I’m a rule-follower. List-maker. Gold-star maven. So is my husband and so is my first son, Lucas. Since all three of us are oldest children, this comes as no big surprise.
“The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are” by Dr. Kevin Leman describes first born kids as “leaders that are often perfectionists that desire approval from those in charge.” Leman writes that “first borns are ‘typically aggressive’ but are also often ‘people pleasers.’
We love the positive feedback that rule-following gives us. We never get detention. We check off the lists of requirements and thrive on achievement-oriented praise. I can clearly remember moments from my childhood when I broke a rule or two and it always ended in tragedy.
Gotham is Safe!
The Dark Knight at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
This book is an interesting read (even though it’s from 1982, some things never change!) and I see how so many of my choices stem from this Oldest Child mindset. There are also many insights about what middle and youngest children do and why.
Nowhere does it mention Batman.
See, for most of his 3 ½ years, my second child has been dressing in the distinctive cape and mask of one Dark Knight. While in character, he will only answer to the name of Batman and he prowls the playground in search of allies with whom to fight various arch-enemies hiding under the monkey bars or behind the swings.
The resemblance to Gotham’s favorite son does not end there. To say he’s independent is to underestimate the term. It’s all the more obvious in comparison to his big brother Lucas.
If there’s a rule, Lucas not only follows it to the letter, but also he takes it on himself to enforce the rules to the group. David not only does not follow the rule, he’s not interested in knowing about the rule at all and when pressed for compliance by his brother, he breaks rank, encourages the group to stage a coup and flees for a location with fewer (or better yet, no) rules to inhibit playtime.
I watch this dynamic with amusement and yet I identify with my older son so strongly. The RULES! he screams, YOU ARE BREAKING THE RULES! and soon he’s in tears as Batman takes off with half the toys, half the friends, grinning devilishly under that mask, cape flying behind.
As a mom, I struggle with this contrast in personalities daily. I want my boys to respect rules, but not to be unquestioning lemmings. I want them to be creative and independent, but still be able to function in society.
But when I watch how fearlessly my younger child moves through the world, safe from harm behind his black felt and satin costume, I can’t help but be a little jealous. He lives outside the law. If one lollypop is good, how about two? Yes? How about three? Sure. And can I also have a cupcake? Maybe two? There are no limits.
It would never occur to me to ask for that second treat. But he’s Batman and Batman will devour as many lollypops as possible. And so he does. And also a cupcake, thanks so much.
So I begin to live my life a little more like Batman, and a little less like a scared little girl afraid to bring my bad paper home for parent signature. When a restaurant I’ve been dying to try to for lunch seems to be closed, I start to leave (rule-follower at the core) but then I think: What Would Batman Do? Batman wouldn’t just leave. Batman would get it open and have his darn lunch. So I knock - and miraculously someone emerges from the back and lets us in. Voila. Batman is victorious.
I find this strategy to be deliciously liberating. We eat forbidden snacks by the public pool. We stay up late and see lightning bugs and have an extra popsicle long after bedtime. We read one extra book. Just because. We are living our best Bat-life this summer.
WWBD? we ask. Then we charge ahead into the sprinklers. With Our Regular Clothes On. Glorious!
Someday he’ll put away the mask and cape for good - even now it’s less frequent than it was just a few months ago. But I hope he stays free and wild if for no reason than to remind me to loosen up. I still love my lists and get a little warm glow from praise for my efficiency and abilities. But sometimes I need to dig deep and channel my inner superhero in order to get things done.
I am Batmom.