a history lesson for middle children


I didn’t grow up in one of the families with so many kids that they were required to take on adult roles to help their parents out. There were only three children in my family and we were appropriately spaced out, at least according to family planning guidelines. On the surface given the shear normalness and non-hectic nature of my Midwestern upbringing I sometimes I have to remind myself that I did not tweak my childhood memories to better fit into a David Sedaris story.

Soon after my little sister was born, my parents quickly became aware that I must have read some manual detailing common behaviors of middle children and I fully intended to include every single one of the described attributes into my new identity as “the middle child.” To my utter delight, the result of my experimentation was that during the summer of 1987 my mom and sister stayed behind in balmy Detroit while my father happily led my brother and I on a week-long trip to Boston to take in the sights. I had read the “parenting a middle child” books, but my parents clearly had not.

I hardly remember anything about what we saw in Boston and it’s not because my memory has faded. I couldn’t possibly remember anything about the freedom trail or the science museum because the way my family visits historical sights doesn’t allow enough time for those images to be engrained into short term memory and then transferred to the part of the brain that holds long term memory. The only memory I hold from that daddy-daughter trip (you see, I barely remember my brother being there) is when I momentary was left behind at Plymouth Rock, which I imagine was just as horrifying as it must have been for the Pilgrims in their day.

The entire scene, which actually only is about 10 seconds long, plays out like a slow moving montage in my head – the kind where everyone’s lips are moving slowly and words are elongated. My father, brother, and I park the car at Plymouth Rock. We get out of the car and go look at something – at this point I couldn’t tell you if it was an actual rock or just a view of a rock in the distance or we may have just stopped to buy lemonade there. Five minutes later everyone is getting back in the car probably to drive to that town where those witches got killed. I am standing next to the station wagon with my hand loosely on top of the handle when instead of grabbing it, I instead pause for half a second to get one last look at the rock, or the view, or the lemonade stand. If there was a snapshot of this moment you’d see this: seven year old girl with pigtails and large red glasses shaking her head slowly as if she was blinded by a light. I hear doors lock, the car engine start, and out of the corner of my left eye I see the wagon pull out of the parking spot into the road. The car had only gone a few feet, when my fight or flight responses kicked in, and I instantly sprint to the car and start pounding on the passenger side window while yelling “dad!” The car abruptly halts, I hear the doors unlock, and I look inside to see my father and brother unable to catch their breaths because they are laughing so hard. That’s okay; my dad would leave my brother on the “T” subway the next day.

While the intervention of teaching me that being a middle child wasn’t so bad never happened on that trip (nor did it happen the next summer when my sister was left home again and I was taken to Washington DC), being locked out of the car and left for dead at Plymouth Rock did teach me an important lesson. A Freudian psychoanalyst would be quick to say “you learned that your middle child fears were realized and that is why your father subconsciously left you behind at Plymouth Rock,” but luckily, that not how I understood what happened until later in life. The lesson I learned on that hot pre-climate change summer day in 1987 was simple yet twofold: there is nothing that interesting at American historical sights and that if you’re short you better learn how to walk fast otherwise you’ll get left behind.

This entry was published on 07/12/2012 at 2:07 pm. It’s filed under creative nonfiction by bree kessler and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
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