Friday, July 10, 2009

Left Out

Question: Who would you consider to be the middle child in a family of 10? Would it be child #4, #5, or #6?

In the family I grew up, the middle-child-syndrome crown landed squarely on the head of my older sister Kathy--child #4. I believe I was ACTUALLY the middle child (#5), but she definitely took the title from me in attitude.

Our friend Ben's mother did her graduate work on the affects of birth order on people's personalities. As you can imagine, the middle child is comfortable in a victim's roll: perceiving that she never gets as much attention as the oldest child nor the youngest child. Ben's mom told me that in big families, you see the oldest-, middle-, youngest-child scenerio repeating itself, often many times. In popular culture, Miss Jan Brady exemplified this phenomenon best with the following phrase: "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!"

For a long time, I had few sympathies for this sister. If she thought she was lost in the shadow of our oldest sister Amy, I was completely hidden by the redwoods of Kathy and Amy together (and don't even get me started about poor B.J., child #6,--who was once left at a water park because we simply forgot about him; a half hour later someone remembered). It personally thrilled me, actually, when people would stop me in the halls and ask if I was Amy or Kathy's sister, or when a teacher would accidently call me "Amy." I didn't have the brains of Amy or the brawn of Kathy, but I liked who I was, and I liked being associated with them.

Kathy, on the other hand, seemed to be annoyed to be my sister. I would pass her in the halls at school and instead of "hi" or "hey, little sis," I would get a look of scorn and avoidance. I really can't blame her, though. I could barely be my own friend back then. I was the type of girl that went around talking in a British accent and wearing too much make-up and really loud clothes. A total misfit.

And Kathy was NOT the picked-on one, from my point-of-view. My dad was sucker punched by her big eyes and pouty attitude at every turn. He once got a used, black Porsche on his carlot, and he let Kathy drive it to school for a whole semester ... during the winter months. Have you seen my sister drive? Worst ... driver ... ever--even worse than my mom. And Grandpa McEuen dubbed her his favorite and took her to the Estee Lauder counter at the University Mall and ordered her a facial, telling the esthetician "I'll buy everything you put on her face."

However, recently dealing with my own three girls, I've had a small change of heart towards my sister. Nohea, my youngest, is 2 years old going on whatever age the older two are. She wants to do everything like them. She likes to say that she "goes to kindergarten." And she thinks she should be able to go to friends' houses like the other girls.

Yesterday I dropped the girls off at Tiana's house, and Nohea wailed and wailed about also wanting to go. It brought me back to a memory I have of Kathy.

It was the summer the first Batman movie (the one starring Michael Keaton) came out. My three oldest brothers and sister made big plans to go to the opening showing of Batman. They all bought Batman shirts and spoke non-stop about the plan. Kathy, who was just two years younger than the youngest of the oldest siblings, felt she should be included in the plans. My mom put her foot down and told her she couldn't go with them: this was their activity.

My sister Kathy was heartbroken, and I think in a lot of ways, it was the last straw. She always wanted to be included in the going-ons of the older siblings, but she was excluded often with the excuse of "she's too young." After that, I think Kathy just stopped trying. She started cruising Overland in Burley and found her own clique.

Years later she famously had a break-down at Amy's wedding. After a lifetime of wanting to be able to be old enough to hang out with the "older kids," she thought she'd finally get an opportunity when Amy got off her mission and would be finishing up her last two years at BYU. Kathy hoped they could be roommates or live in the same area, and they could finally hang out. Her dreams were once again shattered when Amy decided to get married instead. Kathy was pretty sullen and uncomforted during the whole wedding. My cheerful words of "you can be roommates with me" didn't help.

Watching and listening to Nohea cry made me more sympathetic towards my sister. It's hard to be left out. I've always been of the opinion that if a group didn't want me in it, than I'd find new friends and make a new group. But then, I'm not the "middle child," and playing the victim roll is not where I'm most comfortable.

And now Kathy has her own posse of three girls, soon to be four. I'm sure she'll be more sensitive to her middle child. I smell a Porsche in the future of one of those girls.


Christensen's Craziness said...

It is so true. If I did not make so much trouble for my parents, I wondered if they would ever notice me. Don't get me wrong, I love my sibs and would do anything for them. But the first thing I decided as an adult was that I would have only two kids. Unfortunately fate had three in store for me. Kath and I understand each other in that way.

Amo said...


I am completely responsible for the poor treatment you received from Kathy. I'm certain if I had been kinder to her that would have been passed on to you -- the whole pay it forward syndrome. To this day I don't understand why it bothered me to have her tag along, I guess because I had Doug and Brian and probably was jealous she might slow us down. We were just enough in part in age that we didn't quite have the same perspectives. There were lots of episodes like the Batman movie where she should have been included. I will always feel shameful for the way I treated her all those years. I'm glad we are friends now; I am so blessed to have her as a sister. She is a fantastic person of great character. I'm equally blessed to have you as a sister. I've always admired the way you have empathy and understanding for others even when it seems undeserved. In my middle age, I have come to recognize even more poignantly how much our family means to me. I hope we can be close, at least in our Christenson way, all of our lives. I love you, Cindy. I'll take this lesson you've taught me today and try to have more empathy for my poor Grace who in many ways lives in the shadow of Sarah. I think she has a strong enough personality to strike out on her own some day, but I hope the long road to that point does not include the treatment I gave to Kathy and she gave to you.