Last week the Parents as Teachers group hosted a dog safety class at one of the local schools, and Oscar, Edgar, our good friend Christina, and I were in attendance. A representative from our local animal rescue shelter came with her dog, Pepper, and spent time explaining to the children the proper way to greet and pet a dog. After a pizza dinner, the children gathered in a circle, listened to a story about interacting with pets, then took in the details of how to hold your hand out to a dog, the proper way to ask an owner about petting his/her dog, and the signs of an unfriendly dog. Both Oscar and Edgar listened attentively, were respectful of the presentation, and raised their hands when they wanted to answer a question. Oscar has been in school for six weeks now, so this concept of proper audience etiquette is familiar to him; but for Edgar, this was fairly new. And though I had visions of him disregarding the presentation and working his Dr. Doolittle magic on Pepper despite any admonitions from the presenter, he showed remarkable restraint, raised his hand when asked a question, and waited as patiently as he could to take his turn petting her.
I have been thinking a lot about birth order recently. And since the boys are a year apart almost to the day, I often say to myself when considering Edgar, “What was Oscar doing last year at this time?” Edgar reminds me that that is ultimately a fruitless exercise. Each of our children, whether coming to us biologically or through adoption, is different, arriving with his/her own set of abilities and inclinations. My initial fear that Edgar would not be able to sit still through the entire presentation or may have pet Pepper prematurely was based partially on Edgar’s unfailing adoration of all things with four legs and fur but also because he is not the same rule-abiding citizen his brother is. Edgar knows the rules and understands the rules; and when he breaks the rules, his conscience reigns supreme. But his enthusiasm and zest for life occasionally interfere with his best intentions. Last year at this time, I know I would have had the expectation that Oscar would have been able to sit through the entire presentation without event. He may not have wanted to pet the dog in the end, but he would have followed the rules and done what was expected. Edgar taught me that I need to have the same general expectations for him–because he’s ready and because he deserves it. Parents cannot treat each child the same any more than we can treat the myriad individuals we meet in life indentically. Our interactions with others are based as much on their temperaments as ours. But when raising children, I am learning that no matter how different they may be, it is a duty to believe in both equally–relish and celebrate their differences, yes, but afford them the opportunity to rise to the same set of expectations, the same level of accomplishment. The bar will be set for Edgar as high as it is for his brother, and I have to believe that it will lead only to good things.