That’s how I often the describe the advice that one might give to a child at birth who is fourth and youngest in the birth order, like my 6-year-old daughter, Ava.
The first time around, as parents, you try to do things perfectly. There’s little diversion from that advice of your pediatrician or popular parenting books. You worry if each and every thing you do is healthy for your child, age appropriate, or something that’s going to do them harm. That oldest child also gets that undivided parental attention with no siblings in the mix.
Alexis got this.
And then Kaia came along. The attention between children was now shared. Less attention was paid to what the so-called experts thought about parenting.
Then came Carter. OK, now we’ve gone from man-to-man to zone defense with the kids. I’d since given away all my parenting books, subscribing exclusively to the “What Works For My Family” plan.
Then, in August 2006, my bonus child (I don’t like the words “accident” or “surprise”) came along.
AKA The Bean, or Avabean. This teeny little kid who looked so tiny and frail, not even registering on those growth curves, falling below the 0 percent. This girl, who other than being a true “Mini Me” and getting none of my height, is the only one of four kids who bears a striking similarity to Mom, not just in appearance. She is the one who repeatedly asks when we can hike to Liberty Cap and excitedly completed the Bolder Boulder 10K this year, with her only rough moment being when the Marshmallow Station at 2 miles ran out of marshmallows as she walked up. (I promised her we’d get marshmallows later, and the tears stopped before they even began.)
She’s always smiling, always bouncing around. It’s hard to get her to sit still to eat; I’ve learned that anything she can grab on the fly, while playing, is probably about the best way to get her to keep calories coming in to fuel her high level of activity. And there’s just no fear present in this kid. With older siblings in dance already, she started her classes and performances earlier than any of the others. This was her “normal” and “natural.” Don’t all 2-year-olds perform in shows, napping in the wings until it’s time, then get up, smile, run on stage and twirl around? Sure. To Ava this was all just cool stuff her siblings did. And as parents, we’d dropped that “is this appropriate? Is she too young for that?“ So she’d join in on these things and always keep up with what they were able to do.
I continue to be fascinated by birth order, and the whole “nature versus nurture” deal. Does she have this high energy, enthusiasm and lack of fear for trying new stuff because that’s who she is deep down? Or is this more of a byproduct of parents who don’t obsess about all the things that were big concerns with a firstborn, and simply cannot give 100 percent attention to one child all the time?
I don’t know. And there aren’t a lot of families with whom I’ve been able to compare. I do know that my own fears and concerns as a first-time mom are long gone, and Ava doesn’t know anything but being part of the pack, and fending for herself to some degree. So, diving right into new situations fearlessly is second nature to her. And after hoping that one of my kids might be a running buddy at some point, it’s been a thrill that after dropping that hope and expectation, Ava is the one who thinks it’s cool to get out on the trails, climbing ladders and jumping rocks and streams. It’s been a trip that my youngest seems to take a great deal of pleasure in things I enjoy. Will she get into it in a big way? Who knows. It’s great, for now, to have that common bond. Whatever Ava pursues, I hope she continues to have that adventuresome spirit, lack of fear and expectation that she CAN do what the “big kids” are doing, too.