The shortest childhood of all

Today is Toby’s birthday. He used to ask me: “When will I be as big as Calvin?” Or, “When will I be as old as Nate?” And I’d calculate it on my fingers, counting the years until he’d be ten, or twelve. But that wasn’t what he wanted to know. Rather: when would they be the same age? When, in essence, would he catch up?

Never is a terrible word to deliver to such a small boy.

It’s instances like this that have me convinced: the youngest in a family has the shortest childhood of all. He tries to outrace it. He spits in its face. He wishes it away.

He’s been working on his Christmas list. On it is an iPod Touch, a gift I’ve told him he’s too young for. But his brothers have one, and that’s good enough reason for him to want one of his own. Just like he wants to be a stronger reader, a faster runner, a better soccer player.

Just like his brothers.

When he wakes this morning, I know how it will go: he’ll be excited to be older–seven not six!–just up to the moment he remembers what this means. Each day he gains in age, Calvin is also that many more days older. And so is Nate.

So not fair.

This knowledge only seems to drive him. He’s internally motivated in a way not typical of last-borns: always reaching for the basketball that bounces too high, always sprinting against legs twice as long. He knows what awaits: the bigger bike stored for him in the garage, the later bedtime, paired with coveted booklight, the PG-13 movie everyone else seems to be talking about. And maybe this foresight has given him a skewed sense of his own capabilities, because he’s been diving into the deep end since he could walk. In the backyard, he doesn’t flinch as he faces off against fifth graders with Nerf guns, and on weekend mornings, he’s as adept with a Wii controller as anyone else.

All I can do is throw up speed bumps where I can: steering him toward his favorite Go Fish cards instead of the poker chips on game night, snuggling down for a chapter of Magic Treehouse instead of whatever young adult series Nate can’t get enough of. I stubbornly promote the footie pajamas and the bubble gum-flavored toothpaste, the Diego play set and the Last Airbender.

It works, for a time. And then Nate and Cal are there with their new fads fresh from school and their enthusiasm and their kind-hearted inclusion of little brothers. And after that, I can only watch as he dives back in.

Just Write

21 thoughts on “The shortest childhood of all

  1. Somehow I can’t remember these days when my youngest, now 14, wanted to chase his older siblings. And a gift to me is that he’s still very much a boy, in spite of the fact he towers over me! He likes to play, doesn’t matter with what. He delights in the art of play and I thought he’d lose that by now, but he hasn’t. Gosh, I’m thankful.

    You’ve written this so I can f e e l his wishes…so glad to have popped in from Just Write :).

  2. I understand his pain. I was the youngest child in my family as well.

    The converse is also true, though, only giving me increasing pain: now that I’m a woman of a certain age, I cannot tell how it galls me to have younger friends bellyaching about THEIR age.

  3. Amy,
    I found your blog through Heather at the EO. This may sound strange but your name seems so very familiar.
    I loved, loved, loved this post! I am the oldest of three girls. I am going to send your link to my sisters and to my mom.
    So happy to have found your blog!

  4. I was just noticing (and writing about) this in my youngest in today’s Just Write post 🙂 Those babies… sometimes they just feel like they have to MAKE UP for being born last…

  5. Oh, I love this post. Nicholas is like this, only it’s not quite so acute for him…yet at least…because Julianna is just at his level, or behind it in some ways. I actually think it will be JUlianna who feels this most acutely, because of her delays. But it will be several years before she reaches that point, because now she has another little brother coming up behind her, and he’ll have to catch her before she realizes she’s been left behind by her two little brothers. Ah, what fun the future holds…

    • Kate, this comment opens my eyes to something I’d never really considered before (or had cause to): the pressures or self-expectations a delayed child would feel within her own family. We consider the outside pressures, but of course she’ll notice and want to keep up with her siblings. Wish I had answers for you, but perhaps Julianna will know how to navigate that better than either of us? Kids are amazing that way.

  6. First, happy birthday to your sweet youngest. Next, I love how you make me think. It really is fastest. And now I remember, as the youngest, that it was for me too.

    • I’ve always wondered at the expression ‘baby of the family’, geared toward last-borns. It’s really the first-born who is the ‘baby’ longest. They have the most pressures, yes, but also the longest childhood.

  7. As the ‘baby’ in my family growing up, I know this deeply. It’s in my pores. I would stretch to keep up, to be with the big kids (though I adored the special times with my parents when we did things just right for me). For the most part, I think being youngest is a blessing. You just have to go go go. And that’s life, isn’t it?
    It’s funny too – I see the nostalgia for earlier times in my almost 7 year old when she sees her baby sister. She knows that there is something special there, even as she pushes to be bigger.

    Happy Birthday to Toby! In this house, seven is HUGE.

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