In describing the temperaments of our two daughters, my husband often employs the following shorthand: “Oona is to Daphne as Edith Wharton is to John Belushi.” Anyone who has ever read about birth order won’t be surprised to learn that Oona is the older of the two. Everything they say about eldest kids is true of Oona. She’s more quiet and introspective. She was able to sit for the duration of a book (or three or four books) before she could walk. She potty-trained herself at twenty months!
If I were forced to predict which of my children would be more likely to don a beer helmet or cut class in the future, I’d have to go with Daphne. Daphne is only two years old, but I have a hunch I’m going to have a hell of a time getting her to do her homework. As much as I hate being so predictable, our family perfectly embodies all the research on the power of birth order.
I grew up with many older siblings, so when I read recently that the IQ of children decreases with their birth order I took it very personally. (I’d love to get all of my twelve siblings together and have everyone tested.) And it’s not just brain power. Studies show that along with a higher IQ, first-born children very often hold higher-paying jobs than their younger siblings and are even taller.
The more I read about this phenomenon (and the theories behind it), the more I feel definite guilt that I may be playing a role in any disparity between my own kids. One such theory has to do with the investment parents put in their first born: when they only have one child, they have more time and money. Of course, this would never be the case with my kids. I was confident that, to the best of my abilities, I’d always give the girls equal treatment. Was I ever wrong.
For the first two years of Oona’s life, she had the undivided attention of four adults. When I went back to work three months after she was born, my brother and his Irish fianc’ moved in with us to care for her. I remember coming home one day, about a week after I’d returned to work, to find Pinn (now my sister-in-law) in the kitchen cooking dinner while my brother Billy was in the living room reading Finnegan’s Wake aloud to the baby.
I’m pretty sure that Daphne’s never been exposed to any Joyce. In fact, the person most often “reading” to Daphne these days is her four-year-old sister. And once I started being honest with myself, the list of infractions grew:
- Organic fresh vegetable delivery for Oona / Daphne eats a lot of frozen patties
- Weekly sing-along class with Oona / Daphne’s more familiar with the iPod
- Special baby detergent for infant Oona / Daphne got whatever was on sale
- Saturday morning rides in the bike seat with Dad to see the dogs swimming in the park for Oona (“The fresh morning air is good for her.”) / Daphne has yet to sit on the back of Dad’s bike, and I’m afraid, at this point, she’s exceeded the maximum weight for the child seat (although, not surprisingly, we’re not sure how much she weighs)