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On Being Second

Being a little sister can be hard, but it also has its advantages.

Have you heard the big news? Sasha lost her first tooth last week. After years—and I do mean years—of frustration as her big brother A.J. lost tooth after tooth after tooth after tooth, she has finally joined the ranks of the toothless.

"I feel like this all must be just a dream," she marveled the other morning as we walked down the path to school. "I just can't believe I finally lost a tooth."

"Was it everything you'd hoped for?" I asked, giving her hand a squeeze.

"Oh Mama," she bubbled, "it's even better than I thought it would be."

As a first-born child, I never really appreciated how hard it must be to have to wait in the wings while an older sibling experiences everything first. Sasha's single-minded determination to crawl, then toddle, then run after her big brother gave me some insight into what childhood must have been like for my little sister. 

But this whole tooth thing is what really illuminated it for me: Sasha's frustrated tears each time A.J. triumphantly brandished another lost baby tooth were heartbreaking. Trying to soothe her hurt feelings while celebrating his milestone was like tiptoeing through a mine field, and I'm pretty sure we all lost a few metaphorical appendages in the process.

Despite the attendant emotional scarring, being second-born does have its advantages. Sasha always has the chance to sit back and watch while A.J. makes mistakes, and I have to say she is pretty good at not repeating them. And the girl is Persistence Personified. "I won't give up," she'll say through gritted teeth as she keeps trying whatever it is she wants to do—and she doesn't give up, not until she's done it.

This morning I passed her in the hallway, examining her gap-toothed smile in the mirror on the closet door. "Don't I look cute?" she asked as she struck a pose.

"You look adorable," I told her, because I have a no-lying policy to which I almost always adhere. 

She smiled at her reflection again, then furrowed her brow slightly. "A.J. has lost a lot more teeth than just one, Mama. When will my next tooth get wiggly?"

Ah yes, that's my girl.

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Laura Williams Argilla May 10, 2011 at 08:56 PM
I was a 2nd born. I remember being so frustrated each time my older sister hit a new milestone or got to go to a class or program that I was still too young for. I'm watching my younger son do the same now and it breaks my heart. He rails about his big brother always being older and how it's not fair. I've tried to tell him that in about his mid 30s he'll be able to lord his less advanced age over his older brother, but he's not buying it.
Stephanie Trelogan May 10, 2011 at 09:10 PM
I should've guessed you're a second-born, Laura, as motivated as you are. We first-born children tend to give up on anything that's even remotely challenging. Er, or so I hear.
Nina Russo Terheyden May 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Too funny....my daughter goes thru the same thing w/ my son....always waiting to do what he does! I'm the youngest and always followed my sister around and was pretty upset if I didn't get to do or go with her to things. Great article!
Stephanie Trelogan May 12, 2011 at 07:57 PM
My husband, who is a middle child of three, reminds me who has it the absolute worst: the middle child of three. :-)

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