As I write this I’m getting ready to go to Syracuse to pick up my two oldest, James and Cate, so they can come visit us on Martha’s Vineyard for a few days. It will take about three seconds before one of them says, “Where’s Baby Jesus going to sit on the way there?” They are going to say this because in our family it’s a tradition to call the favored male child “Baby Jesus”. I believe this extends to my cousins as well. In our family, they all think my youngest son, Danny, is my Baby Jesus. I’m pretty sure my cousin Jeffrey is my Aunt Sally’s Baby Jesus. At least that’s what his brothers say. My brothers, Eric and Steve, were my mom’s dual Baby Jesuses. It worked out for them because they’re about a dozen years apart.
I’d argue with James and Cate but they have cited so many examples of me lavishing attention on their brother it’s hard to defend myself so I just hug them all the tighter, causing them physical discomfort so they’ll be distracted. I’m sure mothers don’t mean to pick a Baby Jesus, and oftentimes it falls on the youngest child in the family. That’s only because the mother realizes she’s aging and Baby Jesus was her last hoorah. Now she has nothing but gray hair and varicose veins to look forward to.
My little brother Eric made a fine Baby Jesus. He actually got through it pretending like it wasn’t even happening. The rest of us remind him still as often as we can. And the older he gets, the more he evolves into our mother. The two of them have some similarities. My mom was fairly regimented about housework and her schedule and Eric brings the word “disciplined” to a whole other level. You don’t mess with the schedule. Eric retired from the Air Force a few years ago but even if he hadn’t been in the military, I think he’d still wake up at 4 a.m. like mom always did.
All siblings have a good time picking on the one they perceive as the favorite. The reality is as siblings grow older they figure each other out a little better and usually stop holding a grudge about Baby Jesus. They may even find themselves with a Baby Jesus of their own someday.
Personally, I never really much worried about Eric as Baby Jesus. Heck, it might not have been easy in those sandals. If Cate and James look a little closer, they’d see that I am all over Danny like a fly on honey and maybe that’s not such a great place to be after all. By now I’m sure they know a little distance can be a good thing, and Baby Jesus still has to put up with me checking on his every move. They might even consider themselves lucky to not be the one who walks on water. That’s a pretty tall order.
My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass"; "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys".