Catherine Kraemer and Grace

Catherine Kraemer with middle daughter, Grace. 

“Happy Middle Child Day! Oh, you didn’t remember? Don’t worry. No one ever does.”

So reads one variation of the dozens of Middle Child Day memes floating around the Internet. Womp womp.

But, wouldn’t you know it, I forgot Middle Child Day. Or rather, I didn’t even know it was a day that existed. For the record, it was Aug. 12.

At 3 years old, our middle child, Grace, was none the wiser. She carried on like it was any other day — chugging apple juice, drawing snakes (horizontal lines) and waterfalls (vertical snakes), and making up songs about the importance of washing ones hands after going potty.

But this oversight got me thinking. As the eldest children in our respective families, maybe Matt and I should be doing more to step outside our own experiences and work to understand the plight of the middle kid; to empathize with the unique pitfalls their position can present.

I will be the first to admit that I tend to adjust Grace’s place in our family based on what’s most convenient in a given moment. If I’m talking about Emilia and Grace, I refer to them as “the big girls.” If I’m talking about Phoebe and Grace, I call them “the little girls.” In our eyes, Grace is all at once grown up and independent, and too small, too young, too immature. She is a kid, or she is a toddler — depending on where she is. Depending on what we need her to be.

She is the swinging door between babyhood and big kid responsibility.

And because she is easygoing, cheerful and generally flexible, Grace takes it in stride. She seems relieved to be considered a little kid and proud to be a big kid when she has the opportunity. She won’t always be so charitable toward us though, I’m sure. In an effort to gain a better idea of what it’s like to grow up as the middle child, I sought some outside, adult perspective.

I grew up the hesitant leader of four kids, so my brother and sister are both middle children in their own right. I shot off a group text soliciting their insight on what it was like to grow up as middle children: “Hey, I’m thinking of writing a Momaha post on middle children. Can you sum up your experience in one word?”

My brother, a grown adult man with a wonderful wife, a great new job and two masters degrees, said, “Fart.”

My sister, who is mature, accomplished and has devoted her life to working with children, left me hanging for a few good hours, and then said, “Sad.” She paired it with a weeping emoji for emphasis.

Before you cast my siblings off as poorly adjusted and bitter, I should be clear that they were joking. Because that’s what they do. And maybe that’s the key. To make it through as a middle child — to weather the shifting expectations and find your way when you’re lost in the shuffle — you’ve gotta have a sense of humor.

Grace does, so that’s good. (You should hear her potty songs. They’re primarily instructional, but also very funny.)

As she learns to navigate life as the sibling in the center, I hope Grace continues to rely on the sunny, whimsical outlook she’s blessed with. I hope she knows that we see her as an individual. I hope she will remind us that Aug. 12 is approaching, should we forget. I hope she discovers there are benefits to being the swinging door, because it gives her access to sibling experiences, relationships and understanding that are wholly unique to her position.

I hope she feels like where she was born is exactly where she’s meant to be. She is a big girl. She is a little girl. She is in the middle of it all, and she is everything.

***

Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.

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