My friend Jack Mingo says that writers are middle children who just want to speak uninterrupted. He may be right. I’m a middle child. Can’t you tell?
I’m one of five children. Our mom developed a color code to keep us organized, and that was the color of your beach towel, your swim bag, your cardigan, your home-sewn dress. My elder sister was blue; my younger sister was purple. I was red. (I still am.) My brothers were both green, or else one was green and one was light blue. But my mom had it down, and that’s all that mattered.
We lived in three- and four-bedroom homes, and if anyone got his own room, it was our eldest brother. Later, after George left for the Army and college, little Brian got his own room. But as the middle girl, I either had an elder, a younger, or both sisters in with me. We knew families in the neighborhood who had more kids (the Catholic Buckleys, the Mormon Sorensens; my mom’s best friend always joked that my parents weren’t Catholic, they were careless), so who could complain? We had enough to eat; we had all our needs met.
But whether it was a lap, a hand to hold crossing the street, or time alone with a parent, there wasn’t enough for all of us. And privacy? What was that? With siblings who were either athletic or super-academic, there was competition all around me. There was scrapping, bickering, torture, too. Dogpile? Why not?
But, as it happens, I’m sensitive. I don’t like competition. I like to be quiet and alone.
Today, I have social anxiety that causes me to break out in hives and have the shakes before I speak to a group. I almost always balk at going out to parties or having people over. I’m exhausted by too much noise, sound or conversation. I don’t like to talk on the phone. I much prefer interacting through the computer. Social media is awesome – I get to see lots of people while sitting home alone in quietude. It’s the perfect balance for me – alone, but not lonely at all.
I can see a direct link between a mom with a lap full of younger siblings, a busy dad working two jobs to make ends meet, and the whirl of a full house around me, to the dim space under the kitchen desk where I hid to read. And when the house was quiet when the other kids went out to play, I knew the script already, and played elaborate games happily by myself. Dolls took on adventures that I imagined; my stuffed animals came to life in their own tales. And it wasn’t long before stories crept from my pencil.
With less cacophony, I wouldn’t have had to find a quiet place to read and write. With more attention – more focus on me in a smaller family – I might have already said all the things I still have yet to say.