How I chortled, after my third child was born, when I saw a greetings card that nailed how parental standards fall as the number of their children grows. I’ve seen it since doing the rounds on Facebook, and though I can’t remember all of it, it goes something like this:
First child: pick dummy off floor in tissue, stow in plastic bag, take home and sterilise three times before allowing back near child.
Second child: pick dummy off floor, wipe with tissue that may or may not already have been used for the clearing up of snot, hand back to child.
Third child: allow dog (possibly your own, but not necessarily) to find dummy, lick it clean and intervene half-heartedly in following tussle with child for ongoing ownership.
You get the idea.
I think the Mumsnet boards have the best definition for that peculiar kind of obsessiveness which (rightly) afflicts most parents at first: the behaviour typical of the parents of the Precious First Born (PFB). We have to start off with high standards, because although the warming of cucumber sticks and the testing of bathwater with our noses may verge on the irrational, we’re wholly responsible for another human being for usually the first time in our lives, and setting strict boundaries is pretty much the only way we have to hold back the looming terror. We, just as rightly, tend to relax the PFBness, whether more siblings come along or not, because – frankly – you can’t live in a state of DEFCON 1 for the rest of your life (though it still rears its head, of course, whenever the eldest does something new for the first time).
It struck me this morning, though, watching my three-year-old youngest playing Minecraft with his big brother and sister, spawning wolves and incinerating zombies, that there is a little-known counterpart to the Precious First Born syndrome.
My youngest is a Delinquent Last Born.
When my eldest first went to pre-school, he had only ever watched CBeebies (I was a little uncertain about the effects of the adverts on Milkshake, may God forgive me).
My youngest? He’s seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy and knows all six Star Wars films verbatim.
As a rising-four-year-old, No1 loved all the books from our childhoods that we had remembered so fondly, and stayed within the age-appropriate shelves in the library.
No3? On our last trip to the library bus, he came home with a photo book about the tanks of World War 2 and some Horrible Histories paperbacks with illustrations best described as “challenging”.
I carefully guarded my language around my first and second children. The strongest curse that would pass my lips in their presence was a vitriolic “Sugar”, if I was placed under extreme provocation.
Eight years later? Well, with the hearing of a bat, No3 has picked up on the whispered playground swearwords brought home by his bother and sister and knows perfectly well when to bring them out for maximum effect. I am grateful to my eldest for his quick thinking in convincing him that the “c” word is “chorizo”. (The rest of us know it is, in fact – *c* *r* *a* *p*. That was an interesting teatime).
Music? I never quite got around to filling my infant children’s brains and ears with carefully chosen classical music, as I’d fondly thought I would, but their listening was fairly tightly controlled. My last born, however, has an excellent repertoire which stretches from Gangnam Style all the way through Katy Perry to Scissor Sisters. “Take your mama out” starts off sounding sweet on the lips of a three year old, but loses something by the time you get to the bit about cheap champagne. Although, you know, it could have its advantages in years to come.
So there you have it. Karma. I have the child I was worried that my eldest would befriend at school. A preteen in the body of a preschooler. A Delinquent Last Born. Dear parents of his classmates, who have yet to encounter a world beyond Topsy & Tim and the quiet times at soft play when the big children are all at school, I can only apologise in advance.
I’m not taking them off till you play me Atomic.