Monday, March 7, 2011

The Middle Child

The problem with having three children is one has to be in the middle. I never understood this to be a problem; after all, I am the eldest of two natural children, number four of five including the steps, so middles were never a big thing for me.

Sure, I had friends that were part of three-children families, but even if my friend was that middle child, I never focused on it too much. (Oh, but I could tell you the tales of my best friend J being the youngest!)

And so, in 2006, shortly after Hoover's 1st birthday when we found out we'd be adding to our two boys about nine months later, I was happy and excited and wondered how the dynamic would shake out.

People started asking me if I were worried about my little blond toddler being the middle child. At that point, I was more worried about being outnumbered by children than their actual birth-order placement. (Note: I've had three kids for almost four years now. It still worries me.)

Two weeks ago, at Hoover's second parent-teacher conference of the year, his teacher and I discussed many of Hoover's, ahem, idiosyncrasies. It started with how he holds his pencil (like he's about to stab someone) and grew into his over-sensitivity and strange questions for the teacher (like "Do you hate me?" randomly in the middle of a story. He asks me questions like this too. Makes me feel great.)

I asked her if it was a middle-child thing. Before I could even offer up my second theory (being the younger brother of Larry Potter, who entered kindergarten a year early and who counts down the days until he's able to participate in the spelling bee next year), she said "Yes. It's definitely a middle-child thing."

Aw crap.

She tells me she is also a middle child and has those same random questions pop in her head, but because she isn't a 5-year-old boy, she doesn't say them aloud.

I thought birth order stuff was a bunch of carp. (Yes. I say carp. Like the fish. It's one of the few fake bad words I have. Why I think to say this instead of crap is awesome and yet have not found an alternative for the other, more offensive words, I don't know.) Like if you are an awesome parent and shower each of your kids with the exact same amount of love and attention, birth order will just be how you're listed on the Christmas Card.

And honestly, until two weeks ago, I held true to my theory.

After the conference, I asked Hoover if he liked being my middle boy. I don't know if I had ever asked him this before.

"No. Because (LP) gets to do everything first. I want to do things first."

Oh Peter, if only your parents loved you enough, you wouldn't be so middle-child-ish.

Mom of the Year, right here. In my head, I said,"Well, son, you are the first to send me to the therapist's couch." I always though those sort of middle-child thoughts were saved for Dr. Phil books or episodes of the Brady Bunch.

But what I don't get is why the middle gets this stigma. What about the families with four kids? Do the 2nd and 3rd take turns with this kind of mental anguish?

I ask because Hoover wasn't going to be the middle child. Oh, it started that way, that day in 2006 with the blue lines and the veiny boobs. And of course, it ended that way in May 2007 when Mini Me entered the world. But for a time in-between, Hoover was to be my 2nd child of four. (Mini Me was a twin. An identical twin. We had a vanishing twin situation early in my pregnancy.) Is it like the Butterfly Effect, where because MM's twin didn't make it, it created a universe where Hoover was destined to have middle-child problems, because he was that true middle child? I just don't know.

So, in the weeks since the conference, I've tried my best to tell him just how awesome I think he is. And I've backed off on the strictness for awhile. I wrote this to his teacher, along with the sentence, "Parenting is a lot of trial-and-error episodes." (What? You didn't think I was strict? Ask LP sometime. I decided to back off on the strictness for Hoover because I realized he is not LP. And LP has a penchant for learning things the hard way.) We'll see if it works.

One thing for certain I feel so lousy about is that Hoover's teacher tells me how academically bright he is. Which is great. And he's heads above the class. Awesome. Except, I never knew any of this until he entered school. LP was always our "smart" one, and I couldn't feel worse about labeling my kids and not realizing Hoover's potential. (Mom Police, take me away.)

He has been scared to go into his room lately. Scared about skeletons. Disgruntled Husband told him the only skeletons in the room were the ones under his and LP's skin. Which didn't help at all. And today, my bright son let me in on what was really going on. LP was on Google and likes to learn things.  Hoover was sitting next to him. LP typed in "skeletons" and Google auto-filled in with "Skeletons in the closet."

Perry Mason solves another one. And yet, I'm not sure how to explain idioms and sayings to a 5 year-old. I tried, and he just kept saying, "So it's a secret skeleton?"

He's currently asleep on my couch.

Lucky for me, he's pretty forgiving. After all, aren't middle-children supposed to be the peace-makers?


  1. Hey, I was the middle child! Coincidentally, I was also terrified of skeletons in my room when I was about 5 years old (I have no idea why).

    Your post made me search my memory, and I feel like when I was around Hoover's age, my working premise for everything was that my parents naturally loved my older brother more because (from my point of view) he could do everything, and my younger brother because he needed them the most. It's weird to think now that I assumed this to be true and completely natural. Hm.

    Anyways, I wish your little dude all the best!

  2. I studied birth order a bit. I recommend The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman if you're interested in learning more about the dynamics at play among your kids. It's pretty fascinating stuff.