Children aren’t alike. Just ask any parent who has more than one child. One child may be naturally assertive, another naturally neat, a third naturally quiet. And they show these characteristics quite early.

Take my brother. It didn’t matter what you said to him. If he didn’t want to do what he was told, he didn’t. But he never said he wouldn’t. He soon learned that the best way to get your own way was to keep quiet about it. You might say he was stubborn. I know my parents did.

He was also independent. He couldn’t have been more than four the summer my grandmother came to visit. We had finished breakfast and my mother was off to the grocery store. Everybody disappeared, including my four-year-old brother. His habit that summer was to leave after breakfast and, because he’s never missed a meal in his life, return promptly at lunch time. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t tell time. He just knew when it was 11:30.

My grandmother, though, didn’t understand his lifestyle. Or approve. She’s from the old school. She could always answer the question, “Do you know where your child is tonight?” My casual attitude toward my brother’s whereabouts mystified her.

About 11 o’clock she started wondering where he was. And every few minutes she would ask me, “Don’t you think you should go find your brother?” Or, “I wonder where he is? Do you know where he is?” Now, how could I answer that question? I was sitting in the house with her. (When I was younger I always thought adults asked strange questions. Now that I am one I realize I was right.)

There are many drawbacks to being the oldest child. One of them is that everybody thinks you should take care of everybody else who is younger than you. I tried quoting Scripture. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ...

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