I'm the oldest of eight grandchildren on my dad's side and the oldest of seven on my mom's side. There are downsides to being the oldest child, sure. You're a guinea pig for your parents. They use you to find out what works and then try and do better on the next kid (kidding, Mom and Dad!) and they enforce rules with you that are only half-heartedly enforced when younger siblings come along.
But. There are benefits. Because when you're the oldest, it means you're the best. Don't argue with me, it's true. Plus, you get all those alone years with your parents and grandparents before any stinky siblings or cousins come along, and you know what that means? You get spoiled, like, all the time.
When I was a teeny tiny child, we lived next door to my grandma. And until my sister was born, I was the only grandchild in the area, which meant I got like 100% of the grandma attention. I think even mathematicians would agree that that's a lot of grandma attention. But even after my sister and cousins were born, I never felt like I got less attention. I think that's some kind of magic that grandmas have.
Every year, Grandma would take us out to lunch on our birthday, and then take us to ANY STORE we wanted to buy us a birthday present. I don't remember what any of the presents were, but I do remember the lunches. When I turned 12, we went out to lunch as usual, but instead of dropping me off at my parents' house afterward, I went back to Grandma's house, just to hang out. It was the first time I went over there by myself to just BE there, not for her to babysit me while my parents were out pretending they didn't have kids (kidding, Mom and Dad).
We sat in her living room for hours, not watching TV or anything, but just talking. She showed me a genealogy book that a distant relative had made and she told me stories about my great-grandparents and various great-great-uncles and aunts that I'd never heard of. We talked about my grandpa, her husband, who had died just before I was born.
When I think about my Best Days, those days in my life when everything fell into place to make the day so, so perfect, that day always comes to mind. It was my birthday, sure, but it was also the first time I had an adult conversation with Grandma, the first day I remember having that strange feeling you get when you're a child and you realize the adults in your life had very full lives before you came along. And yet, as Grandma grasped me by the shoulders, kissed my cheek, and pulled me in for a hug, I still felt like a kid, like the first (ahem, best) grandchild who was doted upon by a woman who prized her family above all else.
It's been about a month since Grandma died, and I find myself getting hit with reminders at the strangest moments. And it feels just like getting hit, right in the stomach, shocking me out of whatever I'm doing and leading me down memory lane, whether I want to go or not. This morning it was a story on the radio about a set of twins, one living in Ohio and the other in California. Grandma and her twin lived in Ohio and California, and as I listened to the woman on the radio talk about how excited she was to see her sister, my heart broke a little for my great-aunt.
A few days ago, it was hearing a Christmas song (already!) on the radio, and I thought about all the Christmases we spent helping Grandma decorate her house, and the Best! Christmas! Ever!, the one with the "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake and the chocolate martinis, and I started laughing and crying at the same time and I wanted to yell, "this is what love looks like, bitches!" to anyone who would listen.