Last week, my mom and I escorted my very pregnant sister and brother-in-law out the front door of their home, excitedly taking pictures of the two of them before they departed for a C-section surgery they had scheduled to bring their second child into the world.
Before they left, my mom told them that if they were lucky, this day would be celebrated in 90 years. We quickly calculated that it would be the year 2107, and that we would either be dead or cryogenically frozen somewhere while this baby we had yet to meet would be wrinkled, wobbling around with a cane and probably eating Betty Crocker yellow cake with chocolate icing and a sparse sprinkle of candles in his new Gold Toe socks if our family birthday traditions continue to get passed down.
I thought it was a very circle-of-life thing for mom to say, and then considered how she must be feeling like the largest size of a Russian nesting doll, responsible for producing all of these other people. Then we sat down at my grandmother's old kitchen table that Karen had shipped to San Francisco after she passed, enjoying our coffee and tea, making plans for brunch and laughing about the cold reality that 19-month-old Emily was about to face as her status of center-of-the-Universe, only-child-in-the-world was about to come crashing down around her.
For a long time, I thought that it wouldn't be possible to love another niece or nephew as much as I loved first-born Emily. She was exciting and brought with her a whole round of first experiences for her parents and our family. Over time, she's recognized her celebrity status and has become accustomed to posing for photos basically any time an iPhone is taken out in her presence. She's honed how to charm an audience via FaceTime and has the ability to fake laugh at the appropriate moments amidst an adult discussion. Now that she's able to wobble her way around the house, she's also become the master of her environment and has developed a saucy attitude that garners her the attention and adoration she's grown to love.
Maybe this is the reason I felt compelled to be there for the birth of the second child, to mark the significance of his entry to this Earth despite the fact that there were fewer celebrations, more hand-me-downs and a matter-of-fact efficiency to the pregnancy and birth that comes with the territory of a seasoned mother. I think my need to be there was really just an act of solidarity, to hold him on the first day of his life and welcome him to the fraternity of middle children that I am also a member.
And I did hold him, the first actual newborn I've ever seen, amazed at his tiny body and microscopic fingernails, staring in wonderment that he had hours before been literally inside of my sister's body. He opened his eyes and looked right at me, and I told Karen that he had inherited our earthworm toes while I wiggled them with my pinky finger. I sat with him, quietly studying his little face while my sister and brother-in-law struggled to order a chicken dinner on the hospital TV menu (which, by the way, is incredibly challenging even for two people with multiple graduate degrees between them). It struck me that the last time I'd been in a hospital room was with my dying father-in-law, and how stark of a contrast it was to be sitting with a human being at the onset of his life after just accompanying another through the end.
When Henry's older sister was born, I wrote her a post that listed out some instructions for life. In thinking about what to write for Henry, I realized that he's not going to need those instructions, because he'll learn them all from watching Emily. Instead, I decided to write him a list articulating the top ten advantages in life he has thanks to his birth order that I've learned through experience. Here it is for your reading pleasure:
Ten Reasons Why Being a Middle Child Is The Best
You'll always have someone to support you - a built-in tutor to help you with your math homework, counselor for when you're having a problem you can't solve on your own, personal assistant to remind you that it's your mother's birthday, and partner-in-crime for when your parents are being crazy and no one else could possibly understand [Note to Henry: your mom still texts all her siblings to remind us to call our mom on Mother's Day. Annoying, yes, but necessary for some of us.]
Building on the above point, you will never be the first to do the scary things in life like graduating from college, getting a job, etc. Which by default will make you seem tough and brave. [Note to Henry: watching your mom do all of these things before me gave me an insider look and a boost of confidence that I could handle it (including terrifying major life decisions like moving across the country alone, getting married, having a baby, etc.).]
Because the oldest child will automatically be the perfectionist, responsible people-pleaser, you'll be free to be yourself and become a true original in tune with what sets you apart in the world. Because you don't have to worry about people-pleasing, you'll develop a thick skin and learn to care only about the feedback that matters.
You will be smarter than your siblings, because you'll learn everything they know and observe and avoid their mistakes in addition to learning from your own experiences. [Note to Henry: be sure to pick Emily's brain, often, because that's where you'll find almost all your best tricks and shortcuts. Copying your mom was hands-down one of my smartest moves in life.]
Nothing will ever be completely and totally your fault, since there will always be a shadow of doubt when there are multiple potential culprits. So go ahead and live a little. Break the rules, often. They'll never know for sure that it was you...
Sharing the attention of your parents means that you'll learn to do things to please yourself. You'll be more independent and free to do things by yourself, for yourself - and you'll be happier and have more fun without the pressure.
Having an older sibling trying to boss you around all the time will help you develop a healthy disrespect for authority that will later translate into high level executive functioning. [Note to Henry: you can thank Emily for your ability to remain calm and cool in stressful situations, effectively bargain and negotiate, handle confrontation, and think strategically about how to overcome obstacles. Your mom and other aunts and uncles helped me to develop these abilities that went unappreciated until I started my corporate career.]
Although Emily may get privileges that come with being the oldest, such as accomplishing all of the "firsts" of the family, you will develop the ability to think outside of the box and take a more creative approach to your life. You will push yourself to do things differently, just to set yourself apart. As Stephen Richards so wisely put it, "If you do what everyone else does, you'll get what everyone else has."
Your ability to fly under the radar will serve you well in many areas of life, especially during group chores like yard work and at certain family gatherings. [Note to Henry: when you're old enough, I'll give you the rundown on how I used this to avoid eating my peas and other dinner foods not to my liking, reprimands from my dad, etc.]
Any time you succeed, you will get exponentially more attention and celebration because it will come as a surprise to everyone. It might take a little longer for the world to notice your latent genius, but that will make it all the more satisfying.
Based on my own anecdotal evidence, I'm pretty sure the impact of birth order on personality development is a real thing and I truly hope that Henry develops the same middle child syndrome that I benefited from in life. As Procter & Gamble put it with their famed diaper slogan, "Live, learn and get Luv's," middle children really do have it better, that despite the tempered enthusiasm, hand-me-downs and bargain diapers, they get the invaluable benefit of experience. So Henry, welcome to the club. Enjoy Emily's used toys and if you ever forget how good you have it, give me a call and I tell you about all the wonderful things about my life that wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for your mom preceding me in life.
If you made it to the end of this post, hello and thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any words of wisdom for the newest member of the exclusive club of Middle Children.
P.S. Sorry I've been M.I.A. and neglecting this blog. Have been making some big changes in life that are stressful in a good way. Also have been simultaneously wallowing in a creative rut that I cannot shake no matter how many Tony Robbins books I read, spending more of my free time than I care to admit watching endless episodes of Lost with my husband (I realize the irony in that statement…), consuming Costco-sized bags of SkinnyPop and wearing leggings as pants. Send help.