(Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, Lisa Simpson of the Simpsons, and Theo Huxtable of the Cosby Show)
In observance of Middle Child Day coming up on August 12, I’d like to take a moment and DEMAND YOUR ATTENTION.
Some of the most profoundly influential individuals of our time and of history have been middle children, including Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, Madonna, Ricky Gervais, Cleopatra, Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams (the fourth of seven, just like me!), Jennifer Lopez, Napoleon Bonaparte and Glenn Close. There are also several middle children characters we’ve come to love on TV: Alex Keaton on Family Ties, Malcolm of Malcolm in the Middle, and of course Lisa Simpson. Perhaps we can all identify with the diamond sometimes desperately trying to be noticed in the rough.
Though middle-childness doesn’t end with childhood, it can’t hurt to start your Middle Child Day celebration with a couple of good picture books.
Squashed in the Middle by Elizabeth Winthrop and Pat Cummings is a picture book story of a girl named Daisy who figures out how to be heard despite being the middle child of a loving but busy and preoccupied family.
The Middle Child Blues by Kristyn Crow Rock out the blues with Lee in this picture book. He’s too short, too tall, too young, too old, and sorely lacking attention until he starts to sing and finds a massive audience of other middle children who share his pain.
When you’re ready to dig a bit deeper; to understand and to harness the power of the Middle, check out:
The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities by Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann. This is a scientific look at what it means to be a middle child. Naturally, I had assumed that the Middle Child Syndrome was a character sketch of individuals who have had to overcome some level of neglect and come out on the other side more perceptive and independent than their siblings. In a chapter on The Myth of The Middle Child, this book points out that the media “portrays middleborns as unable to find their place in the world, shying away from the spotlight, bitter and resentful, underachievers, and loners (Salmon and Schumann 9).”
I have to disagree, as do the authors, who analyze several different cases and find that the freedom of not being in the spotlight can result in being able to find what one truly wants to do. The losing battle of fighting for attention can be exhausting, but it can result in some very creative methods for stealing the show. Consider a few biographies of famous middle children:
Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch. This autobiography on audiobook is read by the author, Jane Lynch. You may know her from Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, or Glee. She is one of my favorite comedians. Her story is not always funny, but it I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t her middle-child perspective on life that allows her to make light and inspiration of difficult situations that might crush a less resilient first or last-born.
The Life of Jane Austen by John Halperin. Though siblings were certainly sorted differently in her time (Jane Austen’s gravestone identifies her as the youngest daughter, though she had a younger brother,) it seems to me that Jane Austen had an opinion about the Middle Child Syndrome. Who better than Jane Austen’s Mary Bennett of Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the worst possible charicature of a middle child? She’s sour and serious and nervously desperate for attention, caught in between her two graceful and wise older sisters, and her two twittering and flirtateous younger sisters.
Lucy Briers as Mary Bennett
It seems fitting to me that several middleborn biographies are written by their siblings:
Life with My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone tells the inside stories of the already larger than life Madonna, magnified to a blinding sparkle by her adoring little brother.
My Brother, Ernest Hemingway by Leicester Hemingway is also written by an adoring younger brother, who asserts that he knew his brother better than anyone. Although he was sixteen years younger than Ernest, the author seems to have been a constant fly on the wall (or perhaps the side of the fishing boat or boxing ring.)
A happy Middle Child Day to you, whether you are one or love one. Let us all celebrate by making faces in the corner, trying to get a word in edge-wise, and patiently waiting for the perfect moment to blow the crowd away.
Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library, who turned out okay, and would like to give a little shout-out to her friend’s daughter Maeda, who recently became a big sister and a very happy middle child.