I never thought it possible, but I have a lot in common with my six-year-old nephew. The kid could be Dennis the Menace’s twin … well, if Dennis the Menace packed on twenty pounds. Anyway, my nephew Christian is a terror—in an endearing way, of course. You’re probably thinking I’m just saying that because I’m his aunt, which is a possibility, but I’m fairly confident everyone else agrees.
Last week, Christian snuck my sister’s cell phone into the bathroom where he dropped trou and snapped several pictures of his “business.” After deciding on the ones he liked best, you know, the ones with the best lighting and angle, he texted them to his sixteen-year-old brother. My sister was left to discover them on her own. Behind my sister’s threats of whopping his ass, are stifled laughs of hysteria. It’s a regular occurrence: Christian acts up and my sister scolds him and threatens to send him to his room or take away his video games. Of course, she never follows through, but makes every attempt to make him think there’s a whole lot of time without play in his future. So the other day my mom asked the little tike why he acts up so much. He answered her quickly and quite matter-of-factly, “Because I get attention. Even bad attention is good.”
I would like to point out how extremely crafty and bright my nephew is. And then I would like to brush away my tears. For a six-year-old to have such insight into his behavior is astounding, but his rationale for his behavior is heartbreaking. This brings me to our commonality: Christian and I are both middle children. And it seems we both suffer from that maddening Middle Child Syndrome. I may not have texted around my lady parts (we didn’t have cell phones back then), but I’ve definitely acted out in less than desirable ways to get hosed down with some attention.
While Christian is thrashing around next to an older brother and little sister, I’m trying to find my way, stuck between an older sister and younger brother. And it’s about as comfortable as it sounds. So whoever came up with that whole analogy about the middle child being like the cream in the Oreo cookie, can suck it. Being the middle child (and I’m sure Christian can attest to this) feels more like how I’m sure parsley feels, jammed alongside a juicy burger and pile of crispy fries: rather insignificant.
My sister, Nicole, is two-and-a-half years older than me, which I might add, is a difficult age difference for girls. So, if you’re hovering over your ovulation calendar with a highlighter right now, take note. Nicole and I have always competed with each other in a Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding fashion: illegal, malicious, and with high ratings. She’d pull my hair; I’d kick her in the thigh. She’d punch me in the arm; I’d scratch the bejesus out of her. She’d read my diary and rat me out; I’d steal her clothes and accidentally stain them. She’d call me names like sow, dumbass and my all time favorite, the c-word; I’d spit the same words right back at her. What can I say; my creativity hadn’t fully matured yet. Today, we’re both in our thirties and still going at it—verbally. Our bodies just can’t handle that kind of physical brutality anymore, and I suppose the multi-state separation is a bit of a barrier.
Even though Nicole used to come at me like a bull—my dad always encouraged her to try out for the high school wrestling team—she had her soft moments. Not necessarily with me, unless I count the time she cried when I moved 1,500 miles away. And I’m still not sure if those were happy tears or sad tears, so…. But, I have witnessed her tender side with others. Like the time she fostered a litter of needy, heavily medicated kids. Even when those rug rats were smearing bubble gum on the walls, bingeing and purging on all the food in the house, and murdering squirrels, she treated them like her own. I, on the other hand, would have sucked down their meds and called it a day. Nicole also let’s her soft side come out to play from nine to five. She’s a nurse and for quite some time cared for hospice patients, which is a job only the strong survive. I mean, you can’t shield yourself from death when death is clutching onto your scrubs.
Speaking of scrubs, my brother’s got a pair. He’s a doctor. So, both of my siblings are in the medical field and hold revered careers. As I mentioned earlier, I’m still floundering around out here, like an epileptic salmon, trying to find my calling. You’d think by thirty-two, a person would know their life’s purpose. I used to think I knew: I was going to be a famous ballerina or maybe a novelist. But, as my aunt so graciously advised me, “Well Meghan, I want to sing and dance, but come on.”
She’s right, right? I mean what was I thinking, dreaming about such impractical careers when my brother’s a doctor and my sister’s a nurse? I used to be a little more like them. As a child, I remember playing nurse and dreaming about marrying a doctor (I still do) because come on, actually becoming a doctor was an impossible feat. Well, that’s what I thought anyway. Here’s an excerpt from my childhood diary (I’m sure this is old news to Nicole) for a glimpse into my childhood psyche. I was thirteen when I wrote it:
February 5, 1992
My parents and I were eating supper tonight and we were talking about South Africa’s problems and my mom said I was really smart but I just need to use it. So I think I’ll try harder in school so I can be better than Nicole!
I heard that phrase a lot during my childhood, “Use your head, Meghan” and all it did was piss me off. It’s awfully vague, right? So I interpreted it in my own way and used my head to stand out … and not so much in a good way. Nicole presented herself as perfection and how could I seriously compete with that. I didn’t really want to anyway. It was boring. While she brought home good grades, sports stories, and nice boys, I brought home leather halter tops, hangovers, and any guy who wasn’t White. Mission accomplished: I stood out all right, mostly in my bedroom, grounded indefinitely.
I really didn’t mind being holed up in my room because I was in my own little world anyway and created my reality wherever I went. Much in the same way Christian does. His world revolves around video games, food, and movies. Unless he needs to be recharged with a dose of attention, you wouldn’t even know he’s around. Most of the time he just kind of floats around in the background; sort of like one of those fake clouds in a school play. I suppose his ghost-like presence makes his antics all the more startling.
Christian’s career aspirations are still unknown. But, when he gets around to having some, I hope they’re idealistic. Maybe he’ll want to be a paparazzo for TMZ, maybe he’ll aspire to be the next host of Man vs. Food on the Travel network, or maybe he’ll work at the local video store. Hopefully, not the dirty video store, but whatever. Either way, I just hope he continues to stand out in only the way he can. Because really, isn’t that what success is?