Coming In Second

the starched uniform of St Mary's Primary.

The starched uniform of St Mary’s Primary.

I could always tell when Mum was expecting another baby because she used less and less tie on her apron bow. Standing beside her as I dried the dishes I could see the ever-expanding strings stretch around her body and then I would ask my older sister for confirmation of the impending arrival.

I was slow to wise up on the facts of life and Elizabeth kept me informed of approaching siblings right through to number nine.

There’s plenty of data showing the importance of sibling order on a child’s personality, but it mostly relates to families of three or four children. I read somewhere that birth-order personalities repeat: first born through to fourth, in large families, which explains our number nine as he’s already out on a limb.

It’s very hard to parent four children consistently, and even harder to repeat the cycle for another four…. and then one more. Research does show, however, that eldest children are usually capable, leaders, problem solvers and often, high achievers. I think Elizabeth can take a bow.

There is no doubt that my eldest sister carved out the road — she chiseled the track with a pickaxe sometimes. I remember her negotiating curfews, clothes choices, pocket money and then the spending of said pocket money, dates, school lunches, private thoughts, (surely not), social activities and bedtimes, to name a few. She was often in meetings with Mum and Dad long after I’d grown bored and wandered off to perfect a cycle of forward rolls on the lawn outside.

I never appreciated the hours she put in to extend our radio time from thirty minutes to forty-five. As for the discussions about panty hose, I think she spent three full days in the summit boardroom.

Being second is a luxury role. It has all the perks of being a top dog in the family dynamics but none of the real responsibility. Once the eldest child has secured a new boundary, the door is open for number two to reap the benefits. Once Elizabeth had her driver’s license, I didn’t bother getting mine. She harmonized to my melodies and she hauled me out of parties and pubs minutes before our curfew expired.

There is also less expectation on number two. ‘Make sure you help your sister,’ was the parting instruction Mum would give me as she went somewhere, (probably to the maternity ward).

Elizabeth could cook a full roast dinner at aged eight and I can remember her asking me to stir the gravy. She let me read as I moved the wooden spoon, and neither of us held out much hope for a smooth consistency.

There should be a club for happy-go-lucky second children — I’m sure there already is one — where we can remember the times we weren’t cared for, or adored. There should also be a special club for eldest children — an appreciation club, but I suspect they’re all too busy charging ahead, being responsible, to stop and play ‘I remember’.