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The older child’s burden

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published Jan. 29, 2008, thehive.modbee.com

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bratty older sister.

My most famous stunt, the one that will be recounted at every family gathering as long as there’s anyone still alive who remembers it, was when I about 3 and decided to style my brother’s hair with Vaseline. That’s probably why my mom was stunningly unsympathetic when 1½-year-old Big Guy did the same thing with his hair – and his clothes, and his bed.

Still, for every time I was busted, there were almost as many when I was wrongly accused. Such as the tomahawk incident, which started with the poor victimized brother playing cowboys and Indians in the back yard. He let out a whoop and hurled a claw hammer. It stuck in my shin. In move showing brilliant CYA awareness for a 5-year-old, he quickly burst into tears. Mom came running and snatched him up. “What did you do to him?” she asked me.

As a result, my entry line upon hearing simmering hostilities always is a more-neutral “What’s going on here?” at which point Big Guy usually will confess if he’s the culprit. “Sorry!” he’ll say quickly. I’m well aware that “Sorry!” at this stage means “Sorry I was caught,” but I’ll take it.

Despite my older-sibling sensitivities, though, I still manage to screw up in other ways. The latest: “You know better.”

I’m not alone in this. A friend, who has two boys four years apart, and I were commiserating recently about how hard it is to avoid hanging more on the older one than his age merits. Her line is “I expect more of you,” which clearly is a second cousin to “you know better.” And she cringes immediately after she says it.

But, dang it, they should know better.

Big Guy knows Dry Erase markers are for the easel, yet there both of them were the other day, scribbling gleefully on their kiddy table.

Big Guy knows that you don’t use the whole roll of toilet paper at once, despite what the flooded bathroom floor told me had happened a few weeks back.

And he knows it’s not right to run up and grab what you want, because he was complaining just tonight about a kid who’d done that very thing to him at school today.

Problem is, when you’re 4, knowing what’s right and being able to execute it at all times are two different skill sets. Particularly when you have this pesky younger brother who can get off with a serious lecture instead of a stern “you know better.”

And of course you expect more of an older child. I don’t expect Little Guy to be able to dress himself at age 2, though he’ll try mightily. Big Guy’s been able to handle that task for almost a year – except when he feels that doing so deprives him of that good baby love his brother gets.

Some days, it’s a challenge to be patient in the face of that.

So I’ll make you a deal, Big Guy: I’ll lay off on the “you know betters” if you’ll agree to put no more than a quarter of the roll in the toilet at once.

Oh, and please promise me that if you see the claw hammer coming, you’ll run.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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