published Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Kennedy: The sweet truth about second-born kids

My 5-year-old son is my banker. He is the baby of the family, and, as such, I owe him a special debt of attention that can only be paid in denominations of days, hours and minutes.

I was 48 years old when he was born, so our time alone together has always seemed consequential. As the oldest and youngest members of our family, we are bonded like two brass bookends.

Last Sunday, I noticed that it was quiet upstairs, so I climbed the staircase and knocked on the door of his room.

"Come in," he said.

There he was kneeling in the floor, his legs folded backward like a frog's. He looked so small leaning over his coloring book. I lowered myself down beside him and propped my head up with my forearm.

"Just thought you might want to hang out," I said.

"Sure Daddy," he said sweetly, never looking up from his coloring but cocking his head to admire his work. "I don't really care what we do. I just like spending time with you. Do want to pick out some colors?"

What an angel, I thought to myself as I handed him a purple marker.

I studied his face, which is framed by a mop of blond hair. He has pale blue eyes and a deep dimple in his left cheek. There are several giggly little girls who rush to meet him most mornings when I deliver him to pre-K.

The only member of our family without a discernible temper, he is a go-along, get-along kind of kid. I wish I had his ability to simultaneously concentrate and relax. Even more, I wish I had his sweetness of spirit.

He is the only member of our nuclear family who was not a firstborn child. Research shows that second children tend to be more independent and artistic. I'd add to the list of second-born traits "more laid-back."

His brother, mother and I -- all firstborns -- are more high-strung and competitive. We could learn a few things from the baby of the family.

The other day, he passed me on his bicycle and put out his hand to give me "five." The hand pat accidentally threw him off-balance. He wobbled, fell off his bike and scraped his knee. As soon as he stopped sobbing, his first words were: "Don't worry, Daddy, it wasn't your fault."

Another night, we were playing the card game War, and he noticed that I had fallen hopelessly behind. Without saying a word, he took a handful of cards from his captured pile and put them on top of mine.

At his first T-ball game earlier this month, he was assigned to the pitcher's circle and immediately claimed it as a dance stage, moving his hips around and mouthing the words to "Boom Boom Pow." (Somebody in his family -- who will go unnamed, but might be his father -- thinks it's funny to teach R&B songs to children.)

On Wednesday, he got to visit the kindergarten class he will attend next year and also spent some time in his mother's first-grade classroom.

Later, I asked him how it went.

"OK," he said. "But it was funny. In Mommy's class, people argued over who got to sit by me."

Pride is a preener, but charm needs no mirror.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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