Sunday 23 Oct 2016

On Being Last
AJ Robinson

Much has been written about birth order. What is the effect of being born first; if you're last, how does that affect you, and what exactly is "Middle Child Syndrome"? Well, I'm no expert on child development, but allow me to make a few personal observations on the issue.

I'm the fifth and youngest, of five boys. Often that position is considered to be quite "prime". After all, it means being the baby of the family, you get spoiled rotten by parents and grandparents; you get away with murder, and so on. Well, some of that is true, but not every aspect is a plus.

First off, having four older brothers meant getting hand-me-downs on just about everything; I think I was eight before I got my first pair of new sneakers. I did get a whole mess of toys, but the Erector Set was missing a lot of pieces, as was the Tinkertoy, and the Scrabble game only had about two dozen tiles.

And then there was family.

I wasn't just the youngest, I was really the youngest! In the family album, are my baby pictures, my Dad's fiftieth birthday, with a big old grin on his face, and my oldest brother's high school graduation. By the time I was five, I was an uncle; I was closer in age to my nephew and niece than I was to any of my brothers. So, it wasn't long before I was in that big old house in Arlington all alone. As I said, "I had four brothers, but I was an only child". So, I didn't really feel very connected to them. In the family albums were so many pictures of them doing things together, but I wasn't there.

Then there were my parents and grandparents. My dad's parents were both quite elderly, when I was young, so we didn't do a lot of stuff. Playing cards was about all they could manage.

My dad's sister, my dear aunt, was also quite old. Her son, my cousin, was also much older than I. Here again, familial relations, with whom I had virtually no meaningful contact.

Mom's parents were in Italy. Her mom, my grandmother, had passed away, and her father was too frail to visit us in Boston. I begged my parents to go visit him, but we could never afford it.

By this time, my parents were in their forties and fifties. The family home movies were full of images of my dad being scoutmaster for my brothers and taking them camping. Now he was slowing down. He was older, more sedentary, and we couldn't get to do the sorts of things that I saw my friends doing with their dads.

So, it wasn't long before my grandfather in Italy was gone. Then my dad's parents followed also passed away. At the same time, my brothers were getting married and having children - and they all got to hangout together. I had to wonder, would my children be like me - outsiders in our family, disconnected from their cousins?

Was my experience typical for a last child? No, I don't imagine it was; it was merely my experience. As with anything else in life, it's not what happens to you that's quite so important - it's what you make of it. From each phase of my life, I've tried to do that. Have I succeeded?

Not entirely, but I keep trying. I'd call that about average for a child - whether last, first, or somewhere in the middle of the birth order.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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