My seven-year-old son is a swing, while his two-year-old brother is a slide. Sometimes this surprises me since they look so much alike. Scattered baby pictures that haven’t made their way to photo albums make it hard to distinguish between the two. Both share big, warm eyes framed by long eyelashes, curly hair, and knock em’ dead smiles.
The seven-year-old has adopted the leanness of childhood, while his brother still retains some toddler chubbiness. But it’s impossible not to see that they are brothers.
But the seven-year-old is a swing. At a young age, he preferred the swing among all the choices at the park. The smooth ride of the swing was similar to what he preferred in life. No surprises. Just an even back and forth, slow and easy ride.
He has since graduated to other playground equipment like the monkey bars and the slide, but only after time spent observing and studying. I used to worry about such extreme caution. After all, isn’t childhood about living? Taking chances? Knowing no fear? Leaving the fear to parents who suddenly develop a fear of heights when they discover their child twenty feet up in a tree?
However, he brings this careful study to the beginning of each school year and each new extracurricular activity. I am beginning to realize that these traits are part of his personality.
When the two-year-old was first introduced to a playground, the first thing he headed for was a slide. And not one of those tiny slides I could lift him onto either. No, he wanted the full-size slide. The thrill of climbing to new heights, and then gliding down fast and out of control.
My two-ear-old loves all kinds of slides—short, tall, straight, spiral—and the many ways to go down a slide too. Feet first. Head first. Sideways. Never are two trips the same.
The two-year-old approaches life the same way. Seeking out new challenges, looking for the thrill. Is that a ladder over there? Let’s see where it will take me. He flashes me a look and says, “me do it!” with all the determination his little body holds. I hover near the steps until he is safely seated at the top before rushing around to the bottom of the slide. I move away, to watch and not catch. Even when the slide is so slick that he glides right off onto his knees or the seat of his pants. I watch and let him experience the ride.
According to pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, first-born children are often more conscious and anxious, even physically fearful about their achievements. Parents play a part in this by rushing to help the child with a task before he masters it on his own. In a way, all the attention we pay to the first-born results in pressure that makes every success and failure a major undertaking.
Second-born children typically don’t feel the same pressure that first-borns do. The second child is looking for his place in the world, and he does this by experimenting. He’s more relaxed because like most parents, we are more relaxed the second time around.
The seven-year-old is now quite adamant about not wanting to go to a park with “baby things.” He likes to climb those huge wood jungle gyms. If he’s never been on a particular playground toy before, he studies it and watches what the other kids do before trying it on his own. But the entire experience of climbing up and climbing down is still under his control. There are few surprises because he has a pretty good idea of what his body can do.
The last time I took the two-year-old to the playground, most of the slides were hot from the sun. Before I knew it, he was climbing up a monkey bar contraption where kids climb curved bars until they reach a platform. Then there’s a pole to slide down.
I was allowed to help the two-year slide down the pole because his arms and legs were just a little too short to reach. But before he even climbed to the first rung of the monkey bars, he turned to me and said, “Mommy, me do!”
At two-years-old, he knows his mother has a tendency to help too much. So I stood there, hands stretched out, ready to catch him if he fell and trying so very hard not to give him help.
Now, I wait for the arrival of my third child. I wonder what he or she will be like. A swing? A slide? Or perhaps this time a merry-go-round?
Note: I wrote this essay many years ago, but liked the concept so much that I decided to use it for Write Time. And I am happy to say that child number three was indeed a merry-go-round, but that’s another story.