The oldest child: Too much responsibility?
My heart hurts, and my stomach: a few minutes ago, I yelled at Everett. He's seven-and-a-half, and as his dad has been away for the past two weeks doing Army duty -- he'll be away again later this month, and then, in May, he'll be mobilized to serve in Iraq for more than a year -- I'm asking the oldest boy to be far more responsible than I probably should. I know how this goes; I, too, am the oldest child of a large family, and distinctly remember feeling so infused with the responsibility of my first-born role, before I even started kindergarten I'd have nightmares in which I was the only one who could save my whole family from a house fire, an out-of-control car.
I'd been struggling with Monroe, who had dumped a quarter-cup of vanilla into the cookies, and was wailing when I wouldn't let him swipe enormous finger-fulls of butter, maple syrup, and oh, that vanilla. He was holding his arm and crying, "owe, owe, OWE!" -- I'd "hurt" him by holding his arm back from the bowl after five illicit tastes. Everett could help, I knew it: he's great with his little brother and I often look to him to fill in with patience when I've lost it.
But Everett was deep in a farm game on the iPod, and wasn't having any of this man-of-the-house baloney. I ordered him off, or else; he ran upstairs in tears. There I was: spreading my ill-patience around to the rest of the family instead of healing it. I took my breaths, set Monroe in front of the left-behind iPod, and went to apologize. But, honestly, my apology wasn't that great. I had to tell him, look, kid: when I am losing my temper and need your help, there's no one else. You have to be my go-to guy. For years.
While I work on controlling my temper, I also have this weighty question hanging heavy in the air like the scent of caramelizing vanilla: how do I temper the duty burden I'm sure to be yoking on Everett's shoulders for years to come? Where do I strike the balance between the trust and reliability I know he's earned, on one hand; and his very real needs for emotional development on the other? Have others here juggled this, whether because of being a single parent, or having a partner who frequently travels, or works very long hours? I'd love to hear your stories.
[And oh yes: the cookies turned out great. Way too much vanilla was just right.]