Marta was the middle sister, the daughter of a father who was a middle brother and a mother who was a middle sister. Her parents often discussed this phenomenon.
“I found it really difficult to be the middle sister,” her mother would say. “My parents paid so much attention to Evelina, since she was the oldest. And then when Janice came along four years after I did, they doted on her. Janice was special, since she was the last baby. Evelina was special, since she was the first. They hardly paid any attention to me.”
And then Marta’s father would chime in. “It can’t have been as bad as being the middle brother. Every time my older brother Oscar won a trophy or a medal or something in sports, my parents were so excited. Same with my little brother Arthur. As for me, well no one seemed to care. I won a speech tournament and did great in track and field, but so what? I was just stuck in the middle and pretty much ignored.”
How many times did Marta hear this conversation? Frequently, it seemed. Almost every day, it seemed, but it couldn’t have been every day. Or could it?
When she was old enough to surf the internet, she started typing “middle child” into search engines. She found out that the middle child tends to be envious, doesn’t talk much, and is not inclined to be bold. The middle child feels left out, or so the experts said.
Is that me? Is that how I am? Marta needed to know, but she thought she did know.
At dinner one night she opened the subject. “So, Mom, you were a middle sister, and Dad, you were a middle brother. And I’m a middle sister. And you always talk about how difficult it was growing up.”
Her father paused before eating the last section of his buttered dinner roll. “Well, yes, it was. Why do you ask?”
“Will, you must know why she’s asking. Marta’s our middle child, not just a middle child, but a middle sister.”
“Well, I managed,” said her father.
“So did I,” said her mother.
Somehow those answers didn’t satisfy Marta. If they managed, why did her parents keep talking about being the middle child? It made no sense.
She was feeing neglected, overlooked, passed over, ignored. Those were all the words she could think of to describe her situation. And she had to do something about it.
What to do? She had to make a name for herself either by being bad or by being good. It was easier to be bad, she decided.
The next day Marta punched Allen in the stomach in the cafeteria. She waited for a call from the principal’s office, but none came. Allen had not reported her, she decided. Why? Probably because he would have considered it humiliating to declare that he had been hit by a girl. And a weird thing seemed to be unfolding in the afternoon. Allen was eyeing her from the next row and even smiling at her. She remembered her mother saying that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Is that what that saying meant? Really?
Marta had to come up with another way to be naughty. After school at the volleyball game she deliberately knocked over her teammate Alicia. Alicia picked herself up, smiled at Marta, and said, “It’s OK. I know that was an accident.”
Boy, this was getting tough. Marta didn’t actually want to commit a felony, so she had to choose her bad behavior very carefully.
She sulked at dinner that night, but no one seemed to notice. Right, no one seemed to notice! That’s exactly what it was like to be a middle child, to be ignored. Must find another way to get attention, she thought.
“Dad, I’m thinking of going into a convent.”
“What? But we’re not even Catholic.”
“Oh, does that matter?”
“I think so, Marta,” her mother chimed in.
“Oh. Well then, I am thinking of joining the Red Cross and helping people in foreign countries.”
“You’re only twelve, Marta. I think you have to be at least thirteen to sign on with them.” Her father laughed at his little joke.
Then Marta started to cry. “Don’t cry, dear,” said her mother, “and please pass the mac and cheese.”
Marta cried even harder. Her little sister started to cry as well.
“What’s wrong with you two?” yelled their father.
“I think I know, Will,” said her mother. “Marta is the middle child, so she feels neglected, the way you and I did when we were growing up. Little Janie looks up to Marta, since she’s the youngest child, and if there are three, then the youngest child follows and imitates the middle child. I read that somewhere.”
Then the oldest sister, Maribeth, yelled, “And where does that leave me?”
And then they were all shouting and crying at the same time.
Their mother put her hands to her ears. “Stop! Stop that noise! Wait! I have an idea!”
The girls gradually stopped their crying, and soon there was silence. They all looked at their mother.
“I hope it’s a stupendous idea, since we have a stupendous problem. Well, it may not be a stupendous idea, but at least it’s an idea. Look, Will, I think that the first thing you and I should do is stop complaining about what it was like to be a middle child.”
Their father nodded, and their mother continued. “That would be a good beginning. Then I think all of us, the three of you plus your father and I, need to think about positive things to say about our siblings.”
Their daughters made faces.
“Listen, don’t make faces. I’m serious. And every time we say something positive about a sibling, we’ll keep track and get points, and then when we have a hundred, no, a thousand points, we all can go on a trip someplace that we all agree on. How does that sound?”
They all nodded enthusiastically. Silently the father of the family wondered if he would have to make up something positive to say about his brothers.