Recently, I reflected on my birth order and whether I fit the associated stereotypes.
I am the baby of the bunch: my dad, a young widower nearly ten years my mother’s junior, had two beautiful girls (eight and nine years my senior) when he met and married my mom. My mother had given birth to a premature baby girl who died soon after delivery while married to her second husband (dad was her third), and she had been told she would be unable to conceive again. Dad’s little girls made my dad all the more attractive to mom, but my sisters were being reared by their maternal relatives, so she desperately wanted children of her own.
Finally, she became pregnant. “I didn’t get over my baby until I had your brother,” she once told me. But she wanted more. “I would have had twenty sons to get one daughter,” she would say. She only had to have two. My eldest brother is four years my senior and my other brother is one year and five months older. She turned forty the year she gave birth to me, the daughter she always wanted.
And since I am the baby of the bunch as well as my mom’s only biological daughter, it goes without saying I got what I wanted and I was rather spoiled, which manifested in many ways, one being my always sitting in the front seat of our family automobiles.
Back then, seatbelts were an optional afterthought. Even with the entire family in the car, I’d plop onto the arm rest between mom and dad, like a third pilot in a commercial flight cockpit.
When dad went away as my fourth grade year ended, I exclusively sat in the front passenger seat, only making exceptions for elder riders, such as friends of mom’s and my aunt.
One day my eldest brother, the popular athlete with fantastic grades who all the girls liked, decided he’d had enough. As I crossed the expansive front lawn and approached the car to go run errands with the family, I noticed my eldest brother sitting in my seat.
I stood there, waiting for him to open the door. He looked ahead, ignoring my presence.
“Mom, John John’s in my seat!”
“Get in the back, Margie,” she replied.
I had been riding in the front seat as far back as I could remember. What was so extraordinary about this day that demanded a change in the rules? I was entitled to that front seat. “Well, I am not going unless I sit in the front!” I crossed my arms. “John John, get out of my seat!”
My mom and brothers were silent.
“You can just go without me!” I shouted before taking a step back.
Unbelievably, mom started the engine.
I walked back toward the house, over to one of the trees in the front lawn near a slight dip in the grass only noticeable during heavy rain and when playing slip and slide on car tarp. On those days, the little dip muddied. I sat down under the tree in a slouch with my head resting in the palm of my hands, waiting for my brother to open the door and get in the backseat.
Mom put the car in gear and drove off.
There was a dashing desire to run after them, to surrender, but my pride would not allow it. So I sat and waited for them to come back, confident they would return after a quick food run to retrieve me before completing the day’s mission. If I took a chance and waited in the house, they might assume I wanted to stay home and pass me by. They would think I was OK in the house. The least I could do is meet them halfway. So I stayed outside under the tree and watched the cars go by, each one slowing down for the speed bumps installed a couple of years prior.
The sky began to shadow with night, and after so many tears I was forced to admit to myself they were just fine without me. I walked toward the house to let myself in. Of all the years, days, hours of living with an unlocked front door, on that day the front door was secured. I went around back and checked the pool room and kitchen doors. Both were locked. I beat on the kitchen door, hoping my schizophrenic uncle who lived in the basement would hear me, but there was no answer. I walked to the garage and found that door secured as well.
My entitled level kicked up about ten notches. I need to get in the house now! They are doing this on purpose! I picked up a brick leftover from the paving around the waterfall project and used it to shatter one of the garage door windows, resulting in a piece flying into my eye. Trying not to blink, I covered my hand with part of my shirt before placing it through the broken glass to unlock the door nearby, effectively letting myself in and heading straight to the mid-century green tiled bathroom where I first washed my hands, then held my eye open with one hand while using the other to carefully push the glass shard to the inner corner of my eye with the tip of my fingernail. I splashed my eye several times with cold water and thanked the Lord for keeping my disposition. When my family finally returned, I was humble.
If you think the moral of this story is sometimes one must ride in the backseat, you are sadly mistaken. The very next day I was back in the front passenger’s seat and never again was my position challenged. No, though I am the youngest, my riding in the front all those years is foreshadowing of how I would have to step up and make executive decisions no one else was willing to address. The real moral of the story is to keep calm and carry on; it is the only way to remove glass from one’s own eye without getting scratched.
Baby’s in the middle.