In recent weeks, as my toddler has begun his floor-kicking tantrums because he’s two (or because he’s now getting the molars I thought he already had), I have grown increasingly appreciative of my middle child. And it’s not a favorite thing; I love them all the same. It’s more of a time-out, a “Hey, thanks, Jane. You could be making this so much worse.”
The middle child. Sometimes I take her for granted. Sometimes I forget that she has only been here for four years, that her own toddler days weren’t so long ago. (Just this morning, I asked her to remind me to drop off the daycare check. Yes, a preK-er.)
I, too, am a middle child, and so perhaps that’s why she makes so much sense to me. Of my three children, she is the most like me, in appearance and personality. She says things like, “I want to climb a ladder to the sky so that I can kiss the moon.” She runs barefoot where she’s not supposed to (and inevitably steps on sand spurs or a fire ant mound). She makes funny faces for a laugh. And hurts too much for others.
Maybe I expect so much from her because I sometimes forget that she is not me.
Or maybe it’s because her manner has always been milder. She didn’t burst into this world, screaming until her body shook like her sister did. Instead, she gave a little whimper on the scale, then fell asleep. There were no “terrible twos” (or threes), because there just wasn’t time for that. She never took a black Sharpie to the beige couch cushions or poured gasoline on the floor of the garage. In fact, most of the time, she kind of does what she’s supposed to do, and apologizes when she doesn’t. She is a pleaser. And she wears her middleness remarkably well.
Once, she said she wanted to sit on a cloud. “You can’t, Jane,” said her science-minded sister. “Clouds are just water and air.”
Sometimes, I think she’s up against too much. She’s always had to do everything faster. Walking, potty-training, moving from the crib. We couldn’t carry her because our arms were full of someone else; she’s been running to catch up since the day she was born. The truth is, I don’t remember much of Jane’s babyhood. It happened in the winter. She got a virus from her sister and was hospitalized when she turned a week, and there were tangled wires stuck to her chest, IVs too big for her tiny hand, bars on the bed (I remember that part). I remember, too, that she didn’t crawl, but scooted on her little butt across the floor. Once, there was a neighborhood Christmas parade, and she fell asleep with her soft cheek against my shoulder. I wished, momentarily, that she could stay that way forever.
Just the other day, Georgia said, “It must be hard for Jane because she doesn’t know who she is. Is she a big kid? Is she a little kid? She doesn’t know.”
Maybe I don’t know, either. She is the in-between. Sometimes I scoop her up inside my arms and rock her back and forth. She’s always been the most petite, the easiest to hold. She rests her head against my chest and closes her eyes, pretending to sleep like a baby. I imagine those lashes, that upturned nose on a much tinier face. And then it seems not long ago. Other times I send her to the bathroom to potty-train her brother. And I wonder where I was when her legs grew so long, when her face lost all of its babyness.
Maybe I was in the middle then, too. Maybe I still am.