denied, and now no restitution in sight. Just another day in the life of an oldest child.
Previously Published on Mommy Identity Crisis
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- The Pillow Pet Fiasco: The Tragic Life of An Oldest Child - August 9, 2016