Monday, September 14, 2015

The Birth Order Factor, Jungle Red Style

LUCY BURDETTE: This topic occurred to me a couple of weeks ago during Hank's post about gratitude. Several of us posted family pictures--and well, we are like a family here too. So I got to wondering, in our families of origin (or even little family groups like JRW), do we follow the traditional lore about how birth order affects personality? 

Some of what I've read makes absolute sense. If for example, you are the oldest child of several, you had a different kind of parenting than the kids who followed. Your parents were new to all this, and you were probably the total focus of their attention. And when siblings came along, you lose your throne--unbelievable! But maybe you turn out to be a high achiever, a perfectionist, a leader, maybe even a little bossy?

Middle children may be peacemakers, negotiators, competitive in a less obvious way, and concerned with fairness. Youngest kids can arrive when the parents are worn down, and less concerned with control. You might feel less responsible, and more like the life of the party. And only children are comfortable with adults and used to time alone, so maybe more independent and mature.

I was the second of four, and arrived very close on the heels of my sister. I definitely have some of the peacemaking traits, but I can also be bossy and competitive. Bits of the first and second child, all mixed in together.

How about you Reds? How has your place in your family constellation shaped you?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oldest child. Of five. And the textbook example.  In fact, my mother once told me that when my sister Nina was born, (I was three) she and my dad  decided to pay  MORE attention to me than ever, because they worried I would be upset.

Um, anyway. So Nina turned out to be charming, funny, adorable, popular, athletic, marginally interested in school.. 

I was bookish, difficult, bossy, organized, demanding,  loner, entitled, grade-and-praise hungry. An "A" was never good enough.
Here we, are I remember this perfectly, "holding feet."

Then when poor middle child (but at that time youngest) Nancy was born, Nina and I ganged up on her. We actually would play with her, but then make up rules for games so she would always lose. 
"Oh," we'd say, putting down Scrabble tiles, making a fake word like halamakea,  "You can use Hawaiian words, that's fair."
"How do you know Hawaiian?" she'd ask.
"Because we're OLDER," we'd say.

 Nancy LOVED when she got married, and got to make all the rules. Including the choice of "angel-choir-attendant" bridesmaid dress for me. But we are still dear pals.

There was just an article that debunked the whole birth order thing. I am shaking my head.  Pish-tush. It's all true. Because I said so, and I'm the oldest.

 HALLIE EPHRON: I'm a middle child. Yup, check all boxes. I don't like to compete head to head, I hang back, grew into the comfort and confidence that I have now in myself. Took forever to try my hand at writing because I didn't want to be compared. And my oldest sister was #1 in spades.

What they can't factor in is how the family changes so that each kid, especially when they're as far apart in years as I was from my sisters with 11 years between oldest and youngest. My oldest sister grew up in a happy family; my youngest sister in an unhappy one. I saw the change. I think all of us were more affected by the way the family changed than by our birth order. 

RHYS: My brother was almost seven years younger than me so I was really like an only child who suddenly found herself faced with an annoying pet. He drooled over my homework, knocked over my favorite china doll and spied on me and my friends. I'd grown up surrounded by relatives, the center of attention until my brother arrived. I was the classic first born or only child. Highly competitive, high achiever, supreme worrier. Then he was sent to boarding school at ten and so really we never got to know each other at all. In later years we have become close and I found out what a difficult time he had being my younger sibling. Everyone reminded him how clever and talented and high achieving I was, so naturally he gave up trying. He joined the RAF. Then he became a hippie. Finally he got his act together and became a high-tech whizkid with the gold Mercedes and the house on the lake, before winding up as an Anglican priest. What a journey!.

LUCY: And Rhys, that reminds me of another fact in my family. I was definitely supposed to be a boy—Roberta, named after my dad. He was so thrilled when my brother came along. He could do all the boy things—coaching and Boy Scouts and tossing a ball in the back yard and home repair. No question, he loved all of us. But I was definitely shaped by not being exactly what he expected...

 DEBORAH CROMBIE: My brother is nine and a half years older than me. In a way, we both grew up as only children, but there are definitely birth order traits. My big brother Steve is the classic type-A, over-achieving, self-motivating genius. The list of his accomplishments is mind-boggling. I was the slow-poke, not very good at school, horrible in math, always wanting to please everyone. There are some cute photos of my brother playing with me when I was a toddler, but by the time I was three and he was thirteen (ages in the portrait) our lives didn't intersect much. He went off to Rice University when he was seventeen.It's been so interesting as adults to get to know each other better. I adore him, and I think he's quite proud of me. We have a great time when we get together. Unfortunately, that's not often. He and my sister-in-law  are sailors, and are at the moment in, um... New Caledonia? Thank goodness for email... (The later photo is the two of us with our late mom a few years ago.)

Funny, that we both had only daughters, isn't it?

Look at those cute cheeks!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oldest of three here (although I gained four stepbrothers and a stepsister in my early teens, which felt like getting a bunch of cousins who would visit and have fun.) I think we're the classic spread: I was driven to achieve academically (as long as the subject wasn't mathematics) pushy, self-confident, tried to be the Best Child in high school and then turned around and fought with my mother all though college in order to establish my independence from her. (I should note she was fine with me leaving the nest; I was the one who had to thrash around and get dramatic before I segued into adulthood.)

Pat: still ridiculously cute. Barb mostly sulked between
the ages of 14 and 17.
My sister Barb is in many ways the classic middle child - pleasing, sociable, great at anything to do with people. I was a National Honors Scholar and she was Homecoming Queen and captain of the cheerleading squad, so I think we grew up with a silent assumption that I was The Smart One and she was The Pretty One, until we became adults and realized we were both smart and cute.  We fought like cats and dogs as teens, but she always had my back. Thanks for not finking me out to Mom and Dad when I snuck out of the house after curfew, Barb!

The turkey-headed photobomber is Barb's youngest.
My brother Patrick is eight years younger than I am, and his distinguishing characteristic as a child was being exceedingly cute and bratty. When Barb would bring a boy over, Pat would hang out in the family room with them until he got paid off with candy! He's definitely a youngest: laid-back, a little pampered by our parents (Barb and I screamed when he was allowed a car in high school!) and with the calm assurance of a man who has had grandmothers, mother, aunts and sisters oohing and aahing over him his whole life. Like a lot of youngest children I know, he married an organized, ambitious, confident oldest child.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Only child here. Pretty much a textbook example—creative, introverted (mostly), perfectionist. And then I married an only child, and we have only one child ourselves.... Wow, it it something in the water?

I've had to create my own family and a family of friends out of necessity, but I do admit to feeling lonely sometimes. The relationship among brothers and sisters seems mysterious. Scary, but also pretty wonderful. I wish I'd had more of a family growing up, and now, as well. But it's not in the cards for everyone, so we march to our own drummer.

LUCY: The good news, Susan, is that you and Noel are experts at creating your own families from your friends! And sometimes that's easier than getting along with the family you came into the world with. Reds, how about you? Where did you fall in your families, and can you see the ways that order has played out?


  1. Oldest . . . sort of [my twin sister is ten minutes older than me] . . . but my theory is that twins don’t fit into the whole birth order personality thing very well . . . .
    I’ve always loved to read, did well in academically in school, but am more of a homebody/loner/peacemaker and not much of a competitor . . . .
    My other sister is nine years younger; my brother twelve years younger.

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  3. You said it all, Hank: "It's all true. Because I said so, and I'm the oldest." Makes perfect sense to me.

    I guess my sister - three years younger and second of 4 children - still remembers the greeting she got all through high school, "Oh, you're Sally's sister." because she just went to her 45th high school reunion and one of the first things she said to me after was "And nobody asked about you."

    My children followed the typical pattern, oldest daughter the bossy overachiever although she didn't become a very assertive adult, middle child son was the charmer politician and youngest announced at about age 5 that she didn't want to grow up because "I love being a baby."

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  5. I'm kind of in there with Hallie - third girl in a family of four - except the youngest in my family was the only boy. I was also ever the youngest and smallest in my class. I got good grades like my older sisters, but also was the overassertive and rowdy one - always with skinned knees, several times sent to the principal (who gave me shit about not being like my older sisters), and attention-hungry. I wanted to do what the boys did and felt the injustice in not being allowed to from an early age.

    So interesting hearing about all the Reds' families and what shaped us all!

  6. It is so interesting, isn't it Edith! Hard to imagine you getting sent to the principal's office LOL

    Joan, twins are a different aren't they? we should have a blog on that sometime. One of my favorite books in high school was about inseparable identical twins and how hard it was one when found a man.

    Grandma Cootie--it's amazing, isn't it, that the old childhood rivalries last well past those early days!

  7. So this has me thinking about my daughters... the minute #2 was born (just about) she started bossing #1 around.

    In my family there was bossiness in the genes, so ALL of us are bossy. Very. Middle child I was a rule follower, the youngest was a rule breaker.

    (Edith you cracked me up.)

  8. Oldest of five -- when we were children, I was definitely the boss and the designated "au pair" -- my mother says that I could fetch her a diaper from another room when my brother was an infant (and I was under two!!).

    There are so many other factors that affect who we are, but birth order has an amazing impact. I was a combination of successful at school (even in math) and hard-working at home (my list of chores would shock a 21st century kid).

    We were three girls and two boys -- but we have lost both brothers. One at the age of 25 (the #4 child) in a construction accident and one at the age of 45 (the #2 child). That sorrow has shaped the three sisters.

    My sisters live in California -- so our time together is precious.

  9. Sisters, yeah, it's interesting. Because if you're the sister of a sister, you're supposed to be friends, right, but it's all such a matter of luck and timing.

    The "brother" roles are set up anthropologically, kind of, to be different: protector, or antagonist. "Older brother" is SO cool. Younger brother is a pain. Or--not. I always thought it would be cool to have an older brother. But did I WANT an older brother? No way.

    I realized, in thinking about his post, that there is not one photo--not that I have, at least-or all of us kids together. Now that--is weird. There has to be one somewhere.

    (I made all my main characters older sisters of sisters. And just realized Jake is an only child. Huh. I did not do that on purpose.)

  10. Hallie, you and I looked SO much alike at that age. It is really spooky.

  11. As an only child whose military family moved every year, I was a bookish introvert forced to make new friends all the time if I wanted playmates. Which I did, desperately. So I was and remain an introvert who loves people, or an extrovert who needs lots of alone time. Take your pick. I was determined not to raise an only child, so I had three children, whom I expected to be thrilled to have each other. Ha! Now that they are all grown, they finally are!

  12. Only here. I toddle between being very introverted and extroverted. I tend to do odd things that make sense to me. Like walking my cat on a leash. I sit for hours alone and write, but love to get out and talk to people. The dark side is the loneliness and isolation.

  13. This topic fascinates me, not only from the standpoint of living as a textbook oldest child, but also have a mother who is the classic middle child, and a true middle child--Mother is the middle of nine, with both older and younger sisters and brothers both. Also, I have three daughters who were so interesting to watch, also because of birth order issues. And I've been married twice--both times to the youngest in their families. Which is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

    My oldest daughter is the most interesting. She was her dad's only child, but he remarried a woman who had an only child who happened to be a year younger than my daughter. I really think a lot of their struggles were about that issue. Then I had two more, much younger daughters, making her a true older sister, and her dad remarried his third wife, who had three kids by her first (four) marriages. The oldest of these was just a little older than my daughter, so she suddenly was the younger sister, too. I think Chris has had challenges, just trying to know her place in her own family, because of this history. She and her husband, an only child (and of much older parents), really live most like onlies. And they have one son, and that's all they'll ever have.

    My middle daughter, who is 14 years younger than the oldest, is also a textbook oldest kid. But the youngest is also an overachiever, so what does that say? She's the outlier, for sure. Maybe it's like Hallie said: they all grew up in different families. I know I had a scary, dramatic childhood, living with a volatile alcoholic father and ditsy mother who tried her best to hold us all together, but my ten years younger brother had a largely happy childhood, and he has never had the same experiences I and our siblings in between had.

  14. Joan, I think I've mentioned before that my husband is a fraternal twin. Boy, being a longtime observer of that family dynamic has been fascinating. At one time I was planning to write a nonfiction books about the dynamics of twins, along with a woman psychologist who was herself a same-sex fraternal twin, but that was long before the Internet, and it never got off the ground.

    Oddly enough, both of my parents--mother a middle, father a youngest--were opposite-sex fraternal twins, and neither of their twins survived. And yes, I was terrified that my last two pregnancies would be twins!

  15. Being an only child, I have alway been envious of everyone who has brothers and sisters. When I was little I would constantly badger my parents to please get me a twin sister. It took me years to understand their response that it was a little late for all that. (what a slow child I was, truly).

    This is a fascinating piece - thanks, everyone!

  16. Oldest of four here and yep - I check all the boxes. I was an only child for 4 years, they got 3 siblings (2 brothers and a sister) within four years. My sister is almost 8 years younger than me. So when I was a teenager and wanted to be left alone, she was four and followed me everywhere. I remember hiding by climbing a tree in this undeveloped lot behind the grocery store just so I could read in peace. She drew in my books and cut up my doll clothes. And when I'd complain, my mother would say, "She's the baby." Like that made it all better. NOT.

    My brothers were laws unto themselves and had their own hierarchy.

    And yes, nurture plays a huge part in things. Because I was so much older, my mother always assumed I would do things. Of course I'd babysit (never mind I'd made plans to go to the movies). I always got the family car - and of course I'd drop my sister off at dance lessons, or go to the grocery store for milk as long as I was out. Of course I'd be willing to do anything any adult asked of me, regardless of what it was. It led to an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.

    When I took the car, I had to say where I was going and when I'd be back. If plans changed, I was expected to call home and inform my parents (pre-cell phone days). And I'd better be home when I said I'd be home. After I was married, I remember calling my mother. She said she'd like to go do something, but she didn't have the car. "Where's the car?" I asked. "Oh, your brother has it," she said (the brother immediately after me in the order). "Well, where is he and when will he be home?" I asked. "Oh, I don't know," she said. "I think he went to Boston, then Albany, and then he was going to Washington. Or maybe he was going to Albany first. I can't remember. I'm not sure when he'll be home."

    Needless to say, I was speechless.

    I've got two kids and I've tried very hard (not that I've always been successful) NOT to repeat this pattern of "well, you're the oldest so of course you'll do this," while I give the youngest a pass. But my two are only two years apart, too.

  17. Lucy/Roberta I can really relate.
    I have an sister who is 5 1/2 years older than me. There were 2 miscarriages and then me. My parents had wanted 2 girls and 2 boys and were convinced that the 2 "lost" children were the boys.
    I got the message that I was supposed to have been a boy.

  18. Oh,Libby. That's haunting.

    Mary, yeah, SO true! My brother Chip was allowed to invite girlfriends to our vacation house, but we girls were not allowed to invite boyfriends.

    WHY? we'd whine.

    And my stepfather would say: It's up to the girl's father. If he says yes, then okay. But I say no!

  19. Denise Ann - I'm sorry for your loss. The death of a sibling reshapes the family. My mother, one of four girls and a boy, lost her next-oldest sister while she was still in her thirties. There was always a kind of hole in the family after that - the space where Patricia should have been.

  20. Eldest of four. But there is another component-- three of us are female, but #3 is male and hence thinks (as he was brought up to believe) that he walks on water, It wreaks havoc with the dynamic, because his elder sisters know he doesn't.

  21. Susan and all you other "onlies" take heart: I was listening to an interview with Joyce Carol Oates on Morning Edition and she described her childhood as solitary, spending most of her time alone. She said, "I think it's necessary to be alone, reading and letting your imagination develop, to become a writer."

    Since she had her first book published when she was 26 and won the National Book Award when she was only 31, I think she makes an excellent argument for the Only Child school of writing!

  22. My brother was 7 years older, my birth a medical shock. I'm spoiled rotten and -- as you all know around here, and as Hank once labeled me to a large audience -- a troublemaker. Every family -- even JRW -- has one.

  23. Denise, so sorry about your brothers. We all have to face this at some point, but earlier is harder!

    Yes, Libby know exactly what you're talking about. And my folks did get a boy, and I'm crazy about him, but still it shapes us...

    Julia, thanks for the story about Joyce carol Oates--so interesting!

    Paula, I would not have thought of you as an introvert:)

    And Jack, hmmm, yes that explains a lot!

    Love also the comments about where our spouses come from--and how that colors a relationship! thank you each one for sharing.

  24. This is a topic that has always interested me. I am the youngest, but by an 11-year margin, so I've always thought I grew up more like an only child, and show more of the traits usually associated with them. Then I gave birth to an only child, and spent most of his childhood feeling defensive about all the negative assumptions people would make about onlies.

    But I feel like Hallie really said a mouthful! All the birth-order dynamics go out the window if there are fundamental changes in the home. My husband is the eldest of eight children. Child number four was very strong willed and rebellious, and the parents disagreed about how to handle him. Though they stayed together until death, from what I understand, the marriage went from happy to icy in those few years and never recovered. And I can absolutely see the difference in the temperament and world view of the three older kids versus the four younger.

  25. I'm the older, married to an oldest, child of an older and an only. Over 4th of July we were teasing my daughter because of all of us--me, my husband, my son, his wife, their daughter, and my daughter's fiance, she was the only second child.

    I am textbook, bossy, good at school, etc. I do agree with what Hallie says about the state of the family playing a role along with birth order and I see it in my husband's family where six siblings are strung along 11 years. My parents were just out of college when I was born, and for me, their financial struggle was very real. My brother, only three years younger, was born into a more prosperous family, and expected the things teenagers in those familiess got--which horrified me!

  26. I see traits of oldest and middle in me. My younger brother is much more of a first child than I am. Of course, with seven years between us, that is supposed to make sure more like only children, right?

  27. I can relate to so many of the stories here. I'm the oldest of three girls. My sisters and I all seem to behave pretty typically as befits the birth order theory. I definitely was a perfectionist but I've striven (ironic I know) to relax that so I can enjoy my life and finish projects. I have many volunteer leadership positions on my resume and I can be bossy. My youngest sister is 11 years younger. She expects everyone else to look out for her while seeming kind of surprised that they still do. My middle sister acted as peacekeeper but mostly by telling everyone what she thought they wanted to hear rather than the truth, which is not characteristically middle or is it?! Hank is right about sisters not necessarily being friends. I am close with one sister and the not the other. I haven't seen the birth order article Hank mentioned but I do know that I generally get along well with first borns and when I ask other women where they are in the birth order I am rarely surprised.

  28. Middle of a pack of eight siblings--second daughter of a second daughter (just thought that had a nice ring to it!). Old enough from the younger three to feel like an 'oldest,' but oddly enough, always felt that I needed to look out for my older sister, too! Maybe just born an old soul.

    And Julia, you hit it right on the mark--we lost 'my' brother' (closest to me and not even a year older--we were both preemies)at 25. Life goes on, patching itself around the edges of that jagged hole, but never filling it.

  29. So many interesting variations, and yet the patterns do hold. (Debunked? I don't believe it!)

    I'm like Debs -- one brother, 9-1/2 years older, with a similar relationship, an only child with a sibling! In personality, I think I'm a classic caboose. So is my husband, with sibs 7 and 11 years older. Growing up, I did not know anyone in that situation -- our Catholic community was dominated by medium and large families, from 5-13 kids -- but as an adult, I've met quite a few cabooses!

    I've deliberately chosen main characters with different family structures, so that they aren't me, and so I can explore other scenarios. So I can live different lives through them.

  30. Interesting, Leslie! My mom always said that my brother started telling everyone what to do--adults not excepted--as soon as he could talk. Which was early and often:-) But growing up as a sort-of only, I've always been fascinated by big families. My husband is the oldest of five--I could write books about their sibling dynamics (and probably have in some form or another.)

    But then I gave Duncan and Gemma a sister each, and Doug and Melody are both onlies...

  31. I'm #7 of 10 and while my mom always claimed she only wanted 6, I was her favorite . . . really. The mix of siblings is 7 girls and 3 boys. Youngest and oldest are both girls and very much follow the oldest child traits: bossy, organized, high-achieving. I fall in the classic middle child: peacemaker, prefer behind the scenes, fairly easy-going. I have an "only" child and he, too, shares many of the same traits as "onlys."

    Enjoyed this post; brings back a lot of memories. And like so many others have commented, I still believe there's much truth behind the birth order patterns.


  32. Just want to add that everyone's family photos are adorable!

  33. Tricia, I hope your sibs aren't reading this...

  34. Karen: "My middle sister acted as peacekeeper but mostly by telling everyone what she thought they wanted to hear rather than the truth, which is not characteristically middle or is it?!" I think that's EXACTLY what middle sibs do. Because "truth" rarely keeps the peace.

  35. Oldest daughter (older half-brother) and my dad's oldest . . . so like Hank, a bit bossy. Bill didn't actually talk until he stayed with relatives when Dave was born; Mom said I talked for him, "Bill wants . . ." but Bill claims I just didn't give him a chance. Studious to a fault. My first B in college geology was traumatic, and Bill would tell teachers who asked, "Mary's brother?"
    "Don't get your hopes up." I've decided that all the mean teasing from my brothers was meant to toughen me up to be a teacher, no mere student could approach my brothers' ornery tricks.

  36. So fascinating to read everyone's take on this. I'm the oldest of six (seven, really, but that youngest one was given up for adoption, and I only saw him the day he was born). Classic oldest--with my parents, I was really the adult in the house, taking care of everyone, from an obscenely young age. My only sister is 6 1/2 years younger--two boys between us and the others after here--and still complains about how every teacher expected her to be like me. My mother never much cared for me but adored Becky, so she had a different childhood from mine--especially since the worst of the chaos was over before she could really remember things and our mother had remarried a nice man.

    I married two different youngest sons with no sisters. (ETA: at different times, I'm not a bigamist.) In each of their cases, their youngest older brothers were ten years older, so they were raised as a cross between youngest and only. Then, oddly enough, my two oldest (daughter and son) are a year apart (twins the hard way), but their younger brother didn't come along until they were 14 and 13. So that pattern of youngest/only son reiterated itself in our family.

    Loved all the photos!

  37. Denise Ann and FChurch, so sorry for your loss.

    Jack, you hit the nail on the head with your self-description.

    Actually, we found out Hubby has a half-brother in recent years (his father had a secret second family). They play games on Facebook, but don't really talk. Have never met in person. I don't even know what to make of it....

  38. Susan, my mom was an only child and she was adamant that none of us children should have just one child . . . she said she often felt alone because she had no sister or brother to connect with; I remember her sadness at being an only child.

    And, yes, the loss of a sibling creates an irreparable hole in the family. Denise Ann and FChurch, I'm so sorry for the loss of your brothers . . . .
    When the children are very young and they lose their brother or sister, the "new normal" plays out in a whole different dynamic, completely skewing the birth order thing; even as adults, their lives are tremendously affected by that loss.

  39. My John is the middle of 7, including three sisters. They had him well broken in before I came along LOL.

    Linda, you are so right about how different your experience of your family was from your sister's. I think it's tragic when parents make it clear one child is the favorite--hard for everyone really.

    Susan, that's an interesting twist. Your hub is taking his time absorbing that news, which seems reasonable!

  40. Susan, everything you said about being an only child rings true for me. But I also had the experience of gaining two step-sisters when I was 12, one older than me, one younger. From that, I learned to be innocuous. Like wallpaper, at least in that family situation. That enhanced my desire to dig into my own world of books ... and if it also helped me become a writer, then hooray!

  41. Such interesting stories today. My parents were both youngest children in their respective families. Birth order: Big Brother (who felt he was privileged and everything should land in his lap upon request); 3 years later, me (only redheaded girl in family, also tomboy);6 years later middle child sister; 3 years after her very confident sister; 3 years after her Little Brother mildly autistic. Big brother and I got along pretty well except of course when he insisted on having his way because he's the oldest. Really. I got frustrated because he was allowed to do things that I wasn't because he was a boy. Bleah. Years later I was frustrated because my younger sisters got to do things that I wasn't allowed to because our parents had relaxed a bit in their outlook. Really? We all got along despite the usual fighting amongst ourselves and teasing. We all banded together to help out when confident sister had her fourth kidney transplant back in 2006. She died a few months later from other issues; that was hard. And we got together again to help our parents move to a retirement community last year. Dad lasted 4 months there and died at 95. Happily Mom is still doing well. I pass on mystery books to her to read. And we have fun making snarky remarks about my brothers and sister, all in fun. No malice!
    The long and short of it is I'm #2 but have the responsibility gene in the family and got stuck with taking care of estates, trusts, family matters and so forth. My husband is in a similar boat. He was the oldest of 3 boys, one gone now, and is also stuck since his father died a few months ago, his mother has dementia and is now at a retirement community. I love my family, I love most of my husband's family, and we'll get through this. I just feel like pulling my hair out somethimes.

  42. First, I loved all the pictures and stories about the Reds' birth order. Siblings can be both a comfort and a pain, and I'm glad I've lived long enough to appreciate that you can love each other through thick and thin. But the drama of sibling relationships came as an adult. Growing up, I was so happy to be in a family with four children, and being the baby of the bunch and my older sister being ten years older, I got to enjoy an extended family of nieces and nephews while I was still at home.

    The birth order traits in my family were somewhat skewed. It was kind of like two sets of children. My older sister was ten years older, and my next to older sister was 8 1/2 years older. Then came my brother who was only three years older. There actually was a girl in-between my next to older sister and my brother, which would have made the line more continuous, but that child died in her first year.

    In many ways, I was the baby, as my older sister was very mothering when I was young. In fact, I was the cute little sister that her friends and my other sister's friends tolerated very well. My brother and I, being closest in age, grew up going to school together and going to many of the same events. My family was enthusiastic about basketball, especially when my brother came along and played. I was a cheerleader. So, there were lots of ballgames we shared. My older sisters weren't a part of that. My oldest sister was the beauty and her leadership was somewhat unduly limited (she later proved to be the most outspoken). My next to older sister had it the hardest, I guess, as she lived in Arretta's shadow, and Jerrye was a sickly child. My brother was the all-hailed male finally arriving in the family of girl births, and he had many expectations placed upon him sports-wise.

    Me. Here's where the birth order gets skewed. While I had benefits of being the baby, I also had the pressures of being the last child, the one who had to bring it academically. My mother had been a teacher (as well as played basketball), and she had hopes that one of her children would excel academically. The others hadn't really been pushed in that direction, but I was an eager learner and ripe for the pushing. Not that it was a bad thing. After all, it was my mother who nurtured my reading and gave me the gift to value reading time as productive and worthwhile. But, I was the over-achiever. Reading and writing early. Making straight A's. By the time I was in high school, if it wasn't an A, I might as well have failed in my eyes. Yes, I was the valedictorian. I went on to major in English in college and continued to treasure my A standing, but I grew weary of being perfect and didn't pursue more (until I was in my forties).

    Having older parents was a bit different, too. My mother was 43, almost 44 when I was born, and my father was 52, almost 53. My brother and I had the advantage of them mellowing a bit by the time we were teens. Of course, by today's standards, they were really strict still.

    All in all, I'm glad that I had a larger family in which to grow up. It sure made Christmas a lot of fun with all the packages. And, it's nice to have people who share many of the same memories of parents that you do. My older sister died ten years ago, and so it has become even more important to keep in touch, as you realize that you are the family left of that once load-in-the-stationwagon crew.

  43. Oh Pat, four kidney transplants--that's a real trial. Sorry for the loss of your sister. I hear you about pulling your hair out though, there are times that feel that way for sure.

    And Kathy, you bring up other good points about the age of your parents when you were born. It's interesting to me how many of you have siblings that are quite a few years apart in age. Instead of moving on to "enjoying" the perks of older kids, they went back to the beginning and started again.

  44. Gee, I don't think anyone in my family fits the stereotypes! I'm the oldest of five, and an extremely introverted bookish sort of person. Just let me BE with my books, and I'm happy. I'm also a perfectionist. (Actually, I think the youngest is the only one who isn't.) All the others are far more outgoing than I am. I'm not the bossy type at all; some, not all, of my siblings can be bossy. The youngest got away with murder growing up(What's a curfew??) while the rest of us had to obey ALL the rules. We still joke about that.

  45. These are great pictures of you as children. I enjoyed this piece quite a lot.

    Hallie, it's amazing how much you look like your adult self in your little girl photo.


  46. That's interesting Deb R! How much older are you than the next sibs? I think it's pretty common for the kids down the line to get away with more. Either the parents are tired or they've decided some rules just don't matter as much.

  47. thanks Reine, and thanks for all the comments! Hallie has hardly aged a day, right?

  48. Hardly aged a day!

    And yes, the photos are wonderful.

    I also have four step-siblings,all younger than I am, and with them, I'm the complete outsider. (They are all musical, artists, dancers, singers. I cannot even sing a song that is recognizable to anyone but me.) In fact, in total, I have one full sister, three half brothers, and four half-sisters. Yeesh.

    Such fun hear your stories, dear reds!

  49. Jack, of COURSE I'm right. And why ? Because I am the…


  50. Lucy/Roberta,

    I was 7 and a half when the fifth was born, so we're fairly close in age from child number one to child number five. (#5 never met a rule she didn't want to break; well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that she interpreted the rules differently!) As a youngster I wanted to be sort of a second mother to her, and she always resisted that. She now has significant cognitive impairment from MS, as well as severe physical disability, and I guess I actually HAVE turned into a mother figure for her. She's in a nursing home and I often find myself in the position of advocating for her. I can tease her now about some of the crazy things she did growing up. When we were kids, that would have offended her!

  51. I don't know how I managed it, once again, to delete a set of comments. I think I was trying to add the comment about how much I enjoyed the photos in today's blog. I seem to have managed that okay! I'll try not to obsess over it. But I do obsess so well!

    Lucy and Reds, I wish I could comment more frequently, but things are a bit busy at home right now. I am here, though. And I love you all!

    xo R

  52. Oh Deb, my gosh, that's a tough situation. Isn't it lucky that she has you, and lucky you can about things together.

    Reine we love you too, and imagine you here every day even if we don't see the words!

    Hank, one day we are going to do the Jungle Red sisterhood blog, and then we'll see who's in charge LOL

  53. Such a dear thing to say, Roberta. Thank you.