Being the firstborn almost always automatically means that there are more expectations of you than your siblings.
You are expected to share.
To be obedient.
To set an example.
To be sensible.
At least that’s what I went through as a firstborn. And it’s something I have unconsciously put my firstborn through.
Six seems to be the age of meltdowns, emo-ing and lots of scowls. I get these almost on an hourly basis with my firstborn who turned six earlier this year.
He gets hurt easily by unkind words yet sometimes say the unkindest things without realising it; he polices everyone around with that tremendous sense of right and wrong; he balks at injustice and asks the most existential questions. He’s growing from baby thoughts and talk to being a boy, and is beginning to develop a personality and flair of his own, complete with warts and quirks.
And sometimes this mother is many steps behind in understanding what is happening to the child she first rocked in her arms.
Tonight I received a timely reminder to grow and change as my firstborn grows and changes.
It was time for bed. Our bedtime routine usually consists of a bedtime story before tuck in. Ben asked me while I was brushing my teeth if we could have one. I mentioned I was quite tired and joked, “Hey, why don’t YOU read us one?”
Excited at the thought, he went to choose a book – 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle (for the tenth time now, maybe) – and waved it at me. To his disappointment, his sister had fallen asleep and Nat has chosen another story and refused to listen to any more of 10 Little Rubber Ducks again.
I tried to get the brothers to compromise. Look, let me take you all to Paris with Everybody Bonjours and then in the morning, when Becks is awake, Korkor can read ALL OF US his Ten Little Rubber Ducks! Nat was pleased but my eldest was starting to sulk.
By the time I finished reading Everybody Bonjours and declared it was time for bed, I had a full meltdown from a certain somebody. There was a scowl on his face, a high pitched ‘I DON”T WANT TO SLEEP, I WANT TO REAAADDDD, PULEEAASSEE…’, complete with some foot stamping.
That was when I lost it.
This is what happens every day. Things don’t go your way and you throw a tantrum. You don’t get to go somewhere, you whine. You don’t get to buy something, you whine. What happened to my sensible boy, my eldest child, who’s older than everyone else and should be able to understand things more? Why can’t you just try to see what I’m getting you to see? Your sister is left out here and she hasn’t had her story. And it’s 9 and it’s bedtime. Just understand that, say, ‘Yes, Mama’ and go to sleep. Simple, right? We can do a story tomorrow, with all of us, that’s fair, isn’t it? Why can’t you just listen and understand? Why can’t you just behave like a six year old should?
And then there was the sound of silence and gentle sobbing under the blanket.
Was I being too harsh? Every child would want a gazillion stories at bedtime, but if we can’t, we just can’t, right?
Wrong. I was so wrong.
I asked Ben who was sobbing under his covers to get up and talk to me.
Me: Tell me, why was it so important that YOU had to read the story tonight and not tomorrow that you had to throw a tantrum?
Me: Don’t tell me nothing. You never say nothing if you feel something. Please think about it and tell me.
– Silence –
Me: Please, tell me. Don’t keep things inside you.
Ben: I wanted to show you love, Mama. I wanted to read to you to show you love.
Me: (I am choking by now) You wanted to show me love by reading me a book?
Ben: (in between sobs) I don’t know what else to do to show you I love you.
I held my firstborn close tonight. And after he fell asleep, I cried.
Because I was a fool of a mom to be always correcting behaviour but never tuning in to my child’s heartbeat, never once sensitising myself to his feelings as he grows.
Because I am doing what I’ve always known to do as I’ve been raised, never once stopping to listen to what my son is really telling me, always just expecting him to be the one that understands.
I’m the one that needs to understand tonight. That my firstborn’s heart is searching for ways to love his mother as he realises he is no longer that baby in her arms. That when I do peel away all the layers of tantrums and meltdowns, I see a child growing up because he is beginning to understand that love is no longer taking but giving of himself.
Me: I’m sorry that I’m the one not understanding things. I’m really sorry.
Ben: It’s ok, Mama. (kisses me on the cheek)