We adopted out of birth order.

This is a sin against the standard advice regarding adoption, I know, and one we committed utterly blithely. But he’s a baby, we said of the baby. He’ll always be the baby, and so birth order will be preserved! Of course, our youngest was three—no baby—when we adopted his also 3-year-old sister, 6 months older than he. When she turned four he felt betrayed. Not good.

But that passed. He’s the baby now, demands the perks of the youngest, celebrates his sister’s birthday with suitable abandon and appreciation for the invariable candy party favors. It might indeed not have been the best thing for either of them (on the flip side, Rory never got to BE the baby), but it’s part of our lives now, ideal or not. It’s not an ongoing issue.

What is an ongoing issue is the triangulation. Lily, Rory and Wyatt are 6, 5 and 4 now (big brother Sam is 9) and for many purposes they are the same age. They span only 20 months. They like many of the same games, even qualify for many of the same activities. And they play together all the time. But not all together, and not necessarily all at the same time. Many days, our life is a three-kid playdate, and we all know how much fun that is.

Rory and Wyatt play and fight like twins. They go to the same school, do the same sports (they don’t have to, but given the option, they each always choose to join in) have many of the same friends. Lily is the bossy big sister, but on the other hand, Lily has much to offer. She thinks of all the best games. She can read, and understands the rules of games, and can make you a sheet of “homework” to play school with. Playing with Lily is often desirable, especially for Wyatt, who’s ready to learn to read and loves games. And sometimes for Rory, who can struggle with playing by herself—unless she’s doing something fairly concrete, like coloring, she worries that she’s not doing the right thing when she’s alone.

Many times this works out well. Lily leads both of them in a rousing game of babies or school or restaurant and everyone is happy. But then…Lily might arrive in the middle of a Rory-Wyatt game and try to co-opt someone out. Or Rory might tire of school, especially (it’s not something that comes easily to her even as a game) and begin to try to pull Wyatt away with tempting puzzles, or even more, alluring, a game of chase (“Wyatt! You can’t catch me!”) Or Lily will extend her most appealing offer to only one or the other of the littles, the other having offended her in some way. Or Rory and Wyatt might be truly well occupied together and refuse even Lily’s “if you do a worksheet for me, I’ll give you ten pieces of candy!” siren call.

That’s what someone really ought to have warned us about. Not that we’d have done anything differently, I suppose. Not that we would have even believed the advice, let alone heeded it. But it’s the gruesome threesome that causes our most grievous meltdowns and threatens the most easy going of days. Adding another friend to the mix can help or hinder; removing one of the three almost always pays off, except when the others decide that whatever the removed child is offered is better than what they’ve got going. It’s our biggest challenge on a daily basis.

But it has its benefits, obviously, When Sam was little I was his playmate, and I was glorious fun. I made airplanes from cardboard boxes and we lived in a constant state of cookie-baking. I am not nearly so fun any more, in fact, I’m not fun at all most days. But the three don’t need me to be fun. They need me to provide snacks and refuse to serve as a referee, and that I can do. They need me to stop second guessing the whole thing, wondering if Lily would have taught Wyatt to read by now without Rory, or if it’s really good for them to have a playmate all the time, and trying to figure out which one ring leads the serious trouble and which one manipulates the other two more. Those last two are pretty much draws, although Wyatt, being a boy, is pretty far behind in the manipulation sweepstakes.

When I tell people the ages of my kids, they invariably say, “oh, so you’re busy!” Yes, of course, and no, not always. Sometimes they can manage hours without the triangle coming into play, and others not so much. If I knew which was going to be which, life would be much easier.

One Response to “Triangulation”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting. We preserved birth order but our kids are only 6 months apart. I have been thinking alot about “twinning” and the pros and cons.