The ups and downs of being the baby in a very large family

The boy saw his cousins last week, most of them for the first time this year. I have 10 brothers and sisters and my son was born at the end of a 12-year spree in which all of our collected 15 children were born. As such, he’s been ‘the baby’ of the group for his entire two-and-a-quarter years on the planet, making him the longest-serving holder of that title.

Being the baby of all babies has its upsides. The older kids are charmed by his squishy face and adorable antics; the littler ones are delighted to have someone small enough to push around, or treat nicely so they can accumulate cute points of their own.

It’s also a benefit for us bedraggled parents, since he has no shortage of little pals to lead him from place to place, or offer him toys they’ve outgrown. It doesn’t matter that those toys will eventually be snatched back by said cousin when they realise they would prefer to keep that rattle they haven’t used in years. By that time we’ve had half an hour of long-leash parenting that’s more than worth the inevitable tears.

As the ninth of 11 children, I was close to the end of the run. I was only the baby of the family for 14 months, then Fionnuala came along. I couldn’t complain since I’d stolen Caoimhe’s crown just 14 months after she’d been born. If you’re struggling with the maths, let’s just say that in August 1984 my parents had seven children – already an exceptionally adequate number of infants to be in charge of – and 28 months later they, somehow, had 10. As a family, we tend not to linger on that ‘somehow’.

Being at the younger end has its drawbacks. We spent our early childhood as little more than living dolls to be pawed at, dressed up, and roped into ‘talent contests’ which consisted of us singing pop songs until we got bored or cried, usually both.

No matter how old I got, my siblings were always devious enough to age at the same rate, meaning my place in the hierarchy was stuck. This never seemed fair. As a child, I considered myself a good deal smarter than all of my siblings, yet my good advice about forming a family football team, or watching Jurassic Park for the 411th time, was consistently ignored.

My little brother Conall is the actual youngest – born a respectable 22 months after Fionnuala. At 31 years old, he’s 6ft, bearded, and makes websites, writes code or does something else complicated enough that we usually shorten it to ‘computers’. Despite this, he’s so ingrained as the family’s baby, that our own children refer to him as Uncle Baby Conall.

My son doesn’t seem to mind. He’s enjoying the stardom, cuddles and brief moments with temporarily gifted toys. He even put in a good shift at the talent show into which he was inevitably drafted, jigging on the spot to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to extremely generous applause. He may not be the baby forever, so why not make the most of it before the crying starts?

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats

The Guardian

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