- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

One of the more fascinating Family Times articles I have written recently was on birth order and how that can affect children's personalities and development.

Lisa and I are both firstborn children, and researching the topic got me thinking a lot about the old nature vs. nurture debate that always has surrounded birth order.

Well, what really got me thinking about it was Jeremy's arrival. We chuckle at the comments we get when we take our two sons somewhere. Half the people we run into say they look alike. The other half say Sean looks like one of us and Jeremy looks like the other.

But their personalities, even at Jeremy's young age (11 months), already are developing in opposite directions.

This became obvious to us the other day at the playground at the end of our street. Sean is a shy, cautious child, hard to push, unwilling to try new experiences. He never has been much of a climber. It took him forever to go down a small toddler slide by himself for the first time. He still doesn't like swings.

Now he loves slides, and our new park has plenty of them straight ones, curved ones, tubed ones. Sean loves to "race" me down the slide, then around the equipment and up the steps and down the slide again.

Jeremy is experimenting with walking. Like Sean, he apparently has decided to bypass the entire crawling stage and go right to walking. He needs help, usually clenching our index fingers until they turn blue while he hobbles along, smiling and gurgling.

This particular evening, Jeremy's eyes sparkled as he watched Sean go down the slides over and over. On the equipment next to us, a young mother was putting her baby on a slide and letting her go down by herself. Her baby looked to be about Jeremy's age.

"Should we try it?" Lisa asked me, nodding her head toward Jeremy.

"Why not?" I said. "I'll let him go from the top; you catch him at the bottom."

So young Jeremy Knievel, not quite 11 months old, went down a tube slide for the first time, well more than a year ahead of Sean's age when he got his first taste of slides.

Jeremy got to the bottom, Lisa picked him up, and immediately he sprinted for the steps to do it again.

OK, he didn't actually sprint, because technically he can't even walk yet, but his rubbery legs moved as fast as they could. In his mind, I'm sure, he was racing the wind.

He went down again, with me at the bottom of the slide this time so I could catch his ear-to-ear grin as he approached. He went down again. Then he went down the regular slide. And again. Every time, he popped back on his feet and made a beeline for the steps on the other side to do it all again.

He probably still would be out there if we hadn't run out of daylight.

That night, Lisa and I tried to figure it out. Was it nature or nurture? Would we have let Sean, our precious firstborn, go down that tube slide, even if we saw another baby do the same thing and Sean seemed to like it?

Probably not. Did that kind of behavior contribute to Sean's conservative, cautious nature? Probably.

Are we a little more laid-back with Jeremy? Sure, but Jeremy also has an older brother to watch and emulate, which Sean didn't have. From day one, Jeremy has adored Sean, and we're convinced he's trying as hard as he can to keep up with Sean as much as possible.

Nature vs. nurture? The jury in the Stewart household is still out on this one.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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