I was considered to be a middle child. Even though there is no real “middle” when there are five children. So, like everything I’ve brought to the table since I arrived on this earth, I was slightly off centre. A sister, eleven months older, a brother thirteen months younger. Two younger siblings a few years after that. So, effectively, I was the middle child. “Irish triplets” and all that.
Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules with middle children, but I do believe they develop certain characteristics that define their role in a big family. Like the filling in a sandwich, they’re important, but not always as noticeable. They add flavor and taste and sometimes spiciness, but they’re often hidden, until you take the first bite.
So, here I was, sandwiched between a very feisty older sister and a very feisty younger brother. Strong personalities both. I was more sensitive and emotional than either of them (they might disagree), but that’s my perception.
I always felt that I didn’t quite fit anywhere and that feeling followed me way into adulthood. It’s not a bad feeling, it’s just an “in between” two places that I’ve embraced more as time has passed.
When two more siblings joined the family, the dynamic didn’t change much for me. There were now three girls and two boys. Somehow, the two boys paired off and my two sisters teamed up, despite the seven year age difference. When my parents weren’t there, either my older sister was left in charge, or much to my chagrin, my younger brother – due to the fact that he was the oldest boy. (And yes, I finally did forgive my parents for overlooking my leadership talents…).
Having no real definable role to play, I became the “floater” in the group. At times I earned the title of troublemaker”. This came from being the one who often rocked the boat and set the family balance off kilter. I was definitely an individual trying hard to strike out in a group of extremely varied and strong personalities.
This perception has changed with time. My desire to strike out as an individual, my constant efforts to fit in, only made me stand out more. I’m sure I earned the title within that context, but, as time has passed, I’ve understood how it emerged and why.
The years went on, the gaps got larger. My older sister and I fought like cat and dog, so she was moved into her own room and my younger sister took her place as my roommate,a situation that didn’t improve the sisterly bonding that had never really had a chance to flourish. I was six years older than she was, in high school and she and I were worlds apart in interests and development. At this point I had some very close friendships of my own, which helped my feelings of isolation. Inside, however, I yearned for a connection with my sisters like friends of mine had with theirs and wanted that more than anything.
My older sister and I were very different, although we did share the same disdain for the Catholic nuns that tortured us daily, but she was an extrovert to my introvert, so we just didn’t have that natural connection shared by many sisters. I think I quietly competed with her, or tried to, although it would take many years to admit that to myself.
As she moved onto university, she found her niche, in the world of music and performing – she was extremely gifted in these and very popular and outgoing, with many friends.
My much quieter self often felt shadowed by her larger than life persona. I never told her this, which to this day I wish I had. I think it have helped her see that I wasn’t threatened by her, was actually terrifically proud of her and admired her, but we just never shared these things or even talked much at all.
She won a scholarship post-college to study music and voice in Germany . I don’t think she ever really knew how deeply sad I was when she left and how much I missed her and worried about her, despite our frequent skirmishes. For me, her moving away took away a part of me that yearned to be her sister in the true sense of the word, to share our hopes and dreams, to let her know how much I admired her for her accomplishments and courage to move so far away into an entirely different culture.
I continued to seek my own path, define my own passions, but often felt lost. My brothers had both found their interests in college and my younger sister had moved on to study ballet at a dance college, not too far from home.
My brothers and myself ran in the same social circles for a while and my sister would join us when she was home. I began to resent this, feeling that hard-earned efforts to
make my own friends and establish my own turf, were being invaded.
Years of sharing everything and never really having my own distinct sense of belonging, in part due to personality and in part being in the middle, brought so much to the surface, a myriad of strong emotions. Emotions like jealousy, insecurity and rivalry that I honestly didn’t even realize existed.
My beautiful, popular, talented sister might take something, that I wrongly assumed belonged to me, and I might lose a part of myself in the process. (That’s what I was feeling, obviously that wasn’t the reality, but the insecure girl inside of me was blinded by jealousy).
For the first time in our lives together, I wrote my little sister a letter, telling her how I really felt. The good, the bad and the ugly. I tapped into the one gift that I knew wouldn’t fail me. I wasn’t a dancer or a musician, but writing had never let me down.
What a gift that turned out to be. We literally sat together, for the first time ever, sister to sister, tears, words and laughter spilling out into the space that honesty had created for us.
I told her how I envied her ability to make friends, her obvious popularity, her amazing dance talent and all the things I’d never said. How I’d felt overshadowed by the talent in our family. She told me how she’d always viewed me as the “smart” one
which totally amazed me, because I never realized she viewed me with any admiration at all.
Our relationship completely transformed that day. We’re both now adult women, with our own sense of self and all those insecurities of our younger years have melted away with the realization that all we have to do right is to love each other. I am nothing but grateful to have two loving, amazing sisters and women in my life, whom I admire and look up to.
Maturity, (well some …) and experience have taught me to appreciate my own gifts and talents and not to constantly be on the defensive at family get togethers. I don’t always succeed and there is always work to be done, but I no longer feel the need to fight for my “place” in the family. I already have one.
Being the filling in the sandwich doesn’t feel so bad anymore. The secret lies in knowing that each part, middle and otherwise, makes its
own contribution to the whole.
Turns out, being the middle child isn’t a bad place to be after all.