Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh Baby! On birth order and its scars

HALLIE EPHRON: Last year, my husband and I scanned all of the old family pictures that I ended up with, loaded them onto flash drives, and gave the flash drives as Christmas presents to my family. It sure beat fruitcake -- which just for the record I adore. Anyone who gets unwanted fruitcake, send it to me.

I was the third of what turned out to be four of us, sharing (something I've never been good at) 'middle' status with my sister Delia. I credit that birth order with a tendency to avoid competition -- which is why it took me so long to finally get with the family business and write.

My oldest sister was the typical bossy overachiever. My other middle sister the typical peace-maker, and she's still the one who connects us all. My baby sister was the brat, always wanting things her (as opposed to MY) way. A rule breaker who'd much rather dance on the yellow line than cross in the crosswalk.

Where are you in your family? Oldest, youngest, or like me one of the ones caught in the middle, and did it mark you for life?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Typical bossy overachiever, you say? Yup,I'm the oldest. (And was REALLY good at all those things.)

HALLIE: Why am I not surprised by this?

HANK: Which meant my younger sister, Nina the top of the middle, was my servant. She was the funny cute popular one, I was the nerdy striving bookish ambitious one. I'm not sure how "bookish" and "wanting the spotlight" can connect, but there you have it.

The next middle sister, Nancy, was "Nurse Nancy," taking care of everyone. Nina and I used to pretend to play with her, and then make up the rules of all the games. "No, it's okay for me to use that word in Scrabble, it's Hawaiian." Nancy's a top-notch caterer now, still taking care of everyone, and makes her own rules.

Liz, the fourth? The horsey one (meaning, she loved horses)and now teaches dressage.

Then came the youngest, Chip, who's a hot shot environmental attorney. I can't believe I used to baby sit for Chip when I was 16 and he was 6. Now he's gorgeous and a real catch. Just saying.

Whenever we're all together, the SAME relationships emerge. I boss, Nina laughs, Nancy cooks, Liz ignores, Chip pontificates. We love it.

HALLIE: So funny, Hank -- when my daughters, now both over 30, get in the back seat of the car they still fight. ("You're breathing funny..." "Move over..." "You smell like cheese...")

I'm the youngest of four, but the only girl, so I feel marked both by birth order and by gender isolation. As the youngest, you don't get to give orders, so you learn to ignore them. For that reason, I'm not a good joiner, not especially a leader, but definitely a freelancer who likes to go her own way.

But to get to play with older brothers - you had to be pretty tough - no whining allowed when you were selected to be "it" yet again - and you had to be competitive. I had one of my brother's friends tell me that it was obvious I was always trying to "beat my brothers."

But I have to say, I feel blessed to have brothers, at least my brothers. The oldest, Bob, is definitely the leader of the pack - and he has set the tone -we stay extremely closer and support each other and no petty arguments are ever been allowed. There are no factions. (do you think that's a girl thing?) In fact, I don't think any of us has had a single argument with each other as adults. Since it was the norm in our family, I never fully appreciated it until I started looking around at other people's adult sibling relationships.

RHYS BOWEN: Another bossy overachiever here. Actually I was an only child until I was seven, so I was used to being the center of the universe and not at all happy to have a bratty little brother. He claims he never did well in school, never bothered to try because I was so perfect and over-achieving. I never really got to know him until we were both adults and now he lives in Australia which means we don't see each other too often. By our mother's death and upheavals in his personal life made us really close.

It is interesting to find out that FOUR Reds were one of four siblings because I have four children and the oldest was always an over-achiever but not bossy the second always feisty, insecure and rebellious, the third even feistier, independent and determined to get her own way and the youngest, the only boy, growing up expecting success and acceptance and getting it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm the youngest of two, and my brother is almost ten years older. He was so definitely the bossy, type-A, take charge, overachiever--my mom used to say from the time he could walk and talk he had logical, reasoned arguments for why things should be done his way.

You might guess that this put me in the big-time pleaser category, something I've struggled with my entire life. I've never been sure how much birth-order really has to do with personality, though. I can't imagine my brother having been different if our birth order had been switched. And because I was so much younger I grew up in many ways like an only, which SHOULD have made me bossier...

Interesting that I've made my two main protagonists, Duncan and Gemma, the older siblings out of two, and my secondary protagonists, Melody and Doug, are both only children. I seldom write characters that come from big families, and I'm not sure whether I'm reflecting my own circumstances, or just avoiding fictional complications:-)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My family sibling relationships are... complicated. My dad (five kids) married my mom (three kids) and adopted me. We didn't all live together when we were young, but things can get pretty raucous at family get-togethers.

I'm the oldest of my three, the good daughter and bossy older sister who struck out for college when my sister was fifteen and my brother ten. Emotionally speaking, I'm the farthest ranging, the one who drives everyone nuts because I never remember birthdays and I'll go for months without calling before I suddenly realize, "Oh! I should let my parents know I'm still alive!" Physically, we're also far-flung: I'm 400 miles away from my parents, as are my brother and sister and their families. Barbara and Patrick and I all lived in D.C. once, but they stayed while I decamped for Maine, so now we're over 500 miles apart.

We were all spaced far enough apart so we all had our day in the sun - I got to be the adored only child for a while, then Barb, with naturally curly blonde hair and big blue eyes, and finally Patrick, who was so cute (he has a dimple! On his cheek!) ladies would stop my mother to coo over him. He's still awfully adorable. But taken. Hank, I have a fabulous single friend here in Maine. I think we should talk about your brother, Chip.

LUCY BURDETTE: I am the second of four, arriving only eleven months after my sister. (Can you imagine? What were they thinking?) Then a brother came two years after me and another sister after that. Actually I seem to have turned out more bossy and overachieving than my older sister--though we were always lumped together and called "the girls." Really I was supposed to have been a boy, named after my father, Robert. Then my brother came along--oh the rejoicing! he was always the prince among us girls, which was most annoying, though he's turned out to be a lovely man and very funny.

But my older sister and I used to torture the younger sibs by making up rules and games--like "Get Lost", which we played in campgrounds. Once the tent trailer was pitched, we'd take the younger kids blindfolded into the far recesses of whatever property it was and abandon them with the campground map. (You don't need a degree in psychology to interpret that!)

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I'm the younger of two girls - and practically perfect in every way. At least that's what what parents and older sister seemed to think. She was six years older so there was enough of a spread for us not to be competitive - although Paula was the least competitive person I've ever met. She totally let me have my way with EVERYTHING. We shared a bedroom and some days I'd decide to move all of her stuff and she never once complained! She also taught me to smoke and drink and play Seven Minutes in Heaven. All the important life lessons.

Sadly (or maybe not) no baby pictures of me exist. I think the Polaroid was the hot camera when I was little and all of those photos seemed to have disintegrated.

HALLIE: Goodness, Rosemary, so you named your main character Paula Holiday after your sister! That is the sweetest thing ever.

Post your guesses in Comments.

Today we're share some pictures of us when we were little and maybe even, for a few glorious moments, the baby in our families. Can you tell who's who? Prizes!! (AIRTIME and COME AND FIND ME) to the first two to guess who's who. One of the babies in here is a ringer. (Check back tomorrow to see who won.)

a. Jan Brogan
b. Lucy Burdette
c. Hallie Ephron
d. Rhys Bowen
e. Deborah Crombie
f. Hank Phillippi Ryan
g. Julia Spencer-Fleming
h. Ringer (one of these photos is stand in for Ro)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Boy, that's a tough quiz.
    1-Deb, 2-Roberta, 3-Jan, 4-Ringer, 5-Hank, 6-Hallie, 7-Rhys?

    Hallie, I knew we had more in common than writing and being from southern California. I'm also third of four and all girls up through me, although the fourth in my family is my brother. Plus, not only was I third child, I was always the youngest and smallest in my grade. I felt like I always had to prove myself. Which explains a lot!


  3. I think that's a double whammy... starting out the youngest and then having a BOY usurp your spot. Condolences, Edith! ;-)

  4. Rhys, you perfectly described my own family of four. I'm the oldest. And my youngest brother is still my mother's favorite, although she has a blind spot about this the size of Montana.

    My own kids are so fascinating, vis a vis birth order. The oldest is 41, and she was my only child for 14 years, and her dad's only child period. However, she has half-sisters through my second marriage, now 27 and 24 (yeah, I was officially crazy), and a total of four step-siblings from her dad's 2nd and 3rd marriages. She's the oldest of those from, the 2nd marriage, but second-oldest from the 3rd.

    Watching the dynamics of birth order over the years has been a kind of mini-experiment. My middle child is the oldest, down to the over-achievement par excellence, but she also gets to have an older sister to guide her. How cool is that?

    I couldn't begin to match those pictures!

  5. I gave birth to 4 children in 5 years. The oldest quickly became one of the parents because he was the one that was outside playing while my husband and myself were more into books and discussions. It worked until the oldest thought he'd like to become a military drill sergeant (actually became a naval communicator). My husband and I sailed through their teen years because the younger kids directed all their adolescent resentments towards their oldest sibling. He kept everyone safe and all of them are very steady and make good choices. Wish they could move past childhood angst especially when the oldest created physical distance by joining the military at the exact point when they needed space to find their uniqueness.

  6. Like Ro, I was the youngest and perfect in every way. I've always been shocked by my lack of worldwide acceptance. I think I see Hallie's eyes in baby #5, and #7 seems to have Rhys's haughty British air, but the rest are a complete mystery.

  7. Yikes, Anonymous - that's a novel. What a family dynamic. And my sympathies -- that kind of angst is hard to get past, even when we're supposedly "grownups."

    I think I might have crawled into a bunker myself if I'd had 4 in 5 years. I had two, with five and a half years in between. It was puh-lenty.

  8. How interesting, Karen - I do think gaps between are as much a dynamic as birth order. I was a middle, but I felt like an oldest relative to my younger sister. And both of my kids have a bit of bossy firstness about them -- which I attribute to the big gap between. (Or maybe it's just Ephron genes -- I'm sure Lucy Van Pelt is my aunt.)

  9. Austin: Very perceptive of you on the Photos. And Edith is close. I'm amazed at how good the guesses are so far.

  10. I'm the youngest, Never the favorite though, never the "baby" and certainly always beat up.

  11. I'm the middle of three girls, born in a span of 33 months. We also jhave a brother who is twelve years older than I am, so he got to be the only for a looong time, then was saddled with three rambunctious little sisters who, when we weren't being cute, made his teenage life a living hell.

    Of the girls, I am the independent, adventurous one.

    I'll take a leap on the photos:
    1 - Hank
    2 - Roberta
    3 - Deborah
    4 - ringer
    5 - Jan
    6 - Julia
    7 - Rhys
    8 - Hallie.

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  13. Seven has to be the ringer. I have no idea, but she's awfully perfect. SO that's be the Ro stand-in.

    I'm looking for all of you in the photos..very difficult!

  14. I'm embarassed to say how long I've been staring at these pictures! The Reds were an adorable lot. Now I'm feeling deprived that there is no treasure trove of baby memorabilia for me. First no Thanksgiving and now no baby pix. I'm starting to feel like Oliver-Freaking-Twist!
    Tomorrow's my birthday, so everyone please wish me a happy Birthday otherwise I'll have to look for the nearest bridge.

  15. Fruitcake! Let's party, Hallie.....I'll bring more brandy and you light the fire.....teehee.

    From the bossy older sister.
    Once at a state meeting of EDs of
    Penna rape centers we discovered that 3/4th of us were oldest daughters!

  16. Being the oldest and the only girl with three younger brothers was no picnic, especially with only one TV and my brothers wanting to watch the Three Stooges!

    Morgan Mandel

  17. I am the youngest of four children. Two boys and two girls. So, I have all the traits of a "baby." I need to be the center of attention. I think everyone should cater to me. I am not a strong leader but; I follow pretty well. :-) The thing is: when I was born my oldest brother was 10, my only sister was 8, my youngest brother was 6. (Then, surprise! me! My mother thought she was going through the change.) So, you can say I was an eagerly awaited little one, a miracle, or a whoops!! Long ago I read Dr. Kevin Leamon's (not sure on the spelling of the last name)book on Birth Order. According to him, if I remember correctly, if you were separated by more than 5 year's then you would also have the traits of an only and an oldest; as well as the traits of a baby. So, it stands to reason I am just a 'mess!' I might add that my husband and my daughter are only children and I just have to say that they don't give in to me the way I was led to believe I was entitled to be. lol Did I fail to mention that I am bossy and a control freak with ocd tendencies and add??? Oh, the pictures are hard, you are all such beautiful young women!!!

  18. I'm the oldest of six with only one younger sister. My parents were a disaster, so I became the de facto parent at a very young age. Not much of a childhood for me. As a matter of fact, when my youngest brothers were in their teens & my mother threw them out they came to live with me and my first husband and two kids.

    I have a friend, Pat Schudy, who's doing research for a book on oldest daughters. According to her, we're pretty amazing.

    I have three natural-born kids (and one fosterson of whom I'm very proud but I got him when he was in college)--1. daughter, 2. son (within little more than a year, twins the hard way), 3. son born when the older two were entering teens. Youngest boy grew up like an only child pretty much and it shows. Two oldest are both oldest children. I wrote an essay once called "Practice Child," an open letter to my daughter apologizing and explaining the mistakes I made with her and learned from for the others.

    1-Deb, 2-Roberta, 3-Julia, 4-Ringer, 5-Hallie, 6-Rhys, 7-Hank

    Beautiful babies all!

    And my Captcha is "renal." Don't know about that.

  19. Okay: HINTS --
    JULIA is #8
    RINGER is #4 (LOVE that picture, though)
    HANK is NOT #1

  20. Mary Alice: So this proves that big sisters make great book sellers (opinion leaders! AKA arm benders!).

    Which reminds me to remind people, you CAN get ebooks from independent booksellers -- just for example, Mystery Lovers Books has a link right on their home page.

  21. Happy birthday, Rosemary! May it be absolutely perfect in every way, just like you!

  22. Coming in late as usual. But just for fun.
    1 Deborah

    2 Jan

    3 Hank

    4 Ringer

    5 Hallie

    6 Lucy

    7 Rys

    8 Julia
    But what do I know, I'm an only child! :0(

  23. Dear Jungle Red Writers. Just have to say you were all adorable babies, and I can't begin to tell who's who. Birth order fascinates me, and as my probably know I asked a question about it recently, thinking I was onto some genius discovery. I think there is something to birth order, but as families have diverged, so too have birth orders in my opinion. You're all fabulous and unique. Thanks!

  24. Hank,

    I am NOT seven. I have to admit though, except for one of the babies who definitely seems to be Hallie, I'm at a loss myself.

    And Morgan, with three brothers I had to suffer through the Three Stooges, too. As youngest, I NEVER got to choose the television show.

    Sigh....but maybe that's why I read so much.

  25. I would normally spend hours poring over these pictures trying to match them, because really, I'm a Gemini, not just a Type A sometimes and...bossy. Nope. No clue, but all are so adorable.

    I'm the oldest of three siblings AND the only daughter. One brother is only 2 yrs. younger, and we've always been closest, but if you ask my "baby bro" who is over 5 years younger, it would be a different story. He didn't realize how well he was catered to!

    I was mother's lil' helper and thought he was sort of my baby-doll and really love him, but I think he still resents the fact older bro and I bossed him around...and we thought *he* was treated as the favorite,sigh. It never ends, does it?

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Rosemary!

  26. Martha Paley FrancescatoDecember 5, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    Too difficult, and I don't want to guess. I'll find out soon!

  27. No wonder I've felt lost all my life!!!

  28. I loved this blog today more than I can tell you. Can't wait to learn who's who.