Of all my children, my eldest has always been the most challenging. After a long, albeit straightforward, labour I gave birth to a baby who refused to feed. I felt fairly sure he wasn’t feeding, but midwives and my husband persuaded me that all was fine. He was three days old before they realised he actually hadn’t been feeding and had lost over a pound of his precious bodyweight. And so he’d started as he meant to go on.
After two weeks he developed colic. He was what my midwife diplomatically described as ‘a very fractious baby’. I watched the Twin Towers come down on TV 10 years ago bobbing up and down with my screaming baby in my arms. A month before I was due to return to work, he was still feeding twice at night. When I went back to work, we still didn’t have any sort of discernible feeding routine.
But he was a gorgeous, happy baby, a free spirit and I loved him to bits. The arrival of his little brother fitted in nicely with the terrible twos and my ‘challenging’ boy was back.
Fast forward 11 years, and he hasn’t changed a lot. He adores his brother, but they fight like cat and dog, he picks on his sister continually, his eating follows some very strange rules, he finds concentrating difficult and his handwriting is barely legible. For years after his sister was born, the relationship between me and him was somewhat fraught.
All he really wants from life is time on his own with adults and away from his brother and sister. And if his Mummy and Daddy can’t give it, his Grandma and Grandpa or aunties and uncles are just as good, if not better. There are times when he kicks up a fuss in front of my mum and dad and they offer to take him for a while. It’s tempting to give in and sometimes we do – it gives us a break as well as him, but I am very aware that in doing this we are rewarding his bad behaviour.
He was the only one of my kids at school for three years, and the days I took off work to look after him in the school holidays went a long way to keeping our relationship going. He thrives on individual attention, but as one of three children, it’s always going to be in short supply. I loved those days with him and the benefit of them would last weeks – almost until the next school holiday. But all good things must come to an end and now those days are shared with his brother and sister. They are still fun, but will never be quite the same.
Now I’m pleased to say he really loves his Mummy. There are similarities between us – we are both vegetarian, both a little bit claustrophobic and we have a similar temperament. Those similarities mean a lot to him and he loves saying ‘Me and mummy don’t like that, do we, Mummy?’
He is a complex character. He has a very strong sense of right and wrong, which I’m really pleased about, but as he gets older I am trying to teach about the bits in-between. He is confident and polite and has no qualms about going up to people in shops to ask for assistance.
He is serious and loves general knowledge. His head is full of facts which he loves to tell people about – slowly and with a lot of ‘er’ ‘basically’ and ‘apparently’ thrown in. Unfortunately, his ability to apply knowledge and to write it down isn’t even on the same page as his ability to acquire it.
Friends’ parents adore him. He’s not an aggressive, boyish boy. He is quiet (away from home, at least!), polite and a little bit nerdy, very different from the attention-seeking boy we have at home. And he’s the boy who got the most compassionate student award at school, so he, and we, must be doing something right.
On the rare occassions I get to spend some time with him alone, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Then I see the boy I know he is deep down. The boy who won the compassionate student trophy. When he doesn’t have to fight his brother and sister for attention, he grows up. And when I don’t have to listen to, and police, arguments, I relax.
In those moments, we are happy. And for a few days afterwards, I can expect a happy boy and a more relaxed family. His sometimes difficult behaviour has repercussions for us all and can leave us all stressed and upset.
And my boy can be safe in the knowledge that, however much he tests his parents, as the eldest grandchild and nephew (or niece) on both sides of the family, there are a number of people for whom he is, and always will be, the favourite.