When Ian was little, I was so afraid he would choke on food that I wouldn’t let him eat unsupervised.  This went on for years.  He was five before I let him try that magical wonderfood known as gum – and no, not just because I’m a gum-denier.  Ian’s first stick of the forbidden Fruit-Stripe was a momentous event, experienced in the car as we drove back from upstate New York. 

Hugh, terribly verbal though only a toddler, was keenly interested in the occasion.  From the next carseat over, he watched Ian start to chomp down and piped up, “Is it good, Ian?  Is it flavory in your mouth?”

I think Hugh got to experience gum at the age of four.

And I think Malcolm was probably still crawling and toothless when I allowed him the same freedom.

Parental controls definitely loosen for each child in line.  Who has the stamina to keep up the standards and the rules?  As the years went on, I started to jettison all kinds of regulations and controls, mostly because I’m a laissez-faire type to begin with, but secondarily because it’s really very exhausting to enforce all this stuff.

My two older brothers and I still complain to our dad because the baby of the family, born when the rest of us were 8, 11, and 14, “got to have a telephone and a TV in his room when he was 10.”   It still rankles, although we laugh and joke about it. 

Now I get where my parents were coming from.  You tire of the fight, and besides, the youngest grows up so much faster than the oldest, with those big kids in the house corrupting them. 

So it was last night, when we trekked into Philadelphia to see the University of Pennsylvania’s  fabulous Mask & Wig Club perform its annual song-and-dance-in-drag show.  The humor is bawdy, the songs are raunchy, and the crowd is rowdy.  Traditionally, we’ve let our boys attend only once they have hit 9th grade.

mask and wig

So we bought 4 tickets, thinking we’d farm Malcolm out somewhere.  But then Ian decided to go to Washington DC to visit a friend, and since we hadn’t lined up any coverage for Malcolm, he got to attend.  Even though he’s only in the 7th grade.

To his credit, Hugh did not protest too much. 

One of my friends, a 4th child, remembers that she was a free-range kid during her entire childhood.  “As soon as I got to first grade, my mom got a job running a gift shop,” she explains, “and she and my dad were just DONE with parenting.  I raised myself.”

And so it goes, from my little brother enjoying expensive high-tech toys as the last child in the nest, to Malcolm getting to attend Mask & Wig years before he technically should.  The youngest always grows up faster, right?

Please do not report this to our school district, which is in the midst of administering the PSSA tests, mandated under No Child Left Behind.  If the kids fail to measure up, the school loses funding.  Our mailbox contained serious letters telling us to make sure our child gets plenty of sleep the night before the tests, and catches the bus only with   a good hot breakfast in his stomach.  The letter did not say “Do not take your child to inappropriate theatrical productions in Philadelphia which do not end until 11 PM and which present extremely inappropriate material.”  So I think we’re good.   Ah, Mask & Wig, a family tradition we cherish – next year with Anne & John!

And once again, the youngest kid gets the little perks earlier than his older siblings.

Are you the eldest?  The youngest?  The only?  A middle-un?  Did the youngest get away with murder in your family, or what?
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