I was born in the Emerald City, a sparkling harbour jewel on the eastern edge of the wide brown land of Oz. It had been an unseasonally wet summer, full of drooping humidity and cicada song, and the day I was due to make my way into this world came and went, sweeping past like a sudden southerly squall. For two full weeks the rain fell, until — finally — a day dawned, full of light and promise, and the clouds disappeared. And so it was, in the golden light of late afternoon on that first fine day for a fortnight, that I was born.
Ah…there’s nothing like a bit of fullblown firstborn child mythologising, is there?
I mean, it’s all true — all that stuff I wrote up top, however much I might have embroidered it.
But it’s also true, as any firstborn will know but will be equally unlikely to admit, there’s nothing quite like knowing that (for better or worse) the moment of your birth changed your parents’ lives forever. It sets you apart. It marks you as different from your siblings, whether you are followed by one or an entire busload of other children.
Being the firstborn makes you special.
There…I said it.
However, as most firstborns will tell you, this ain’t necessarily a good thing. It’s a bit like being the Queen of England (no, seriously…bear with me here, and not just because the Queen has obviously been far more affected by birth order than most).
Firstborns are expected to be responsible. To show leadership. To set a good example — or, failing that, to have every misdemeanour bookmarked forever after as a reference point of what not to do. And all of this happens, like Her Majesty, just because you were born.
Like the Queen, some of us appear to shoulder the burden lightly. In fact, you’d hardly know we were eldest children unless you asked. We barely flinch when reminded of certain (glaringly obvious) historical inconsistencies between curfew times, basic standards of acceptable dress, and the general application of rules. We don’t bat an eye when our younger siblings get away with doing things we would have been instantly grounded for and saying stuff we always wish we could have. We remain unfazed by the age old and as yet unresolved conflict regarding whether it is the person on the dealer’s left or the youngest player who goes first.
And yet, there can come a day — which, for me, came only yesterday — when you wonder whether the simple fact of being firstborn is sufficient. When you question whether being the child whose birth, years before, changed your parents’ lives will prompt them to remember you on your birthday.
What? I usually prefer to let this ridiculous birthday stuff slide straight under the radar…I’m a firstborn, and that means that the oldest child is always, well…older…
Being the responsible, rule following, respectful firstborn that I am, I spent part of my birthday yesterday beside my mother’s hospital bed, where she was recovering from back surgery.
No, I don’t need a medal. Really — I’m a firstborn; we do this stuff all the time.
What I did need, was for my Dad, The Professor, who has dementia, to remember that it was the anniversary of the day his firstborn child came into the world.
And you know what? He did. Not that actually wished me, “Happy Birthday,” mind. Rather more amusingly, and in keeping with long-standing family tradition, he quoted Sandra Boynton and said, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”.
And so it was that on another hot, humid day in the Emerald City, which remains the most glittering of jewels on the edge of the wide brown land of Oz, this firstborn was remembered.
And it really was special.