“Big” families where I grew up were big. We’re not talking 5 or 6. We’re talking 10-15. Many were that big because there was a farm to run and the only way to get really cheap laborers was to give birth to some. They‘d work for room and board.
I’m the youngest of seven kids. We lived in town though, so we weren’t particularly useful to my parents. Sure we did our homework and fed the dog. In the summer we’d rake leaves and in the winter we’d shovel snow. But we didn’t bring in a crop or anything. We were consumers. Not producers.
So I really appreciate that my parents were generous enough to have all of us. Thank goodness they got all the way to seven, or I wouldn’t be writing this today. I loved being in a big family. I learned a lot from it. For one, I learned to share and take turns.
Although I’ll admit being the baby of the family has many more advantages than drawbacks, one bummer is always having to wait until I’m old enough to do such-and-so the way my sisters got to. My bedtime was always the earliest. My drawers in the dresser were always the least convenient. In the car I had to sit in the middle. In the tub I had to sit in the back where the water was more shallow.
But there was always hope of a promotion. Each time a kid moved out, everyone got promoted. Moving to the older kid’s bedroom was the big prize. I never got to move. But since I was in the Little Girls’ Bedroom, which was initially shared by three of us, I ended up with a castle-of-a-space when eventually everyone got the heck out of there. No kidding. It occupied half the third floor, and had its own walk-in closet and full bath. A big, beautiful pane glass window occupied the peak of the front of the house, and the sloped ceilings and dormers made it feel like a whole house. The radiator along one wall served as a great stage when we needed to perform a Bobby Sherman single with the microphone from the tape recorder. It was an excellent room. And no one minded leaving it to me, because it had the stigma of “the little girls’ room”. Teens couldn’t shake it fast enough.
It’s been written many times that birth order has a huge influence on each of us. When people I know learn I’m the youngest, they invariably respond with something like, “Of COURSE you are” or “THAT explains a lot.” I’m not so naïve as to take this as a compliment, but neither is it an insult.
I like attention. No, wait: I love attention. I had to fight for it as a kid because the stage was a crowded one. My brothers and sisters were very smart. And very funny. They were masters of accents and story telling at high volumes. It was tough to get a word in, and when I did, mine was usually a disappointing contribution. I wanted to be like all of them, though, and this is probably why I developed into a rather skilled mimic. In fact, I probably learned to read group dynamics in that forum, which ended up being a skill I use professionally.
I notice these dynamics in our four kids. I see myself in our youngest. Our oldest is wise beyond her years, and always has been. Our second daughter is the rascal who is likes to follow a unique path that differentiates her. Our son is a pet to his sisters, earning favor as a hard-working athlete. And our youngest….well, she’s like I was. Fighting for attention and generally winning it.
She does understand her lot in life, though….
John had taken her for her kindergarten physical. Our doctor took her through a series of exercises to determine whether she was physically, cognitively and socially ready for school. She performed a few puzzles, read an eye chart, hopped on one foot… Then the doctor asked her a few questions.
“When you’re tired, what do you do?”
“I sleep.” she replied.
“Very good. When you’re thirsty, what do you do?”
“I take a drink.” she said triumphantly.
“Excellent. When you’re hungry, what do you do?”
“Wait a minute.”
The doctor paused. Puzzled. “Pardon me?”
“When I’m hungry, I wait a minute.”
John looked at the doctor sheepishly.
“Ahhhh. I see. Very good.” the doctor accepted this answer.
OK, so we may not have been as responsive to our fourth kid as we were to the first and second…. But she was learning patience, right? Waiting in line. Chilling her jets. And at such an early age.
Big families rock.