On the 26th January it was Australia Day, and the whole country came to a standstill as we celebrated Gemma-Rose’s 7th birthday. She was the first Australia Day baby to be born in our local hospital, in 2004, making an appearance shortly after midnight. But by the time the journalist from the local paper arrived with his flashing camera to snap cute pictures of sleepy newborn Australia Day babies and their proud parents, we were long gone. We’d gathered up my hospital bag and our brand new daughter and headed back to the family nest.

I think about when Felicity was seven years old. She was the eldest of four children and she delighted in being able to help care for her baby sister. She had a lot of responsibility and was a capable worker. I relied on our eldest daughter to help family life run smoothly. Gemma-Rose at the same age is the youngest of six still-living-at-home children. She is not in a position of responsibility. And although some people might see this as a very happy and privileged position to have, I am realising that Gemma-Rose doesn’t always find it easy to be at the bottom of the family.

A few months ago, I took the kids and a soccer ball down to the park at the end of our street. Soon I could see one little girl huffing and puffing her way back towards me, her arms pumping, her chin on her chest and a big frown between her eyes. I knew that as soon as she was in earshot she’d let out a huge whine about how unfair everything is. I just felt like saying, “If you can’t play without getting all upset then you are not old enough to join in. You’ll have to come and sit here with me while the others continue the game.” Fortunately for Gemma-Rose, my current reading material was a book on communications. Deciding to try out my recently acquired knowledge, I instead knelt down to her level and said, “It’s hard being the youngest isn’t it?” She nodded her head and tears welled up in her eyes. “They never kick the ball to me.”

Whenever we go to visit Father Jim we like to take him a batch of freshly baked Anzac biscuits. Usually Imogen and Charlotte are the cooks, with Sophie and Gemma-Rose looking on enviously, hoping they’ll be asked to do something just a bit more interesting than stir the mixture before the older girls roll it into balls. On one occasion, we were planning a trip to see Father but our Anzac biscuit makers were away from home enjoying a camp. I decided to promote the younger girls. “Would you like to make biscuits for Father Jim?” Sophie and Gemma-Roses’ faces lit up and they hurriedly assembled all the equipment, not quite believing they’d been given this most wanted job. At first, I tried to do most of the work for Gemma-Rose but she kept protesting, “I can do that Mum!” I backed off realising that she was capable of doing far more than I thought. And what did it matter if the biscuits weren’t all evenly sized and shaped? They would still taste delicious and Father would never notice.

During the Christmas holidays, we had lots of comings and goings as different children visited friends, went camping or enjoyed sleepovers. We woke up one morning with only Duncan and Gemma-Rose at home. With few helpers I knew I’d have to take my share of the morning jobs. I headed out to the kitchen to look at the roster and found Gemma-Rose kneeling on a stool up at the kitchen bench. She had the jobs roster and a piece of paper and a pencil.

“I’m writing a new roster. I’m dividing everyone’s jobs between Duncan and me,” announced Gemma-Rose.

“But that’s a lot of jobs for you to do,” I said. “I’ll help.”

“No, thank you, Mum. We can manage.”

I looked at Duncan and wondered what he thought of his little sister organising his morning. He had a little amused smile on his face which I could see he was trying to suppress. He was quite willing to go along with Gemma-Rose’s plans.

Gemma-Rose’s final list of jobs was long and I really wondered if she’d be able to complete all the tasks. I expected her to run out of steam after only a short time. But she surprised me. She worked steadily and thoroughly until she and Duncan had completed the chores normally covered by six children.

The following day Gemma-Rose was back at the kitchen bench organising another day’s jobs. Then with the list in her hand, and again refusing help from me, she got to work.

The third morning all the children had returned home. There were six available workers to tackle the chores. I thought Gemma-Rose would be relieved. She’d only have her usual jobs to do. Soon I could hear a cranky voice coming from the kitchen and when I went to investigate, I found my youngest daughter standing with folded arms refusing to work. I just couldn’t understand it. She was only being asked to do her own jobs, jobs she has been completing each day for a long time now.

“Get on with your jobs, Gemma-Rose,” ordered Imogen. And then I realised what the problem was. Everyone is always telling Gemma-Rose what to do and how to do it: “Gemma-Rose you haven’t made your bed… Gemma-Rose you can clear the table today… Gemma-Rose it’s your turn to clean the kitty litter…” It’s never: “Gemma-Rose do you want to bake a cake?… Gemma-Rose which job would you prefer to do?... Gemma-Rose do you want to go and choose some meat from the freezer for dinner… Gemma-Rose do you want me to show you how to sew?”

Gemma-Rose wants to grow up. She is quite capable of doing much more than she is allowed to do. She wants some responsibility. The only problem is she has a whole line of older siblings standing in her way. And they all love telling her what to do.

“One day you’ll be the only child left at home. You can cook all the cakes you want then. And all the dinners. You can decide what you want to do. And I’ll have all the time in the world to teach you to sew…” But she is just not willing to wait that long and is that wait fair?

Gemma-Rose is our last born child. There will be no more babies for us. In some ways I want to hang onto her childhood. I don’t want to let her grow up. I want her small and cute. I want to hoist her onto my lap and enfold her in my arms. I want to hug her and kiss her and just enjoy her. I want to feel her little hand in mine when we walk along the street. I want her to love me unconditionally forever, with a little person’s love, a love that totally accepts and never sees faults.

Gemma-Rose used to say, “I’m never leaving home, Mum. I want to stay with you forever.” Nowadays she is saying, “When I find a husband and get married we are going to live just down the street.” A couple more years and she will probably have plans to live in the next town… Gemma-Rose is moving away from me, small step by small step. She is growing up despite me not wanting her to. Will I keep her my baby and hold her back, or will I start to let her go?

It is hard but I shall let her go, for it is only by doing this and giving her the freedom to grow and develop, will I truly retain her love.

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  1. The way you responded to her at the soccer game - using your new knowledge - has made an impact on me. Today I will try to speak with more empathy.


  2. what a cute story. each child has such a unique position in large families.

  3. Misty, sometimes I find it so difficult to remember the empathy. If you are interested, the book I was reading was Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families." It's a great book.

    I think that position in a family really affects who you are. I am a bossy eldest child! Thank you for your comment Kim.


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