There are many things that get the thumbs up from me when it comes to growing up as the eldest child in a fairly large family. As the first of three boys, I was lucky enough to always get clothes from a shop rather than a sibling, be the first one to try out all sorts of new experiences, and embrace pretty much every rite of passage before my brothers. There were some down sides, too, though: I’m not sure I’ve ever quite understood quite why my mum felt the need to keep my umbilical cord in a childhood photo album, for example. It was only thrown away about three years ago, and I was lucky enough to witness this ceremonial disposing of what looked like a piece of small gristle nestled in between pictures of me as a baby in my cot. My mum apart, I don’t think any of us mourned the loss of that particular part of my anatomy from the family archives, and nor do I feel its continued presence up to that time will go down as a particular highlight for me when it comes to the benefits of being the first born.
Having said that, I suppose it’s quite nice that my mum kept such a comprehensive record of my first few months. I’m not sure my brothers can look back on such a detailed account of their early years. In fact, by the time the youngest one came along, he was lucky to have any photos taken of him before the age of about five, let alone enjoy a chunk of his cord being kept in perpetuity for all to see. Me and the middle one have often tried to convince the youngest – known to us all as ‘the runt of the litter’ – that this lack of attention stems from the fact that my parents love him much less than they do us. “You do know you were genuinely meant to be a girl, don’t you?” remains a favourite taunt to this day (only ever in jest, you realise). And now, I’ve personally discovered how difficult it must be to give all your children the same level of attention, especially in those first few weeks after their arrival into the world.
Since last month, I am the proud owner of a total of three children – and I’m acutely aware that the little one is already being slightly overlooked and forgotten about. She just seems to have slotted in to life as the youngest one already, and has no option but to go with the Jackson flow. Just this morning, I parked the car in Tesco and wandered off to do the shopping, only to be reminded by my wife that it might be a good idea to get the baby out of the car. I’d genuinely forgotten she was there (after all, compared to her brother and sister at that age, she’s a very easy child who doesn’t seem to feel the need to make her presence known every couple of minutes). I hadn’t even bothered to park in the Parent and Child space because I genuinely thought I couldn’t really justify it without the aforementioned child in tow. A little later in the day, when booking a holiday on the phone, I panicked when asked what my youngest daughter’s date of birth was, quickly realising that “a few weeks back, when it was quite icy” wasn’t specific enough. The fact that, by contrast, I could recite not just my eldest’s date of birth but the precise time, too (16 minutes past 7 in the evening, since you ask), made me feel more than a little guilty.
I recently read a quote from a mum who seemed to sum all this up perfectly: “When I had my first child he had his own face cloth, my second child shared his brother’s face cloth and my youngest had the dish cloth.” In our house, no one has a face cloth – we tend to just tell them to wipe their face on their T-shirt because we can’t really be bothered to go and find a flannel. But anyway, from now on, I think I should do a little more to make sure that Child Number 3 gets as much focus and attention as Child Number 1. I’ll be fairly conservative in my approach, though – you know, take lots of photos, go off on the odd day trip with my youngest on her own to make her feel special, and so on. And when they look back on their childhoods in years to come, whatever they think of my parenting or the levels of favouritism shown towards them, there’s one thing they’ll all share: a distinct, categorical lack of any gristle-like substance in their photo albums.