Off the Line: It’s good for the soul

Siblings. They are both a blessing and a curse.

Siblings. They are both a blessing and a curse. As most of you regular readers know, I come from a family of five children – three brothers, a sister and myself. I’m the middle child.

Sibling placement (birth order and personality) has always interested me.

The first time I became aware of such a thing as birth order was when my parents took us out to the Hanson’s lakeside home in Chicago for a Sunday afternoon tea and swim. Mom made us dress in our Sunday best (the swimsuits were packed for later) and inspected us carefully as she always did.

I didn’t mind the Sunday dress part, what I really disliked was the inevitable inspection.

Mom would have us line up in a row from oldest to youngest. Then, just like a professional drill sergeant, would proceed to inspect us one by one. She took that drill sergeant routine seriously; a little too seriously, I thought.

Especially when one would see her eyes widen, and then scrunch nearly closed in a concentrating squint as she singled out the offending child.

We knew what was coming next, and it was worse than the swat across the head or threats of grounding. Nope, mom had a better weapon than that. It was the weapon of all good mothers back then (after their arsenal of wooden spoons and worn-out threats to tell dad).

It was the stubborn cowlick or flyaway hair and the dirty faces which always brought out the worst in our own personal drill sergeant. It was the old puckering of her lips and then a quick “patooie” onto her fingertips. Then, quick as a frog’s tongue while catching flies, those now saliva-drenched fingers would find the offending problem and promptly and wetly subject it into submission.

We kids hated that. Despised it and it seems that no matter how carefully we groomed ourselves, mom would find something to wrangle into place.

The spit was bad enough, but for me it was the lingering bad breath odor that would cling to wherever mom slid her spittle splattered fingers. I shiver to this day.

Anyway, about that birth order thing; I stood smack dab in the middle of that row. Initially I felt as if I blended into that lineup. After all, I wasn’t first, the most coveted position. Nor was I “the caboose” as my parents fondly called my last “oops” of a sibling. I wasn’t even the first female as was my sister, who stood proudly in the second position. Nor was I the much appreciated fourth place sibling, a brother, who had the parental sigh of relief after two catty, chatty, squabbling sisters.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that the middle child was to be pitied. After all the looks of pity were obvious more often than not, when mom would introduce us kids (after first making us line up in birth order).

So, naturally, (and falling right into line to what the experts said about middle children) I struggled mightily against my label. No one, not even a knobby-kneed, gauche female likes to feel like part of the wallpaper.

It would be an understatement to say that I mounted a campaign to set myself apart and in a more noticeable light. And did I ever.

My rebellious and adamant war cry when someone would comment on my birth order was, “I am NOT the middle child. I am the youngest of the two oldest and the oldest of the two youngest.”

There! Let them argue that!

They didn’t bother. All I could see was laughter threatening to erupt from their quivering lips as they held back their mirthful laugh. Their eyes danced with amusement.

In reality and in the interest of fessing up, I have to admit this column isn’t really about birth order. It is yet another Karen parable dressed up fancy, but still quite simple and basic beyond the crafted finery.

It is about taking whatever life throws at you and making it your own. Don’t let life define you whatever order you find yourself in life. Trust me, I know, it’s always better when you define life instead.