Sunday, July 5, 2009

“Hello, my handsome prince! Hello, my precious princess! Hello, toad."

Trials and Tribulations of Life Amongst Siblings

When you ask any parent which child is their favourite, they will inevitably respond: I love them all the same. This, of course, is never really true, and children themselves have been experiencing the consequences for the past several millennia.

This isn’t necessarily because parents are callous, hypocritical monsters. Simply put, every child is different, and so a parent’s relationship with each child is bound to be different, too. Parents may love each of their children with a great, immeasurable magnitude - but the nature of the relationship is bound up in who the parent is, and who the child is, and what role that child plays in the parent’s life. A firstborn son, the embodiment of a lifetime of expectation for the wonders of parenthood, is likely to be looked upon differently than the screaming daughter thrust upon the same parents two years later. A youngest child, possibly a medical miracle, and a lasting relic of the thirty-odd years one spent parenting their children, is obviously going to be loved differently than her predecessors. And so the story goes.

Relationships are always unique, and relationships between parents are their children are ideally laced with ready affection, infinite patience, and a great deal of genuine understanding. This should be the case, no matter what role a particular child may take within your life. And therein lies a bit of the problem, because no matter how good a parent, no one’s patience is really that infinite…people snap. And they yell. And some children are, well, just a little bit harder to love.

The resulting mantra remains a sad, constant truth: Nobody Likes a Middle Child.

In an informal survey of Ontarians, washed up upon universities on the very far B.C. coast, I noticed a disturbing trend. I, myself a middle child, was no longer alone. Bitterly slunked against adjacent walls, I had many allies, or rather, kinsmen…and middle children were disproportionately represented among my provincial ex-pats.

And why wouldn’t middle children travel across an entire continent in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree? The ties between the nuclear family and these wayward youth are tenuous, at best, and while eldest and youngest children often feel secure within their familiar role, whether or not they enjoy occupying it, middle children often struggle to know their place.

What am I doing, why am I here, and would anyone mind if I was gone, they wonder, angstily, and evidently, no one would. These children take off for Vancouver, never looking back, and their unperturbed family never visits. Or maybe that’s just my experience…ahem.

But absence inevitably makes the heart grow fonder, and the inequities of sibling life, in adulthood, always pale in comparison to what one experiences during the tumultuous terror of childhood itself.

Take, for example, the daily mundanities which quickly turned into epic battles - one always being the matter of car seats.

This was the very subject which made a third child seem an uncouth impossibility to a fellow-expat friend; only two children can comfortably sit in the backseat of a four door, two-parent vehicle. she argued. A third child will be relegated to the dreaded middle 'hump.' And after six months of hearing high-pitched squeals about having to sit on the hump, you become a mini-van family. And that, you must understand, if a fate far worse than death.

And my own childhood experiences, as one of a three-child entourage in a single parent home, were equally epic. For only one of us could ride shotgun. The other two were relegated to the backseat, to the undignified rear of the car, and were unenthusiastically forced to “ride bitch.” The riders in the back inevitably took out their frustration on each other, and so insult often turned to injury, and tears, and my mother threatening to drop us off in the nearest roadside ditch.

This was just before the advent of the airbag, and the unfortunate matter of their decapitating young children in the front seat, should my mother ever crash. Had that been the case during my childhood, it certainly would have made our arguments at least a little more interesting.

As it stood, the arguments weren’t especially interesting, because they always ended up the same - my youngest sister got the front seat, my brother and I got the back. If my brother and I were in the car, my brother would get the front seat, and I would get the back. And if my sister and I were alone in the car, she would get the front, and me the back. A pattern was beginning to emerge.

This pattern followed when we moved into a larger home - in our last home, things had been cramped. Our growing family had often caused us to play musical rooms - at one point my brother and I shared a room, and a bunk bed. I got the bottom bunk. And then we had our own rooms - I got the smaller room. And then my sister was born, and my brother got his own room, while I had to share. And when puberty and strong mutual dislike rendered my shared room a war zone, a divider was put up…giving my sister the majority of the room, and me a small corner in which I could not stand up straight. Needless to say, I was eager for a change.

In the new house, ranks were far less complex. There were exactly four bedrooms and one office, all of them dissimilar in size, and all assigned. My young sister got the largest room. My stepbrother got the second largest room. My mother didn’t especially like him, and so within a year he was gone and my mother and stepfather took that room for themselves (they had been sleeping in the downstairs office). My brother got the third largest, or second smallest, room. And I myself was relegated to a former nursery the size of a walk-in closet. (I am not exaggerating. I had a futon. I was never once able to unfold my futon to its proper bed form because the room was simply too small.)

…This is the story of my life.


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