bruised and blessed

A few weeks ago, my family went on vacation to the beach.  We brought all three generations, from the youngest, my son, at 3 months to the oldest, my father, who suffers from Parkinson’s, at 84 years old.  In between all the sandcastles and boardwalk ice cream, was a melding of family, with all the blessings and bruises family brings.  It’s these times that remain etched in our memories when all of us are gone.  The fragments of time, of the very young and the very old doing the ordinary things, are what stay.

That week, I watched my father walk downstairs and quietly ask my 15 year old niece, who pulled her attention away from her i-phone, to help him put on his watch.  I watched her fiddle with it for a while, as he stood there patiently.  He wavered a bit, standing unsteadily, as her nimble young fingers clasped the watch around his slight wrist.

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I listened to the daily giggles in the house from children running, laughing and singing; and I listened more intently when my father spoke quietly about the joy of hearing all the grandchildren in one place.

I watched my nieces race my daughters down the miles of sandy beaches.  I watched older cousins throw the younger ones into the air, and the little ones fall into fits of giggles.   I watched as my daughters clung fearlessly and devotedly to my nieces.  In my nieces, I saw my daughters.  Loving, gentle and kind sisters.

I practiced yoga with my 2 year old daughter and my sister-in-law-turned-yoga instructor.  My 2 year old climbed under my downward dogs and stretched her fingers to the sun.  We glanced at each other upside down, and we sat like frogs.

I struggled to find the words as my 5 year old daughter asked me the most difficult of questions.  “Mama, if we all leave the beach house to go to the beach, who will be here to help grandpa walk around?” and “Mama, why is grandpa old?” Her rawness and simple truth was uncomfortable for me, as I stumbled to find uncomfortable answers.

We provided arms and legs for my father to lean on when he needed it.  My mother walked with him to see the beach.  My brother and sister-in-law walked with him around the block.  And I walked with him to lunch.   We walked and walked and walked.    We helped, we laughed and we rallied.  We are bruised and we are blessed.  We are family, and these are the patchworks of our memories.

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on how to raise the mysterious middle child

When we welcomed our third baby into the world two months ago, we finally became outnumbered by our children.  But probably more importantly, C. went from our baby to our middle child.   And I’ve spent the last two months trying to decide which event has rocked our house more.

Man, oh man. Middle children are no joke, and I can’t seem to find a good parenting blueprint for how to help her and me.  So here is mine, for anyone who is trying to parent a middle child, or deciding to have one.

The paradox of the middle child is that they are so influenced by their older sibling.   In our case, our first-born patrols the whole house like a military trooper.  A. regularly tells C. to go into “time out” for straying from the rules;  unloads the dishwasher and cleans up her play space, and routinely breastfeeds, dresses and bathes her dolls.

In all honesty, our first-born is a better version of her mother.  Yes, me.

So our mysterious middle child is naturally the opposite of our first-born: funny, mischievous, sweet and wholly disobedient.   In one hour, she will ask thirty or more times if she can have a snack, or watch TV, or wear her favorite dress – completely ignoring my “no”, or any variation thereof.    She doesn’t like rules, or being told what to do.   C. will have us laughing one minute and the next minute cutting her sister’s hair with kitchen sheers.   C. is mix of personalities, because of the simple fact she is very influenced by her older sister.

According to most experts, middle children get (sadly) less attention – in both life and research.   This is partially due to the fact that of all the birth order positions, “middlessness” is the most difficult to define.   Middle children were born too late to get the special treatment of first borns, but too early to have the benefit that last borns enjoy – having parents lighten up on discipline.  Middles’ temperament is also highly influenced by their gender, and their siblings gender, as well as how many years separate them.

Middle children can – quite simply – can get lost in the fray.

middle child mischief

middle child mischief

So, if you are thinking of turning your baby into a middle child, I have some advice.

1) Spend quality one-on-one time.  Middle children will rarely ask for it, but they need quality individual attention.  C. thrives when I spend time with her alone.  Her tantrums subside and she listens to my rules.  In return for my undivided (and technology free) time, she gives me her happy, funny personality.

2) Take pictures.  A few weeks ago my mother told me that she had hundreds of pictures of A, a bunch of pictures of C. and no pictures of the new baby.  It’s hard. I get it. But snap a few of just the younger kids alone.  It will be worth it at their wedding for the embarrassing slide-shows.

3) Not everything is for sharing.  This past winter we went to Disneyworld.  We bought each girl a present, and C. picked out a big stuffed animal “Lady”.  She loves this thing.  She drags this thing everywhere.  So “Lady” is for C. alone – no sibling sharing.   Similarly, while hand-me-downs are a beautiful thing, C. deserves some new clothes, too.   Not everything is for sharing.

4) Notice them amongst the chaos.  At least a few times a day, C. yells at the top of her lungs, “LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!”  I resist the urge to say “Inside voice!” and instead say, “Yes, C. what a nice dress!”  Middle children often go to the extreme to get attention, which in our case is why C. often yells inside.  So put the baby down, and find the positive in what they are doing.

And if nothing else, consider this.  Perhaps the grit and determination of the middle child leads to great success later in life.  After all the tantrums, the chaos, and the sibling rivalries, the middle-children are the best children at finding their voice and individuality.

After all, Donald Trump is a middle child.