Middlest turned 5 this week. This has struck me with greater force than when biggest reached the same milestone. Perhaps it is because middlest was the original little or the novelty of the first-born progressing through each stage of development eclipsed the stunned sense of time rushing by. Or maybe it is the undercurrent of concern I carry regarding the challenges that are part of his placement as the ultimate middle child – between an older brother and baby sister – that have sensitized me to his experience in particular. In any case, I am acutely aware of the shift from babe to full-blown kid and it tastes of the bittersweet that flavors so much of parenthood. This exquisite little creature, with his creativity, volatile emotions, quick wit and lyrical genius has gone from newborn to kindergartener in the blink of an eye and it seems he feels the shift as well.
Like most little brothers, middlest has always talked about getting bigger, even (with the ability to defy logic and chronology as only children can) about when he will be older than biggest. Many a sentence has started with, “when I’m [insert age here] I’ll be able to….” In the last few weeks, however, the conversation has changed with comments now about how life was better when he was small and he’d prefer to be little again. Now, this would have made perfect sense 18 months ago when littlest made her debut, but he has waited until now, on turning the big 0-5, to vocalize these feelings.
In my own need for understanding and reassurance through information, I have read countless articles, listened carefully to the tales of my middle child friends and over-analyzed the words of my children (to which my husband will attest) with concern for meeting their unique needs, avoiding favoritism and granting equal experience. And, of course, realizing there is no right or perfect way and that, often, the most meaningful experience comes from the moments of hardship or unfairness, building resilience and confidence.
As I have sat with the feelings I’ve had these past few days watching middlest cross into the second half of his first decade, the lyrics of a Jimmy Eat World song convey best a simple message of encouragement I’d like to share with “The Middle”
Just try your best…try everything you can…
Live right now, yeah just be yourself,
Doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else…
It seems that the biggest challenge for middles is being seen – and, though not middled by birth order, I think of times in my life when I have experienced a sense of invisibility and can relate to the need for acknowledgment. I would challenge, however, that greater sense of identity and dedication to quality of work is increased when done not for accolades, but for the personal satisfaction in creating the best version – of self or of task.
Biggest has been working on story-writing this year in school, using the concept of beginning, middle and end in drafting original tales and initially struggled with the central part of this task. It was easy to start a story, with the allure of newness, introduction of characters and freedom of direction. Creating an exciting finish seemed to come naturally as well, but he would treat the middle as an arduous task – a few “and then…” statements taking up space between the intrigue of initiation and flair of finale. As he has progressed through the year, however, he has developed skill in spinning a more meaningful tale and has made good use of the internal sentences and learned that the middle is opportunity to build interest, thicken the plot and, as a result the start and finish of the story are strengthened. Perhaps we could view the middles of the world as that key central portion of the plot in the family story and realize that it is through the continuity of their role that the others are truly defined.
In racing, the bike portion characterizes middle-ness for me. While clearly positioned between the other two disciplines, it is also the least visible portion of race. Situated after the adrenaline rush of the swim start and before the comforting familiarity of the run, it also carries the most mental burden and holds an element of unpredictability, with possibility for technical difficulty. The bike is indeed the cornerstone of the storyline in triathlon as it contains the greatest percentage of time in the race and is often the determinant of overall result. Thankfully, the same song used to encourage middlest carries a message of reassurance and will play in my head as I enter racing season next week:
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright, alright.
May we see those middle-ish moments in all of our lives not as arduous tasks to be survived, but as significant opportunities to build interest, value and contribute to the best of us. And to middles everywhere, thank you – for your uniqueness, for keeping it interesting, for tying the tale together, for your good work even (and especially) when you think no one is looking – you are seen!