On the “well-adjusted” fourth child

This week, Lily and I started going to a home preschool co-op. She was way too cute as she got ready for school. She insisted on bringing a backpack, and asked what time Daddy was going to pick her up. She has watched her siblings go to school every morning for her whole life, and she knew exactly what to do. Being the youngest of four, there was no trepidation, no nervousness, no tears related to school, and it was wonderful. Yes, yes, I thought, we as parents have done everything right, and the proof is here, in our extremely well-adjusted fourth child, Lily.

Until I realized that my almost three-year-old daughter does not know the alphabet song. The ABCs. The one song that every kid knows. What?!? How could this have happened? If you ask her, she can belt out the chorus to “Firework,” complete with hand motions and dance moves. But, no, nope, no ABCs. Poor, poor, neglected fourth child.

So this of course got me thinking about birth order and things of that nature. Usually I don’t give too much weight to things like that, because I don’t want my kids to be pigeon-holed into a type, and if I really listened to all of it, I would work myself into a tizzy over the fact that 2 of my kids are “Wednesday’s children” and other ridiculous things like that. So I don’t, usually.

But, there really is some truth to it. Josh is the textbook first child. Reliable, responsible and a total perfectionist. Lucy and Grace both have middle child traits, definitely more social and friendly, independent and inventive. And Lily is charming and affectionate, and loves the attention that being the baby of the family gives her. Yup, textbook. And it is possible that our parenting of these kids has been somewhat textbook too. Are we a little bit harder on Josh because he is the oldest, and a little bit easier on Lily because she is the baby? Probably.

The reality is that as our family has changed and grown, so has our parenting. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes out of necessity. When Josh was Lily’s age, we spent a lot of “purposeful” time with him. We had cards with numbers and letters on them that we practiced, and we had books that we read where he would name all the different types of fish (turns out that a 2 year old correctly identifying the brown goby is a cool party trick), or all the different types of tractors. I remember starting him in preschool when he was three, and him shocking his teachers by telling them the name of the author AND illustrator of the book they were reading for story-time. And Josh still is impressive in his academic abilities. But things changed. Over the course of six years, three little girls were born. Alphabet cards turned into chew toys, and “purposeful” time was a thing of the past as we shifted into pure survival mode. If we managed to feed them and get them into bed at the end of the day still in one piece, we considered it a success. Getting dressed and bathing were purely optional.

So yes, the younger kids didn’t get the same kind of focused time that Josh got. But they did learn lots of other real-life skills. They learned how to wait. They learned how to share. They learned to figure out how to do something themselves, rather than waiting until Mom is available to do it for them (something that my academic eldest still struggles with). They are independent and inventive because of it. Do I wish that I could have spent more one-on-one time with each one of my kids? Sure. But I think my inability to do so has it’s positive sides, and has made them the beautiful and unique little beings that they are.

Now the three oldest are in school most of the day, and that means that Lily and I get to spend more time one-on-one. And once we get this heinous thing called potty-training out of the way, it will be fun. Since Lily already has the waiting and sharing part down, you can bet I will be dusting off the old number and letter cards, and maybe we will find a brown goby or two. And if I can somehow figure out how to do the ABCs to the tune of “Firework,” I’m sure we will learn that too.

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