An Ode to the Middle Child

Originally published Aug. 22, 2015

Today, our family is celebrating the third birthday of Noah, our second child, our youngest boy, the middle child. In the weeks leading up to his birthday, my wife and I laughed about referring to Noah as a three-year-old.

“It will be weird,” she said. “Because it feels like he’s been two forever.”

Yeah, he does feel like he’s been two forever. In fact, it feels like he’s been two since June 4, 2013 — the day his older brother turned two.

Thus is the life of a middle child. The studies are legion. Middle children are “considered the most envious, least bold, and least talkative.” Middle children aren’t the strong, independent and trailblazing oldest children, nor are they the doted-upon babies of the family. They live, well, in the middle.

And in the case of Noah, he essentially has a twin brother that just so happens to have a 15-month head start. This isn’t his fault. But to have two boys so close in age, sometimes they get lumped together. They aren’t “Paul & Noah,” they’re “The Boys.” They share toys and a room. At this point their clothes are interchangeable. They even share a bed.

So forgive me for forgetting that Noah is more than a year younger. When strangers ask if they’re twins, I used to correct them, but what’s the point?

“No, they’re actually 15 months apart.”

“Oh, Irish twins ehhh? He he he.”

“No, um, the term Irish twins, um, refers to kids that are born less than twelve months apart and its kinda stereotypical and offen…”

“Still, having babies so close together, wink wink.”

“Please stop picturing me having sex.”

“No.”

See? That exchange is awkward for everybody. I mean, why did this straw man say “wink” instead of just winking? It makes no sense. So I just say, “Yes, they are twins. They were born on the same day. This conversation has concluded.

So for the first 36 months in his game of life, Noah’s been playing at a disadvantage. Down by a few runs before he’s gotten a chance to bat.

“Why aren’t you crawling? Paulie is walking.”

“Why aren’t you walking? Paulie is running.”

“Why aren’t you running? Paulie is driving… Wait, PAULIE IS DRIVING?! RACHEL, PAULIE GOT MY KEYS AGAIN!”

We’re currently in a struggle with Noah to poop on the potty. We’re fighting the clock, because if Noah isn’t fully potty-trained by next month, he can’t go to preschool. Paulie is potty trained. Paulie goes to preschool.

As parents, we get frustrated. The concept seems so simple.

“You have to poop? Go on the potty. Your brother can. What is wrong with you?”

Of course we don’t say that, but it’s just as bad to think it.

And I should know better. I was a middle child. For most of my childhood, I had an older sister and a younger sister. Classic middle child with the added bonus of being the only boy. You better believe that I had a hand-me-down pink bike and a “Baby Kickie” doll. Well, the doll wasn’t funneled down from my older sister. That was all Paul.

In a way, being the only boy shielded me from Noah’s situation. My mom actually believes that my older sister was put in an unfair situation because she wasn’t old enough. She remembers a time when I covered the couch in baby lotion and Anne was scolded for not stopping me. She was three.

That doesn’t mean I’m not haunted by certain aspects of being the middle child. I’ll always remember, “The Television Incident of 1996.” My older sister had a T.V. in her room. I wanted a T.V. in my room.

“No, you can’t have a T.V. in your room. It was a mistake to let Anne have a T.V. in her room.”

“So take away Anne’s T.V.”

“Well, that’s not fair.”

“I DON’T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND THE DEFINITION OF FAIR!”

I did not get a T.V. in my room. My younger sister did, though, because that’s the life of a middle child. Some nights, I still wake up in a cold sweat in my bedroom. But then I look over and notice the T.V. on the dresser and whisper, “Take that mom and dad.”

For the record, Noah will not have a T.V. in his room, because that’s a horrible idea.

But being a middle child isn’t all that bad, though. Studies show that middle children are excellent negotiators and risk-takers. They are more empathetic and patient. Fifty-two percent of our presidents have been middle children.

I’m proud of Noah. He’s never going to be the oldest, to know what it’s like to have all the attention. And he’s never again going to be the baby of the family. That’s okay. He’s the wild child with the baby blue eyes and big heart. He’s the boy that loves the Hulk and Scooby Doo. He looks up to his big brother and loves his baby sister more than anything.

He’s Noah — the middle piece in our family puzzle. Those are more fun anyway. They’re closer to all the other pieces.

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