Under the Wire – by Elizabeth Allen
I was the last in line—the youngest child born to my mother when she was 39-years-old. My brother popped in fifteen months earlier when she was a sprightly 37, but my sister won the trophy for first born when Mom was a more conventional 27. My sister had twelve years as an only child to a young-ish mother with energy garnering her enthusiasm and attention. Did it really make a difference? And to whom?
That depends on who you ask.
Let’s start with me. Sometimes I feel like I got the raw end of the deal. Mom was exhausted by the time I laid my childish demands for attention upon her. She didn’t have the energy to play with me—not without caffeine or stimulants (which I accidently swallowed after she recklessly dropped them on the floor and my two-year-old mind decided they were M&M’s). She was quickly burnt-out on the whole motherhood experience and was feeling like she hadn’t made her mark in the world so evenings were dedicated to community theatre rehearsals and performances. When Mom was home, she was desperately unhappy in her marriage to my father and since I was the baby and the last entity in the house that technically needed her, she vented her misery on me before I’d turned ten. As if all that wasn’t enough, I had the least amount of time with Mom before she passed away.
My slightly older brother didn’t seem to care about the amount of attention or lack of it he got from Mom. He was very intellectual from a very young age and was buried in books and education. Of course, looking back now, that may have been his escape from the ever-present dysfunction in the house. Yep, probably was. Once he was off to college, he never looked back.
That just leaves my sister. She may have had the roost to herself for a dozen years, but once my brother and I came along, she was gainfully employed as a full-time babysitter. But those first twelve years were hardly a cake-walk. Mom dragged my sister through five marriages—four step-fathers. The lessons that little girl observed regarding men, women and relationships were so twisted and perverse, it was no wonder she married the first schmuck who proposed when she was seventeen to get out of that cuckoo’s nest. Of course, she married a psychotic schmuck but let’s not get into that.
So what the heck is my point? Truth be told, it got lost somewhere in my rant up above. Oh wait! Found it. Does it make a difference to siblings if the parent is older or younger? I believe it has to. Certainly my example is not the norm (and I pray none of you or your children ever go through anything like that!) but despite the insanity, there are common elements—energy, enthusiasm, and attention.
Older mothers just don’t have as much energy, especially if there are several kids. Someone’s going to get short-changed, but that’s just the way it is.
I find, however, that enthusiasm and attention go hand in hand. Lots, if not most, older mothers these days are career women. How much time can you carve out of your routine to devote to your child (or children)? As a full-time financial advisor and part-time writer, I can see how the demands of my aspirations have impacted my daughter. Becoming a mother was one of the single most important decisions of my life, but as I traversed my forties and early fifties, I too, like my mother, felt the need to leave my mark. My daughter has been conditioned ever since she was a baby to understand mommy goes to work, but once I started writing in the evenings, she felt cheated. I argued and rationalized that writing was important to me and this is something I need to do for me and don’t you want mommy to do something that makes her happy? And almost before I knew it, I had nearly argued and rationalized myself right out of the most important relationship of my life.
Would I have gone through this mid-life crisis had she been born ten or twenty years earlier? Probably not. I was a selfish idiot in my twenties and a bit of a career-nomad with no discernible direction. And considering I skirted three engagements, I was well on the way to matching my own mother’s record. So, all things considered, it’s good we waited.
Thank God my daughter is not afraid to communicate and I listen to her. Now my writing time is scheduled when it doesn’t impact our precious mother/daughter time.