Agnes, my eldest sister sat at Mom’s sewing machine slowly, patiently feeding a bright, flowered material to the shiny mechanically powered needle. It darted up and down as the motor made a low humming sound. The machine was new, delivered only a day or two before. I tried to remember the old machine, but could only recall that it had a foot pedal which Mom had to pump to work.
Tired of watching Agnes sew, I found Rosie, who was a year younger than Agnes. She was in the bedroom they shared, brushing her hair. Bored, I began to ramble around though the house checking on the rest of my siblings. My sister Mary, who was seven years older than me, was in the living room reading. Betty, who was one year younger than Mary was on the back lawn playing with a kitten. I found Casper, who was a year older than Agnes, in the garage. He was building a bird house.
After searching for a while, I finally found Billy in the garden with Mom, who was inspecting her new seedlings. Billy had been born after Casper, Agnes and Rosie, but well before Mary, Betty and I. While I saw him as one of the big kids in my family, he was also one of us younger kids.
I loved being the youngest of seven children. There was always something interesting going on. Although I was too young to take part in some of their activities, I vicariously experienced their fishing and camping trips, their dates to dances, mischief with friends, crafts and hobbies.
Things changed when I started to attend grade school. The eldest children slowly drifted out of my everyday life. As the years passed, three of my siblings found jobs and moved out or were hardly ever home; the other three siblings left to attend college.
By the time I was twelve I felt like an only child. I felt lonesome and left behind. My neighborhood cousins’ family was a mirror image of my own family, except that three of the seven were close to my age. I visited them every day. One of the most hurtful things I ever said to my mother was, “I wish I belonged to their family.”
One of the most memorable books I have read is The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, who explains that birth order is “Why you are the way you are.” While reading it, I looked at the family I had grown up with, my own children and my husband’s family. I was amazed at how ‘spot-on’ he was. When there are more than four years between children or the eldest is sick with a major illness, the pecking order can be altered. Just because you are the eldest in your family it doesn’t always mean that you will be the eldest in character. There were move than five years of age difference between myself and my sister. By my reading, I think I have the characteristics of a first born, as well as many of the characteristics of a youngest child.
Many people feel sorry for middle children. Dr. Kevin Leman himself describes middle children as “mysterious”. Some of them see themselves as neglected and overlooked. Others are proud of how independent their family position made them. Most are adept at negotiating disputes.
Until I became an adult, I honestly didn’t know my eldest siblings. When well into adulthood I wondered if they knew that I was no longer a baby. We didn’t have shared memories. I knew about some of the things they did, but never took part in them.
My brothers are 75 and 80 years old now and like to reminisce sometimes. Recently, Billy, the true middle child said, “I was with Casper, Agnes and Rosie when we explored the old farmhouse foundation half a mile down the road. Guinea Hens that belonged to the neighbor across the road were there. We found 13 of their eggs.”
Casper nodded and interjected with a look of pleasure, “They were warm, freshly-laid eggs!”
Billy said, “We collected them and quickly rode our bikes home to put them under one of our broody hens. They all hatched.”
I remembered the small flock of Guinea Hens, but this was the first time I’d heard how we had acquired them.
Billy had not only tagged along on our older sibling’s adventures, but he orchestrated many adventures for Mary, Betty and I. He often carried me home from where ever we went.
Billy has enjoyed his role as a middle child. I envy him because as a middle child he was able to play with every member of our family. He got to know each one of us well! Many middle children don’t appreciate their place. Obviously, attitude is everything.