08 June 2011


I am a middle child.  Actually, I am second of four; I have an older sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother.  But since we were just three girls until I was seven, and my mother finally gave me the brother I had long wished for (thanks Mom - he's just what I wanted and more), I have always thought of myself as the middle sister.

People say a lot of things about middle children.  In fact, there's a whole psychological syndrome devoted to us.  It's called, not surprisingly, "Middle Child Syndrome," or MCS.  Middle children, being neither the admired oldest nor the pampered youngest, are reportedly overlooked, underphotographed, and generally unnoticed.  They are said to be creative and often very gifted; to seek the limelight; to crave attention and approval; and to yearn for acceptance from their peers.  They compete heavily with their siblings.  None of this, by the way, is proven scientific fact.  It falls more appropriately into the category of popular science.  More popular than science.

I think it's a little bit akin to horoscopes, or what I call FCS (Fortune Cookie Syndrome).  That is, if you say something vague enough, everyone will find a way to relate to it.  A big surprise is coming your way.  Brace yourself for significant events in your love life.  Beware precipitous decisions.  This month, you will find yourself facing something difficult.  For more personal fulfillment, spend some time pursuing your dreams.

Yeah, I compete with my older sister.  I always have.  But it might have nothing to do with the fact that I'm a middle sister.  It might be because my sister is sixteen months older than I am, smart, pretty, articulate, and, in her adult life, professionally successful.  She is a good three inches taller and thirty pounds lighter than I am.  She blows her top, recovers gracefully, and moves on.  I smolder for months, slow to forgive and forget.  She has (and has always had) beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes.  She wore bouncy, curly ponytails when we were kids.  I, branded the one with the difficult hair, was forced to wear my dull brown tresses in a pixie cut until I was in middle school.  This did not do a lot for my self-esteem.

Yeah, I'm creative.  I've always loved to write, knit, sew, cook, sing and act, and to decorate anything I can get my hands on.  But two of the most creative people I know - both women writers of approximately my vintage - are only children.  So much for that.

And I like to be noticed and complimented.  Who doesn't?  My writing teacher said something complimentary to me today and I floated around my office all afternoon, convinced that I am bound for a Pulitzer prize. (Or whatever the equivalent is for bloggers - a Bloggie maybe?)

My point is that people want to hear things that confirm their suspicions.  They believe things that sound quasi-scientific because they want explanations.  They follow weird diets, check their horoscopes, and subscribe to theories that claim to explain their personalities.  They overestimate the value of praise or criticism, depending on their needs.  And the bigger the grain of truth at the bottom of a theory, the more likely people are to swallow the whole thing.  Yes, my siblings have had a tremendous influence on me for my entire life.  They are an integral part of who I am.  I have no idea what it would be like to be an only child.  I therefore must suffer from MCS.

To test my theory that MCS is mostly nonsense, I interviewed my own middle daughter.  "Do you think I ignore you, because you're the middle child?" I asked her.

"Sometimes," she said.  "Actually, most of the time."  I searched her face for a hint of a smile, or some subtle sign of irony.  Nothing.  She was dead serious.

Well.  So much for that.

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