The Pillow Pet Fiasco (Or ‘The Tragic Life of an Oldest Child’)

Being an oldest child has got to be hard.

You’ve fulfilled all your parents’ dreams just by being born. They delight in every facial expression, every little sound you make. They take videos of you doing all those cute things you do. (Then, when they watch them back years later, they think, “What is this supposed to be? She’s just lying there.”) You are used to four eyes staring at you, four hands ready to pick you up. Everything belongs to you. Your room. Your  toys. Your mom and dad – until they get this deluded idea that you want another person around to use all your stuff and take up your space and divert their attention.

But they never asked you, did they? So eventually this other baby arrives and grows, becomes mobile, follows you around and does your bidding and worships you and agrees with you and you totally take advantage of this. It’s awesome, actually. She lets you pick out her clothes and what book to read at nap time. When you play, you’re the teacher, she’s the student. You’re Cinderella, she’s the ugly step-sister.  You’re the star, she’s the audience. When you call your mom a “poopy poop” she laughs and laughs. To her, you are the epitome of cool and amazing – until one day she decides she has opinions and preferences of her own and she (gasp!) says NO to you.

Where does that leave you? You are bereft of power and influence, set adrift in an unfamiliar world where other people are just as important as you. How does a person live like this?

Take this episode that happened with my oldest daughter just a few days ago. A little bit of background: Maggie is four, almost five. When she was about two and a half, while I was pregnant with number two, we went to visit family for Easter. She was given a Pillow Pet as an Easter gift: a purple and pink ladybug with a little velcro tab that, when undone, transforms it from pet to pillow. (Not that normal humans keep ladybugs as pets, but we’ll overlook that.) She was like, “Ooh, I love my pillow!” for about two seconds, and then, like most nice gifts my children are given, it was soon forgotten about.

Over a year passes. The pillow is in Maggie’s room, in a heap on her bed with all of her other stuffed animals, but she shows absolutely no indication that she would care if it were given to Goodwill or ripped to shreds by the dog. By that time, her baby sister Ceci is not a baby anymore. She is walking and smiling and ready to have a pillow in her crib, and one day Maggie says something like, “Here Ceci, have my pillow.” I promise you, this is how it went down.

Fast forward another year, to the present. Ceci and the Pillow Pet are inseparable. She calls it “my poo-ple pillow” and shows it to everyone she meets. She rubs the soft side of the little velcro tab to soothe herself to sleep. She freaking LOVES this thing that her older sister bestowed upon her in what we now know was a blackout episode of generosity. Because suddenly, from out of nowhere, Maggie says: “I used to have a pillow just like that when I was little.”


I believe in being honest with my children, even when the truth hurts. “Maggie,” I say very calmly, as if speaking to a cornered Rottweiler, “This is the pillow you used to have. But you didn’t really care about it, so now it is Ceci’s special pillow. It is very, very special to her.”

The kid just falls apart. I have seen pretty much every type of crying known to man, and these weren’t bratty tears. These are bona fide, from the bottom of her soul, I just lost the thing most dear to me in the world tears.


Oh. My. God.

When she turns to Ceci and asks in her most pitiful voice, “Can I have that?”, I brace myself. Ceci has been asserting herself and standing up to Maggie, at least on occasion, for the past couple of months. But the sweet, submissive middle child hands it over, saying, “Sure. Here Maggie!” It was the least she could do to atone for ruining her sister’s life.

Unfortunately for my persecuted eldest, I wasn’t going to let that fly. In the end I had to compromise and promise to buy her a new Pillow Pet. I’ve been to several stores and haven’t managed to locate one,  and she already seems to have forgotten all about it, so it looks like the oldest child gets shafted once again. Her pillow torn from her unjustly, her demands for its return denied, and now no restitution in sight. Just another day in the life of an oldest child.

Wipe that smile off your face, you smug bug.

How to Parent the Coolest Kid on the Block

It’s 7:00 in the evening. The dinner dishes are put away; the children are bathed and in their PJs. Baby Alex and I have ducked into the kitchen, my unofficial writing space. From the living room I can hear the other three members of my family completely engaged in watching “Return of the Jedi”.

The Two-Year-Old: That Chewy! That Chewy! That Chewy, daddy!
My Husband (Reading subtitles): There will be no bargain.
The Two-Year-Old: There Chewy! There Chewy right there! (Pause) Where Chewy?
The Four-Year-Old says nothing, having fallen into that wide-eyed, slack-faced TV stupor that makes one wonder if she is comprehending anything she sees.
The Two-Year-Old: Chewy!

Some people call it indoctrination; we call it intentional parenting.

I have two questions for you:
Why are you making me root for a cursed team, and
do you realize I have no idea how to sit upright?

We started before our kids even knew what was happening: Star Wars and Chicago Cubs onesies, a bedtime CD of instrumental Phish lullabies. We were never big on listening to kids’ music in the car, so our girls learned to love the music we listened to. Maggie was barely three when I became obsessed with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song “Same Love”. She called it “her song'” and asked to hear “I Can’t Change” every time we drove anywhere. These days she’s just as likely to frolic around the house singing something by Foster the People or Cold War Kids as she is to be belting out a tune from Frozen.

There’s just something about involving your children in the things you love. Maggie and Ceci, as young as they are, know how happy it makes their daddy to hear them root for the Cubbies or to snuggle with them after a long day at work and watch Tony and Michael – our kids are on a first-name basis – on Pardon the Interruption. We can’t wait to take them to their first baseball game, their first concert. The thought of teaching my girls to play pool, as my dad taught me, makes me giddy. And I can’t lie, I look forward to educating my children on the difference between good beer and crappy beer once they’re legal.

Right now our kids don’t know any better; they still want to be like their mom and dad. We know that the day is coming when that will change, and they’ll think that everything their parents do and everything we like is totally lame. Maybe they’ll get into some teeny-bopper band that uses emojis in its song titles, and we’ll totally support that. We’ll load them and a bunch of their giggling, squealy friends into the car and shuttle them to an arena where we will watch a group of pre-pubescent boys perform overtly sexual choreographed dances. We will buy them souvenir t-shirts that we think are stupid. We will hope that this is just a phase, that at some point soon they will realize that their parents’ taste in music is actually amazing, and then they will get on their knees and thank us for being so insanely cool.

Look on the bright side, Maggie as a baby-
you could be wearing a gold bikini.

Our daughters are going to be who they are; we get that. We can only steer them so far. My husband and I were both swimmers, so we might prefer that they choose to join a swim team over a cheerleading squad, but in the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. (I touched upon this some about a year ago in my post  “Who Will You Be? (A Parent’s Guessing Game), if you haven’t read it!)

In a way, it’s kind of nice that our children will likely set aside a lot of the tastes and interests that we have worked so hard to instill in them. Our interests will change with theirs, because no matter what they’re into, we will want to be a part of it. It will give us a chance, when we’re middle-aged and fading into irrelevance, to broaden our horizons and get involved in something we otherwise would not have. One example: when I was in 7th grade I begged my dad to take me and my friends to a local alt-rock music festival, and he’s still listening to the Butthole Surfers. (I’ve moved on.)

But for now they’re our babies, ours to cuddle and dance with, ours to dress in amusing clothing and force to participate in themed family Halloween costumes. Which reminds me, I have to find Maggie a Princess Leia costume for her birthday party. She’s having it at the bowling alley and we’re calling it “The Empire Strikes Back”. Stay tuned for a future blog post titled, “How to Breastfeed a Baby in a Robot Outfit.”

A Stopping Point


Stop what you’re doing right now, the thing where you make lists in your head of all the shit you need to do that you already know you won’t do today. Clean your bathroom. Change the sheets. Call someone to repair the siding that was damaged in a storm a month ago. Get to the bank to open a savings account for the baby, even though you’ve had a check in your wallet from your husband’s grandmother since the week after she was born. Write it all down already, tear up the paper, throw it in the trash. Make yourself a new to-do list that says this: Stop making to-do lists.

Stop telling your kids, Just a minute!, when they ask you to play with them, or Sure I can, right after I: wash the dishes, fold the laundry, feed the baby, pay this bill, finish this supremely important task that cannot wait.

Stop assuming the baby needs to eat or sleep every time she cries. Maybe she’s over being strapped to your torso or in a bouncy chair because you legitimately fear your other children will trample her if you allow her to lay on the floor and roll around holding her little feet, which is probably what she wants to do, because she’s a freaking baby. Maybe a boob in the mouth isn’t the answer to everything. Maybe she just wants you to look at her.

Stop picking things up off the floor as if you are accomplishing something. That Play-Doh top will be replaced by a Barbie shoe will be replaced by a half-chewed handful of raisins.

Stop checking your phone. The anecdote you posted this morning about your older two kids, and how they’re so hilariously dirty, has gotten 23 likes. So what? And it’s not like you have text messages. Your family and friends are all at work. Or, if they are at home with their kids, like you, they are too busy picking items up off the floor to think about texting you.

Stop looking at the clock and wondering when it will be nap time, when your husband is coming home, when you can put them in bed.

Stop thinking about how damn tired you are.

In this moment you are the luckiest person in the world, and you’re not even paying attention. In this moment these little girls are yours alone. One day you will have to share them, hand them over to teachers and mean girls and boyfriends and one day, God-willing, families of their own. In this moment they want their mommy, and you almost missed it.

Start here: When the older girls are napping, prop the baby up on the couch. See the way her eyes eat you up. Watch her smile when you smile. Coo to her: Goo. Gah. Hear her baby voice repeat after you. Hand her a rattle shaped like a bear or a cow, you’re not sure which. She bats it a little with her hands and lets it drop. Pick it up and shake it gently in front of her face. When she tires of this, lift her up over your head and look up at her. She is delighted, could do this for hours.

Later, when your four-year-old comes downstairs, follow her into the playroom. Clear a space for the baby to roll around. Play dolls: she is Ariel, you are Elsa. Drag a laundry basket into the already crowded space and pretend that it is a pool. Ariel dives right in while Elsa, ever cautious, perches on the side. Switch gears; she is a queen. Help her find the right tiara. Hold a tiny mirror in front of her face as she examines each option, finally settling on a silver and purple number from the Target dollar bin. Make the queen a pretend pizza in her pretend kitchen (pepperoni and green peppers, please), then ask her if she wants a real ice cream cone.

When you get another moment, after your husband has come home and dinner has been mostly eaten and put away, start a game of tag with the two-year-old. Chase each other around and around – kitchen, dining room, hallway, kitchen, dining room, hallway – while she giggles so hard you think she might actually vomit and the four-year-old watches from the table, shakes her head and says, “You two…”

Stop. Is there anything you would rather be doing? Is there anything you should have done today that you failed to do?

Not a thing.

Start being grateful. Start being present. Start being the mom your kids think you are. Start now.