Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of Order

When we can't find anything else to blame for our behavior or our idiosyncrasies, my two sisters and I naturally blame our parents. When that's a bit of a stretch, we like to at least give them peripheral blame, as the producers and directors of our family birth order.

Being members of a three-sibling family (although we are now, at least theoretically, mature adults), the simple Oldest/Middle/Youngest Child birth order has been our easy scapegoat for an array of characteristics.

See, we grew up in the sixties and seventies, when the average family size consisted of 2.5 children.

I, apparently, was the .5, making me not fully qualify as a complete human being. As the Youngest, I allowed this diminished existence to roll off my shoulders, because Youngests are easygoing "peacekeepers." (In retrospect, that trait is likely developed as a result of being tortured by older siblings.) Youngests are also said to be "spoiled." Yes, I got away with loads more than did my older sisters, but I tend to differ with the idea that I was pampered. If I was truly the center of my parents' universe, would my mother have left me behind at the beauty salon when I was six, with her reflecting on my absence only after someone questioned my whereabouts?

No, she had no opportunity to pamper me. She was too busy dealing with my sister DC who, as a Middle Child, was occupied with "trying to be unique." The Middle Child tends to feel attention-starved. In DC's case, she found ways of distinguishing herself. She learned to ride a unicycle and to juggle, and when these activities didn't seem to do the trick, she took to sticking voodoo pins in all my dolls. An example of unique or of deranged? Regardless, it was an attention-getter. (She grabbed more attention with her memoir: http://dcstanfa.com/.)

And however my parents might have decided to treat either of us, it didn't really matter. Because most of the decisions in our house were made by Lori. It did us little good to argue with Lori. Lori was the Oldest Child. Destined to be an attorney long before she got her law degree, her first-born leadership trait (read: bossiness) could sometimes work to our benefit. (Oh, she negotiated a BIG CASE for me, after my dad found my contraband when I was 16.) It could also work against us. (Our principal, Sister Ann, labeled her a "ringleader" at our Catholic grade school, and the reputation carried down, however undeserved or not.)

Birth order, in our family and in most families of our generation, meant something. It's why many presidents have been Oldest Children, many entrepreneurs are Middle Children, and many comedians are Youngest Children. We do what we what is expected of us, thanks to our parents' birth control practices (or lack thereof).

Sadly, the Blame of the Birth Order doesn't carry the same weight now as it once did. The average family currently consists of only 1.8 children. Parents with one or two children can't easily pinpoint these birth order traits. Of my two sons, my oldest has called his brother the bossy one, and my youngest has said his older brother was spoiled.

And where does all this leave my niece and my nephew, who are each an Only Child? In family-dynamic chaos perhaps. A bit of the Oldest and the Youngest, wrapped into one, and altogether neglecting--not without irony there--the Middle?

Bring me back the predictability, the semblance of understood order of the 2.5-children families. We knew who we were. We knew what was expected of us. We knew whom and what to blame.

Bring it back.

I'm the youngest, after all. So I should get what I want.


  1. Loved this one of course..and yes, I am the bossy one. Lori

  2. me. me. me. oh, I forgot, this is your blog. Nice.
    And thanks for the book plug.
    love you sis!

  3. So surprised at these two particular comments. Lori, I have no choice, of course, but to agree with you. And DC? Hmm, the name rings a bell, but I can't place the face. Should I remember you?