“CJ” and I standing in front of the rhododendron bush near our home in Shelton, WA, in June 1996.
Growing up the second of two children, it seemed to me that living the life of the firstborn must be like living in the lap of luxury. My big sis was privileged to do all the “firsts.” A neighbor girl taught her to ride bike; I was on my own. My grandmother came for a visit and brought along a board with a clock with hands that moved. She taught my sister to tell time; I was on my own. And every time we learned something together, because of her age, Camille was just plain better than me. In billiards, her hand was steadier. When we learned to play double solitaire, she often was faster and more efficient. Same with cribbage. In our later years, my sister did nothing to help lay an easy track for me. In some families, the older kids are the “social experiments.” By the time the younger ones reach their teen years, the parents loosen up. Since my sister wasn’t a social explorer and rarely pushed any boundaries, I was, again, on my own and eyed very carefully as the more rebellious of the two.
Back then, it was all about me and the injustices. Now, of course, as an adult and mother of five, I see things a little differenly. I see how a younger sibling has the honor of observing what goes on before. I remember watching out the front living room window the day my sister went to the prom for the first time. I teased her by shouting, “He’s here!” when he really wasn’t. What a stinker. She was experiencing a huge case of butterflies-in-the-stomach, and I was along for the observation ride. She was given more responsibility around the house; I was more of a slacker. She read and learned the rules of a new game; I played along. It’s a tremendous responsibility being the firstborn, and now, I have a lot more compassion for the injustices of that role.
As for my own firstborn, I can’t imagine what a jolt it’s been for him to go from being our only little buddy to being “de-throned,” not once but four times. Thankfully, he can’t have too many strong memories of life before his siblings began arriving, since he was younger than 2 at the time. But in earlier years of parenting, I was able to spend a little more one-on-one time with him. I’m afraid, however, that recently, he’s really gotten the short end of the stick. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we spent quality time together, just the two of us.
So tonight’s the night. We’re going to meet a friend and her teen son at a local restaurant, then take in the Jeremy Camp and Bebo Norman concert. I can’t wait!
My oldest and I have a rather complicated relationship, and sometimes the world as it is needs to stop so we can jump off for a bit and reconnect with the best part of ourselves. I need to back off from my too-often role of nagging mother and he needs a break from his as the contrary teen. Truth be told, as hard as life is with him sometimes, I enjoy his spirit. The times when he’s away, I feel a momentary relief, but soon enough I begin missing his comedic ways, and the quiet moments when his siblings aren’t around when his better side eeks out — when I catch of glimpse of the soft soul within that is oftentimes covered by a toughened, “cool guy” exterior.
I know the music is going to be awesome. I’ve been listening to JC in my van for the last couple weeks, nonstop. We will come away filled up. But in the end, the music, no matter how good, is just an excuse to hang out with my oldest — that child of mine who first put the spark of parenting in my heart, and showed me how amazing it is to be part of the process of helping create another human being, of welcoming another soul into the world.
I’m going to end with a “tag” I received on Facebook regarding firstborns. Play along if you’d like!
1. WAS YOUR FIRST PREGNANCY PLANNED? Amazingly, yes!
2. WERE YOU MARRIED AT THE TIME? Yes.
3. WHAT WERE YOUR REACTIONS? Excited but shocked. The earth instantly shifted. I knew everything had just changed with this news. Welcomed as it was, I was terrified!
4. WAS ABORTION AN OPTION FOR YOU? No.
5. HOW OLD WERE YOU? 27
6. HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE PREGNANT? I started feeling “thick” around the middle and a friend told me that’s how she found out she was pregnant. I also started feeling slightly sick.
7. WHO DID YOU TELL FIRST? Daddy Troy, of course!
8. DID YOU WANT TO FIND OUT THE SEX? We weren’t sure at first but eventually we wanted to narrow down the names. We figured knowing would eliminate half the options and we were having a hard time deciding, so we did end up finding out and that helped our anxiety, though a lot of people had strong feelings about this, and perfect strangers told me, with disdain, that I was “cheating.” I disagreed. Everything about my baby was a surprise, really. Knowing the gender doesn’t “ruin” much of anything in my eyes.
9. DUE DATE? December 16 (day he was born!).
10. DID YOU HAVE MORNING SICKNESS? Yes…ugh. I was a newspaper reporter and I had to drive out of town to interview a lady who had written an entire cookbook made up of sauerkraut recipes. I typically like sauerkraut but talking about it nonstop like that made me ill and I was so relieved to go home that day.
11. WHAT DID YOU CRAVE? I really did crave pickles, but not with ice cream. I also craved chicken soup and mashed potatoes with gravy (not necessarily together). I couldn’t stand certain smells that normally wouldn’t have bothered me. The smell of bread baking in our bread machine. The smell of our yellow Lab. Certain perfumes and lotions.
12. WHO/WHAT IRRITATED YOU THE MOST? It was hard to work, and I did up until the beginning of my maternity leave, which is the day I went into labor.
13. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CHILD’S SEX? Boy.
14. DID YOU WISH YOU HAD THE OPPOSITE SEX OF WHAT YOU WERE GETTING? No. I hadn’t had any brothers, my mom grew up in a family of girls, my sister had daughters only at that point. I was shocked to think I was going to be bearing a son, but also delighted. I’d always wanted a brother. He was the first grandson in our family, too, which was fun.
15. HOW MANY POUNDS DID YOU GAIN THROUGHOUT THE PREGNANCY? Too many, 45, but he was nine pounds, and the rest melted right off through breasfeeding. What came off my hips went right to his — perfect!
16. DID YOU HAVE A BABY SHOWER? Yes. The gals from the county where I came weekly to report on the county commission meeting had a surprise one for me after one of the meetings, and the gals from my work at The Shelton Journal also threw a joint shower for me and another co-worker who was due a month before me. So did a group from church. We were living far from family so this meant a lot to me.
17. WAS IT A SURPRISE OR DID YOU KNOW? Both.
18. DID YOU HAVE ANY COMPLICATIONS DURING YOUR PREGNANCY? I had placenta previa (low-lying placent), which corrected itself during the pregnancy, and with this and all other pregnancies, I had sciatica (pinched nerves).
19. WHERE DID YOU GIVE BIRTH? Shelton, Washington.
20. HOW MANY HOURS WERE YOU IN LABOR? About twelve hours…from the time my water broke at 1 a.m., to the time I gave birth, around 2 p.m.
21. WHO DROVE YOU TO THE HOSPITAL? Troy, and we almost got hit by a logging train. We lived in a logging community and the train tracks were near our home. We were in the early-morning fog (I think there really was fog, but fog on our brains too) and as Troy drove over the tracks we looked over and the train was coming toward us but we made it over with time to spare. There was no whistle. Scary!
22. WHO WATCHED YOU GIVE BIRTH? Troy, the doc and nurses (who were awesome…I LOVE labor and delivery nurses!).
23. WAS IT NATURAL OR C-SECTION? Natural, but with an intrathecal (similar to epidural).
24. DID YOU TAKE MEDICINE TO EASE THE PAIN? (See previous…)
25. HOW MUCH DID YOUR CHILD WEIGH? 9 lbs. even.
26. WHEN WAS YOUR CHILD ACTUALLY BORN? On his due date in 1995 a little after 2 p.m. — Beethoven’s birthday, as my husband likes to point out.
27. WHAT DID YOU NAME HIM/HER? Christian Joseph Salonen.
28. HOW OLD IS YOUR FIRST BORN TODAY? 13 — our first teen!