Ode to the Eldest

jody and ruthie 2004
My eldest sister with my eldest daughter

I am the youngest of three siblings. My sister is the eldest, and without her presence here this week I think I would have crawled up into a ball under the bed.

She always seemed to know what to do next.

The plan, the schedule, our next meal, where the sticky note needs to go, and what to do with 42 boxes of photo albums – my sister knew what to do about it all, and I – clueless and overwhelmed – happily took direction.

My husband is an eldest brother. Two of my best friends are eldest sisters. Watching my sister lead us through the enormous task of moving our mom reminded me of the qualities I love about all the eldests in my life.

Whether they like it or not, whether they intend to or not, eldests carry a weight of responsibility like it’s built into their DNA. It’s easy for me to give up, to procrastinate and put myself first, but eldests seem to always have the big picture in mind and the entire group’s interests at heart (even if it’s motivated by guilt or duty).

They are habitual leaders, benevolent dictators, natural caretakers.

I worked hard this week, but my sister worked harder. I sacrificed much this week, but my sister was truly sacrificial. All the eldests I know work harder and (seemingly) smarter than anyone else I know. They work first and play later. Maybe. If there’s time and space to play. Otherwise, there is much planning for the future work to be done, always.

I don’t envy the eldests – the nights my husband lays awake, the tough conversations my friend is compelled to initiate, the burden my sister bears. Long ago I slipped into the comfort of letting others take care of me, of letting others lead the way.

Eldests are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and many of their greatest strengths can also be their achilles heal. We may think they’re bossy and overbearing at times, and maybe they take on more than they can handle and don’t ask for help.

But as I watched my sister charge forward into a sea of household possessions – box and tape in hand – despite her own feelings of dread and whelm, I realized what a treasure she is, and what a treasure all eldests are.

5 thoughts on “Ode to the Eldest”

  1. I’m the baby of the family. Maybe that is why I’m so self-centered.

    I read somewhere that, on average, eldests really do have higher I.Q.s than subsequent siblings. It might have something to do with the chance they get to teach their little brothers and sisters. This reinforces learning and makes them a wee bit smarter than the rest of us. Which is so aggravating, except when their brains come in really handy.

    I love all your posts, just wanted to remind you.


  2. The eldest can be leaders and caretakers or bossy, pushy dictators who use their younger siblings as their guilt slaves. Ask me how I know.
    —the younger sister

  3. I just read this and being the eldest of 3 girls, marrying the eldest of 5 kids, I can only relate to the bossy part. I was terribly bossy to my younger sisters and they still hold a grudge, reminding me of it at the rare family gatherings. I wish I were more organized, I have multiple books and took classes on it, still am not there and yearn to be. My youngest sister is now almost the oldest in our family (minus late parents now) in her role – having to go to work to support the family due to husband’s excuses not to work at all has truly reversed the roles now.
    By the way, did her organization keep you more organized? I tend to go back to the same old paper trail despite help.

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