Last, But Not Least

As the eldest of four children, I’ve never had much sympathy for the complaints of those born last. Sure, they may not have never had the complete attention of their parents, but the silver lining is that … they never had the complete attention of their parents.


Firstborn: Mom, I’m going to South America to help build a school for orphans.
Mom: Well, your Aunt Mildred’s friend Bessie’s minister said that 10 years ago, some teen-agers nearly fornicated on one of those trips. I don’t feel comfortable sending you into that kind of environment until I know exactly where you’re going, who’s supervising, and who else is going. Also, I’m implanting you with a subdermal GPS chip. And LoJacking your underwear.

Youngest: Mom, I’m going to go party with Charlie Sheen. Don’t wait up.
Mom: Oh, how nice. Charlie Sheen needs more good influences in his life.

Mercifully, Thomas is decades away from partying with half-men, but he still gets away with plenty. All he has to do to get out of trouble is blink innocently, cock his head, and ask — as if surprised and horrified — “I being bad?” Last night, as I stood sentry at James’ door, it occurred to me that even the middle child has it exponentially easier than the eldest: I was playing bedtime prison warden when Maddux was just 18 months old.

Despite the carefree existence a youngest child enjoys, there are tradeoffs. Only now, as a mom, am I keenly aware of how many achievements are overshadowed, how many activities missed, how many pages left blank in the baby book. (Note to self: Buy baby book.)

Maddux gets plenty of blog entries. She’s the eldest and hits all the exciting milestones first. Before this blog, there was her baby blog, and before that, my pregnancy blog. Both are chock-a-block full of weekly posts and pictures. James had a few entries, but his blog was nothing like Maddi’s. Thomas’ personal blog had two posts: One said “I’m pregnant” and the other said “Baby’s out.” And even in this blog, which I started so the boys would be included in more posts, Thomas is rarely the star. His last post was in April. Whether it’s walking, talking, or destroying a room with poop, someone’s done it before.

Until recently, Thomas also got short shrift on activities. When Mads was a baby, she went to Baby Talk, playgroup and library sing-a-long. Later, it was ballet, soccer, gymnastics and swimming. James had a few Music and Movement classes, but he screamed at the top of his lungs and clutched his die-cast school bus the entire time. We decided large, noisy classes were not his cup of tea. And it seems we got so used to avoiding activities for James that his little brother got lost in the shuffle. Besides a few seasons of swimming classes, Thomas had nothing until this winter’s Music and Movement classes. And we only signed up for those because they were held at his siblings’ school, right after drop-off time, and I would have felt guilty missing them to go to the gym.

So now Thomas has classes. He feels very grown-up and toddles into the music portable with a little backpack on his shoulders. (Then he makes a break for the drums and tries to destroy everything. He is, after all, a lastborn child and has a reputation to uphold.)

In the interest of unabashed bragging highlighting more of Thomas’ achievements, I should also tell you that he knows the phonics sounds for at least half the alphabet, can count a bit and identify several numbers, is maybe two-thirds potty-trained and can sort of use chopsticks. He likes to shout out the answers to James’ homework before James can open his mouth. Oh, and Thomas is an old hand at the iPhone. Or, as he calls it, his iPhone. Yep, he’s a youngest child. No doubt about that.

On the social front, Thomas is a very friendly fellow. We are not sure who to blame for that, but it is what it is. His sometimes-playmate Ayden still regards him with faint suspicion after a particularly enthusiastic tackle hug this fall.

Even the grown-ups aren’t safe. Once Thomas has spent time with an adult more than once, he feels free to run up and hug that person’s leg. If he is picked up by someone who does not have a scratchy beard, kisses aren’t out of the question. Today, he ran up to the head of school squealing, “Hi, Mr. Grieve!” and then wrapped himself around Mr. Grieve’s knees. (FYI, Thomas has not spent significant amounts of time socializing with the headmaster, unless you count the time he was in a Santa costume and Thomas teleported into his lap from across the room in .005 seconds.)

That’s our youngest, in a nutshell. Thomas may not get our undivided attention, but he can wheedle a snuggle out of us — anytime, anyplace. He’s a smart, humorous, gregarious little guy. He likes to tear pages out of books (still!!) and scribble on nonwashable surfaces, and he sometimes slugs siblings or pulls hair, but he always apologizes in the cutest way possible.

One day, the kid will be a great influence on Charlie Sheen.

Everything about this picture is completely normal


An Inconvenient Tooth

When Maddux’ bottom incisors came in, late in 2005, they seemed huge. To my slight dismay, these sharp invaders had broken up the pristine pink gum line that featured prominently in her adorable, gape-mouthed baby grins. But as I tried to pull her left mandibular incisor last night, it occurred to me that those teeth — so conspicuous in her mouth five years ago — were actually really tiny. And now, just when I’ve gotten used to them, they’ve decided to come out.

Of course, while I drag my heels at every milestone, reluctant to admit my children are no longer wee, helpless newborns, Maddux is more than happy to grow up.

She’s been shopping for her own clothes since she was 2 — often gleefully handing the cashier my debit card — and recently invited six classmates to a sleepover at our house, scheduled for that very night without my knowledge. (Much to her dismay, the sleepover was postponed indefinitely.) A month ago, she started talking about her loose tooth. Remembering with near-certainty that almost everyone I knew lost their first teeth at age 6, I blew it off. After all, Maddux also claims to have superpowers and swears she saw a baby bird trying to hatch out of a white stone she brought home from school.

But the talk of a wiggly tooth continued.

“Wanna see me wiggle my loose tooth?” Maddux asked me one day three weeks ago.

“Sure, honey,” I said, playing along like a good mommy.

To my great surprise it was actually loose. Really loose. She’s been wiggling it to and fro, backward and forward, pushing it with her tongue and cracking it against her upper incisors with abandon. At least once every five minutes, her friends and family have obligingly watched her perform various feats of dental flexibility and pain tolerance.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, Maddux came to me. Her bright eyes bore a mixture of anxiety and giddiness.

“I’m ready for you to pull my tooth, Mommy, ” Maddux announced solemnly, pride tugging the corners of her mouth ever so slightly.

With Daddy wielding the camera, we stood in the hallway, I with a tissue to help me grip the little tooth, Maddux with her mouth open like a manhole — as much as that is possible while smiling and bugging out one’s already preternaturally large eyes, anyway.

Unfortunately, while she’s grown into her teeth, Maddux apparently still makes just as much drool as she did when she was a tiny little thing of seven months. Between her slick, ever watering mouth, her penchant for biting down nervously, and the little barley-size kernel of a tooth, it was impossible for me to get enough of a grip to pull. We called it a night, and Maddux slipped off to silently weep lipitor medicine. (Yes, she doesn’t cry, she weeps, because that’s what Cinderella does. Even if her weeping sometimes takes place during a time-out and involves Linda-Blair-like theatrics and the words “I hate you, Mommy!”)

Tonight, she was ready again. After the boys were in bed, she pranced up to me, all anxious smiles and sparkling eyes, her tooth jutting out, cantilevered, over her bottom lip. She had been wiggling it furiously all day, her resolve only hardened by last night’s failure.

“Mommymommymommy, time to pull out my tooth!” she badgered. I didn’t really want to try again, because she is not allowed to get any older, EVER since her tooth didn’t seem ready last night, but I can only take so much adorable begging. I relented.

Daddy again grabbed his camera, I revisited the Kleenex box, and Maddux opened up — only not quite so wide this time (I suppose because she knew she was going to bite me eventually anyway). We tried a few times with the tissue, to the same results as before. But Maddux was certain she wanted her tooth out, and I was certain I didn’t want to send her off all teary and disappointed again. Chris pulled out the rubber gloves and we gave it another go.

To give you an idea of what it was like, imagine pulling half a Tic-Tac out of a backed-up sink where it’s been craft-glued, while avoiding 19 other closely-spaced (but Superglued) Tic-Tac halves. The faucet is running and a bear trap is threatening to ensnare your hand.

Maddux is lucky she’s so cute, or she’d still have that tooth.

The gloves found a non-slobbery surface on the third try. One quick yank and it was done. The tooth that had once seemed so dominant in her infant mouth was surprisingly tiny resting in my palm. I packed it away in Ziploc, with an aching sense of loss troubling my chest. Here was this little tooth — one that had grown in my daughter’s jaw as a fetus and pushed through her gums right before her first Christmas — and now it was no longer a part of my little girl. Not only had Maddux lost her tooth, she’d shed her babyhood.

Which, of course, delights my firstborn to no end. She is finally a Big Kid. Any day now, she will have superpowers and decolletage and princely marriage proposals and her long-awaited baby daughter, Rainbow Rose. Like a real grown-up, she has decided to defer monetary gratification and show her little incisor off at school before leaving it out for the Tooth Fairy.

On the other hand, in the background of her proud little toothless mug shot, I can be seen blinking away tears.

Gap girl