I once read a book about birth order and how it affects an individual’s personality. Since I am a middle child, I was interested in seeing what this book had to say about me. After reading several chapters devoted to the firstborn, I eagerly turned the page, only to be confronted with a lone chapter all of one sentence long. It essentially said that since middle children are ignored, the author was going to ignore them too—which should of course be fine with us because we’re used to it.
My parents had three girls and then a boy. I was the middle girl, and I have to admit being born in that order was a good way to get ignored. I wasn’t the oldest, I wasn’t the youngest girl, and I wasn’t a boy. Nothing special about me at all.
The worst of it was the one day of the year that’s supposed to be your day: your birthday. It’s like getting a Christmas all for yourself.
Or at least it’s supposed to be.
Not only did I have the misfortune to be born in the middle, I happened to come at the wrong time of year. My older sister’s birthday was in November. Then came Christmas. My younger siblings both had their birthdays in January, and my parents’ fell in February.
And, as far as everybody was concerned, that ended the gift-giving season. The wrapping paper and cards were packed away, and a sigh of relief was breathed at the idea of not having to shop for any more gifts as we ventured into Lent.
But after that, like a lone star flung off from a galaxy, my birthday came near the end of April.
Getting your birthday ignored isn’t such a big deal when you’re an adult. But when you’re a kid, it’s almost as if you have been forgotten.
Take, for example, the day I turned eight. This was one birthday I was so looking forward to because it was going to be super special. My birthday was falling on Easter that year!
Wow! A double whammy! Birthday cake and chocolate bunny! Gifts and an Easter basket! I was so excited when I woke up that morning.
Sure enough, there was an Easter basket full of goodies. In addition, we each got a toy stuffed rabbit. Because it was my birthday, my mother said, I got the bunny that was a bit bigger than the rest.
That was it. No cake adorned with candles to blow out. No ice cream. No other presents. No cards. Nobody even said “Happy birthday.”
There’s an old black and white photo of me holding the bunny and looking like I’m ready to burst into tears. I remember my parents were upset with me because I was having trouble smiling for the camera.
After that, I began to have a lot of sympathy for kids whose birthdays fall on holidays, especially Christmas. And, most especially of all, I began to have sympathy for the one Kid Who is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
I’m so glad December 25 is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church. We should be giving reverence to the Person whose birthday we’re celebrating. I can’t understand why some Protestant churches are closed that day, even if they claim it’s so their members can spend more time with their families. Believe me, I spent plenty of time with my family that Easter day, but so little of it (just the toy bunny being biggest) was about the birthday girl, and it was a painful loss.
The next year my parents announced that the two of them would be vacationing in Mexico that week. Only when I began sobbing uncontrollably did they decide to change their plans.
Well, at least we always did go to Mass on Christmas.
And, in case you’re wondering, I still have the stuffed bunny. It’s the only toy from my childhood that I still have.