Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ode to the Baby of the Family
by Julie Butler Evans

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” I used to recite that line from the book, Love You Forever, to Kenny as a boy at bedtime. Heck, I think I have even uttered it to him in young adulthood. But I also repeat it to Jack, the real baby of our family.

Jack Butler Evans, nearly 10, was my 40th birthday present; albeit three weeks after my birth certificate states I actually turned into a 40-year-old. He was born in the year we learned my father was to die, so his arrival was made even more significant and precious. As the baby of the family, he is at once coddled and carefree. As the youngest of four, I give him a lot more leeway, yet I am a veteran of the trickery children try to pull, so it’s harder for him to execute the fake illness, the white lie about homework, or the false angelic smile when questioned as to what he’s doing in a room in which he shouldn’t be playing.

My friends who are the youngest recount tales of both woe and wonder – they feel that they “got away” with more things than their older siblings and were left to fend for themselves often -- yet also received seemingly more of their parents’ attention, even if that love didn’t translate into boxes and boxes of childhood pictures and keepsakes on their behalf. (Jack has a lot less to show in the way of baby pictures and records of milestones).

I am the oldest of two and so my baby-of-the-family days amounted to just two years, a status I share with my oldest child, Blake. Kenny was the baby for eight years before his younger sister, Janet, came on the scene. I would assure him that he was still my “baby” because he was my baby son and my baby Flannery (my former surname when married to his father). But then along came Jack so Kenny has officially been a middle kid for a decade. Janet was the baby for three years and I promise her that as our only daughter she is forever the baby girl. I am not certain why I feel the need to have each of my kids believe as if they have never lost their “baby-of-the-family” status. Maybe I am still frustrated that even after almost 48 years, my brother usurped my reign and horned in on my parent’s attention.

Back to Jack. Several other friends of mine in town with sons as their youngest child share that the boys still like to snuggle with them, even as middle schoolers. It’s not that they’re “momma’s boys,” but there is just an instinct to continue to feel protected, loved, and special. Jack possesses what I call the “puppieness;” he enjoys falling asleep curled next to me in bed while I watch television or sitting close to me on the couch or on an airplane. He usually seems genuinely happy to see me and I fully intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

I think that parents with multiple children realize that the baby will not break, that hanging out in a dirty diaper a bit longer won’t scar it for life, that hand-me-downs are every bit as good as the newest-latest-and-greatest contraption and that a skinned knee is not worth phoning 9-1-1. We know our youngest are equally as fallible as the oldest we once believed was not. We found that our first-born child learned primarily from us, but that the next-born learn also from those siblings who came before (both a good and a not-so-good thing I have discovered). We can count on the older kids to help watch out for the younger ones, which frees us up somewhat.

I still have a good eight years to go until I am able to be a parent without a school age child in the house, but I do look forward to those last three, when Jack, the youngest, will essentially be Jack, the only, as soon as Janet goes off to college. He’ll have a little taste of what it was like for us first-born kids. Then again, as long as I’m living, my baby he’ll be.

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