A Firstborn’s Thoughts on Being Remembered

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.

first born

Firstborn problems…

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.

QE2

Seriously, we firstborns barely flinch…

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.

birthday

Firstborn means you’re always older…meh…

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.

hippo birdy

Hippo Birdie Two Ewe, in full.

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.

 

 

 

À la Recherche de Temps Précieux

ironicI have been in search of precious time recently — not temps perdu, like Proust obsessing over his madeleines.  I have no need of seven volumes of rememebrances of things past right now — though the irony of that will soon become clear.

Rather, I am in fervent, life-affirming need of the present.

I’m not entirely sure how many times I’ve begun composing this post or some version of it in my head over the past few weeks, but I’ve finally figured out that I simply need to put fingers to keys and write — honestly, and hopefully positively — about something significant that is affecting my life.

So here it is: my Dad has been diagnosed with dementia.

I have mentioned my father was experiencing significant health issues in a post once before, and vaguely alluded to it as well, but lately I have discovered that not writing about it openly has been stopping me from writing here at all. It’s not like I’ve had any kind of writer’s block (mostly because I arrogantly refuse to entertain the possibilty that such a thing will ever beset me), or that I have lacked material I thought worthy of sharing. I’ve happily written articles and press releases for clients, and finished off pieces of fiction I started years ago — and even had the temerity to share some of them with an audience.

But my reluctance to write about Dad’s dementia has resulted in the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from this small patch of cyberspace I call my own, and it’s time I changed that in the best way I know how.

I don’t want this to turn into one long whinge about how much it sucks that my Dad — my incredibly intelligent, erudite, articulate and energetic father — has an incurable condition, so I’ve decided that this will be the first in a series of posts I want to categorise under Travels with The Professor.

lionMy hope is that these posts, whenever I feel the need to write them, will celebrate the man who helped raise me, of all that he was and all that he still is.  I imagine I might want to share things that he’s taught me and encouraged me to appreciate, and to make sense of what I’m learning about him and myself as we journey down this one way street, not knowing how long we have together, or how long he will know we are on the path with him.  I don’t want to eulogise him, though I am fully aware that I will probably end up mytholigising at times — because that’s what Dads are for: they are the mightiest of lions, the leaders of the pride, the ones we look up to.

So I invite you to join me, if you’re willing, and we’ll both see where these rambling Travels with The Professor take us.