I am the middle child of my parents. Growing up, it gave me the unique advantage of always having an elder brother to look up to and a younger one to (try to) mentor.
Also, to always have an older sibling to resent and blame unashamedly and a younger one to boss around. Did I say boss around? I meant “try to”.
And now I am a mother of three. Our middle daughter already seems to me to be a little carbon copy of me. If I elaborate any more, she might grow up and use that sentence to sue me. So I shall stop here.
In a pack: All your children should feel as special as the first-born. Photo by Thinkstock.
The youngest, I think, come hardy. Charming and funny, with a magnetic field around them. Make way for me, is their first and final message to the rest of the family and world. And they claim their place.
Then there is the first born. In the speed and rush of everyday life, I find myself forever judging whether the children are too old or too young for what they do. Sahar, our eldest child, is 8 now. Sometimes, she could be 18. We remind ourselves again and again that she is ONLY 8. Yet it repeatedly gets distorted and sounds like this: She is EIGHT. Eight is BIG. Just like she was big at 6 and at 4 and at 2.
TWO years old, I used to feel. She should go to school, eat on her own, greet guests in three Indian and two international languages and put away her shape sorter all by herself. Every day.
I was a fool.
I need to pull the brakes on this racket.
Sometimes on a long drive in the car, I find an excuse to sit in the back seat with our children. The younger ones get into my lap and lean on my shoulder and claim their places. Quietly, my hand reaches for Sahar’s. As the landscape races outside the window and music fills the car, we replenish our deferred love.
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Tell us a story, the children will often say. Stories are our magic wand. They are also the best equalizer in a family where the children’s ages range from 2-plus to 40-plus years. Compared with conversation, stories are like a shortcut in the hills. They demand full attention, are exciting, and whether we reach the destination or not, they take us places.
Tell them stories, not as you remember them, but as you would have liked them to have been, a wise friend had once said to me. These words were the key to a treasure chest that hadn’t been opened forever. I combined horses chasing a train from Sholay’s opening with the flying bicycles of E.T.’s climax. I added my nursery school rickshaw ride in Ranchi to the mix. The possibilities became endless.
We make up stories together. Of hippos stuck in city traffic and baby turtles looking for the sea. Of children with extra long names. Of a girl who ran too fast, a boy who had a lisp. Sometimes I get lost and ask the children for a rescue plan for our story. Unlike adults, children don’t always need a conflict for a story to work for them. Like all children, their favourite stories are about their own babyhood and their parents’ childhood.
Our big family story is titled Numero Uno, First Prize and Most Wanted.
Sahar is Numero Uno, she will always be No. 1. Aliza is the First Prize we won, because we were such good parents to Sahar. And little Naseem chose us because when she was hunting for a family, we were the ones laughing the loudest. She is our Most Wanted. Sometimes I pretend to forget who’s who and they have to tell me again. I am your First Prize, Aliza will beam and I am No. 1, Sahar will remind me.
Honestly, our days are way too cluttered with chasing and tailgating, hurts and fevers, gadgets that break down and phone calls that last too long.
And whether you came first or last, whether they tell you that you are too grown up or too little, the abiding memory of every childhood must be that you are special, you belong, that you are the most wanted. That it is always a good time for unexpected laughter.
Now you tell me your story.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.
Write to Natasha at firstname.lastname@example.org