One of the first things I remember is the day the grownups brought my baby brother John home from the hospital. Up until then I had been an only child, which is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. So what if your first-time parents are a little bit afraid of you because they think you'll crack open like an egg or pick up some dangerous germ if other people hold you? The fact is, they think you're awesome, and they have the photographs to prove it. This is you the day you were born! This is the day you first smiled! This is the day you took your first step! This is the day you did absolutely nothing at all but look adorable!
Ann Cannon: When a baby brother crashes the party
No wonder oldest children feel like master and commander of the universe. I know I did. Until I met my infant brother.
I remember walking into our living room where the grownups were clustered around the couch. My parents were there, of course, and so were my maternal grandparents. I think my great-uncle Bob was there, too — he was the one with the large nose who smoked a pipe — along with his wife, Edna. The point is, there were a lot of grownups, and they were all focused on something in a blue blanket squirming on the couch.
Was it a puppy?
I inched forward — slowly, slowly — until I saw for myself what they were looking at. No. It wasn't a puppy. It was a long, skinny, red-faced human baby with a crop of black hair sprouting straight out of its head.
I was shocked. Even more shocking was the fact that everyone was looking at it and not at me. My dad, in particular, had apparently swallowed a handful of goofy pills. I experienced an acute case of sympathetic embarrassment (the kind of embarrassment you feel for people who aren't feeling embarrassed for themselves) as my father mugged and made noises for the benefit of the skinny baby, who responded by staring vaguely at the ceiling and twitching its arms.
And that's when I understood that all the attention had shifted from me to it. So I decided to run away.
At first I slipped outside and stood beneath the crabapple tree in our front yard, hoping the grownups would organize a search party to find me. They didn't. Then I crept into our basement and crouched by the washing machine, hoping they'd look for me there. They didn't. And also I got cramps in my legs from all that crouching.
So I finally rejoined the party in the living room. Resigned. BUT NOT HAPPY.
I thought of that day when I was babysitting my granddaughter a year ago this very week because her mother was in the hospital giving birth. Like me, she was the oldest and the only. Like me, she would soon be giving up the spotlight to a brand new baby brother.
It would be hard for her, I knew, because in so many ways this granddaughter is a lot like I was. So I hovered over her and gave her special treats and vowed to organize search parties if she ran away. And when the time came, I took her to the hospital to meet her baby brother for the very first time.
My granddaughter inched carefully inside the room where her parents and new brother waited. And when she saw the baby, whose head was covered with a new crop of black hair, she squealed and shouted, "IS THAT BABY CUTE ENOUGH?!"
In that moment she was not me. She was herself. And as I watched my son cradle his own son in his kind daddy arms, I gave silent thanks for all the ways that we human beings are different from one another.
Happy birthday, Philo Guy. We're happy you're here.