Sometimes, being the youngest isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
Older siblings will disagree with me. Whatever – the grass is always greener. I was the youngest sibling for many years, (until my mom’s remarriage gave me a bouncing nine year-old stepbrother], and I remember all too well what it felt like.
You get a bad rap for being too sensitive and a “crybaby” because you’re trying to fit in with older kids. You don’t get to make mistakes or stupid jokes in private or with same-age friends who won’t sell you out. Instead, you have a constant boss, critic, and informant with you – when they aren’t trying to get rid of you. You always have to sit in the backseat of the car. You are the last to get a say in what to do, and often overruled. In fact, you often have to get to the point of frustration before you’re even heard since you have someone older often speaking for or over you. It’s a little like being a second-class citizen with an extremely temperamental upper class. You have your best friends and worst enemies a wall away at all times, except when they’re leaving to go do something you’re too “little” to do yet.
You spend a lot of time watching your older brothers and sisters leave. It leaves its own special mark. Not only do you feel like you’re missing out, but you miss THEM. You are a moon without its planet(s). Your center of gravity is gone, leaving you aimless.
I see it being played out even now with my niece and two nephews. Ben, the youngest, is a charming, witty, kind kid who loves nothing more than making sure everyone is happy - the kind of kid who doesn't like competition nearly as much as being a part of a team. He sings while he eats his breakfast in the morning. He gives drive-by hugs. He looks up to his older brother and sister with admiration and frequently follows their lead just because he knows they’ll have good ideas and be a lot of fun. He has friends of his own, but his most frequent partner-in-crime is his older brother, Dillon.
Ben has spent many a year watching his older brother and sister leave the nest and go do things that he’s been told he’s too little to do – trips, theatrical experiences, school – he’s watched them leap and bound away from him and come back with fabulous stories of things he was no part of.
This year, his older sister will be starting high school, and his older brother will begin middle school. Ben will be attending a school without one of his siblings somewhere in it for the very first time. Worse, the bedroom in the basement was finally finished and his older sister moved down there. The larger blow being that his older brother, with whom he shared a room all of his life, has now moved into her vacated bedroom, leaving Ben in the old room with an empty space that his brother used to occupy. Yes, these are just examples of life moving on, progressing forward, growing up. Yet, to be the youngest means you are never the planet, inhabited, exciting – you are always the moon.
Finally, this week, Ben got to be the planet.
He and his father went on a Cub Scout camping trip for four days this last weekend. For the first time, Ben was the one to leave and go into the world, leaving his brother and sister behind. He did it with great excitement combined with trepidation. He knew he’d be safe, but to be out in the wide world without that constant stream of feedback, advice, and experience of his siblings is nothing to sneeze at.
For four days, his older brother and sister found themselves without their moon, and that was the most telling of all. His older brother became clingy to his older sister, both of them knocking around the house a little lost. I took them to a couple of movies that I thought they could enjoy but Ben wouldn’t miss. No lie, their reviews of each film centered on whether or not Ben would have enjoyed them.
The day Ben was to return, both Adri and Dillon made it clear that we couldn’t leave the house, because, “Ben might come home early.” When Ben finally arrived home, his brother and sister met him in the driveway, ready to carry his equipment inside for him. They suddenly found purpose again, taking charge of getting his bags unpacked, his person checked for ticks, and planning the rest of their day around what he might like to do. They couldn’t wait to find out about his trip and listen to his stories – they had a million questions for him. They filled him in on the things at home that they thought he’d miss, and what he thought about each thing. I watched them find a million different ways to touch him to make sure he really was there again. His older sister even stopped in the middle of a parking lot just to hug him and tell him, “I really, really missed you, Ben.”
For once, they spent the day revolving around him, and while he’ll go back to being the moon again tomorrow, he has finally experienced what it is like to be the center of gravity.