Just for once
I’d like to be the one
Who not only
Didn’t give a damn
But didn’t even feel
He had to:

Permitted to be adequate,
Content with average,
Playing for fun,
And strolling into every day
With the same, insouciant
Could-do attitude.

But it is not given
That we poor firstborns
Should whoop it up
Kick over traces
Tie one on or
Make a joyful noise:

No. Duty and correctness
Are our lot.
To follow precedents and not our hearts,
To do our best and not our will,
To set examples
And not the world on fire.

We sport the scars
Of tumbles from the bicycles
Our younger siblings just climbed on
And rode. Ours is the fear,
The sweat and endless trying:
Theirs the weightlessness, the speed and feel of flying.

And then, we leaders into life
Must head the dull procession
Out of it: be first to find
Our arms have got too short for reading,
And in the vanguard of the ones
The world leaves far behind.

If primogeniture made kings and queens
Of us, we’d wear your expectations
As diamonds in our crowns.
But the Esau that’s in all of us
Feels their weight, and quietly wonders
If we’ve already lost by coming first.

Last week I had a discussion with David about whether our innate competitiveness, sense of responsibility and compulsion to ‘do the right thing’ stems from our being eldest children. Having speculated there might be a poem in it somewhere, I then (naturally) felt duty-bound to write one: this is the rather tongue-in-cheek result.

11 thoughts on “Birthrights

  1. Hi Nick,

    A very interesting poem indeed! Your thoughts afterward too.

    I’m the youngest child in my family yet I found I related to a lot of what you’ve written, especially the second and fourth stanzas and your comment about the compulsion to “do the right thing”.

    I suppose family dynamics play a role when it comes to family expectations, too. 🙂
    I remember my mother saying you can’t treat each child the same and I suppose those lessons only come when you have more children to “experiment” with. 🙂

    I also liked your reference to Esau. Being familiar with the story it added for me a least, another layer of emotional depth to your thoughts and sentiments.
    Thank you for sharing this.


    • Hi Tikarma

      This has been a very worthwhile departure from my usual ‘nature poem’ nonsense, generating all kinds of fascinating insights from my fellow bloggers – many thanks for your thoughts. The family dynamics is interesting; my sister (3.5 years younger) lives a totally diferent life from me, apparently untroubled by the need to ‘do the right thing’ on any level as far as I can tell! (That’s rather unfair, actually, but then that’s Big Brothers for you…) N.

  2. Hi Nick

    This is a great tribute to all first born children 🙂
    Like only children, like myself, they are the experiments of a relationship of parents I suppose. They are the children that have to live up to expectations, the children where the parents make their mistakes in upbringing, and if you are the eldest of more, of course you would have to be a leader for your siblings. The example. I can imagine that is not always fun! (As a parent, I always avoided doing that btw)

    It is an unique school for your life I think. and it provides you with skills, only children for instance, lack. I don’t know if you experienced it positively on an average to be the eldest?

    I always wanted to have an eldery brother lol to look up to. missed that very much, always having to deal with stuff on my own. It is such a mysterious bond, siblings have!

    I have 3 children myself and I see how the dynamics work, The youngest, the one we have the least pictures of! has the most problems in finding his own identity at times, (he is fine with me to mention so) and he wants desperately not to look like the other 2 but be a free thinker, and the eldest 2 (with a gap of 12 years, so no 2 is also the eldest in most ways) are the more social and caring, but also the ones who like to stick to old routines.

    And all of them I love to bits for being themselves. For me, it was always a mystery: could I love a second child like I did the first, but Yes Yes Yes! Parents can love them all! And that is what matters most I suppose. And they get along too, each in his own way. I see sibblings really hate each other, never understood that. What could be nicer than to have brothers and sisters!

    Having to make a choice between your children, is impossible.
    Sophie’s choice therefore is a movie I don’t want to see, too heartbreaking.
    In the old days the first born right was so important, even when it was about twins, I hope that is not the case anymore, also emotionally.

    I am again way too long in my comment! Sorry! Once I start writing, there is no stopping me.

    Have a nice day 🙂 and you inspired me for a ;poem, thank you!


    • Delighted to have inspired you – looking forward to reading it!

      We have just the one daughter, so we don’t have to deal with the complex dynamics that siblings create. At the same time, you know from your own experience that it’s not all plain sailing for an only child either! I expect we’re guilty of loading her up with expectations: both my wife and I were eldest children. The only saving grace is that neither of us seems to have inherited our fathers’ single-minded focus on work and career, so maybe there’s hope for the poor girl yet!

      Thank you for sharing your insights – this has been a really interesting little venture into new territory for me. A change from the old nature poems, anyway! 🙂

  3. Well done Nick,

    This was fun to read. And I shall write in my notebook –
    “To set examples
    And not the world on fire.”
    just to remind myself 🙂

    You could be in trouble if your sister reads your blog!! 🙂


  4. Hi Nick,

    This is a fascinating subject.

    I am the youngest of three and I have three children. I tried to do things differently from my parents when bringing up mine, “correcting” their mistakes. Strange though it may seem my children are now allowing me to become aware of my mistakes – but I didn’t make any!!!!! (did I?) LOL

    This has been a really good lighthearted look at a rather deep and serious subject


    • Thank you Christine: as you’ve probably gathered by now, I really only do ‘lighthearted’ – especially when it comes to the ‘deep and serious’ stuff! And I’m sure you didn’t make any mistakes with your children. I’ll let my daughter be the judge of how I’m doing!

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