Re-posted for The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Baby (February 24, 2017).
I am the youngest of three children. That’s right, I’m the “baby” as my mother would tell people well into my adult years. Stereotyped by older siblings as spoiled and immature, there are definitely perks to being the youngest. Our parents have been “broken in” by the first few kids. By the time we come along, they have seen it all and their energy has been diminished if not depleted entirely. This can be a good thing, especially if one of your older siblings had delinquent tendencies – you are allowed to skate by with moderately good behavior.
Before you get too envious of us, you should know that it is not all daisies and rainbows. On the contrary, the harassment we endured made us dream of having a baby brother or sister to take the brunt of the sibling tyranny, or better yet, the imagined paradise of only childhood.
Decades later, you can still see remnants of our trauma. Here are five ways that you can tell that someone is the youngest child.
- We flinch. A lot.
My brother is nearly five years older than me, so he had a distinct physical advantage over me. I talked about some of his tormenting in this post. He specialized in Indian burns (sorry – still haven’t found the politically correct term for these), and grabbing my wrists to slap me with my own hands. There was also a period of time when he would wait in the dark at the top of the stairs around bedtime so he could gleefully jump out and scare the bejesus out of me.
My husband is also the youngest in his family. He grew up with an older brother and sister in a farmhouse at the end of a long, graveled lane. When the school bus would drop them off, my dear brother-in-law (who, it is important to note, was a very talented baseball pitcher) would pick up a handful of rocks and menacingly say one word… “Run.” Mr. Maid would dash up the lane as his brother would throw the rocks, aiming for his head.Despite the emotional (and sometimes physical) scars left by all this abuse, there is an upside. We may be somewhat jumpy, but we’ve developed cat-like reflexes and it is nearly impossible to sneak up on us. We’ve learned to be suspicious and do not fall for the “hey, there’s something on your shirt” trick.
- We are used to uncomfortable situations.
As the littlest child of the bunch, we are often relegated to the most awkward, least comfortable place to sleep or sit. Whenever my grandparents would visit, I was the one to get kicked out of my room to sleep on the floor in my sister’s room or on an old army cot in the basement.If my brother and sister wanted to sprawl out on the couch to watch TV, I was the one who would have to move. Not only would I be evicted to the floor or the saggy chair with the bad view of the TV, I was also forced into service as the human remote control. Some of you younger folks have no recollection of a time when you actually had to get up and go to the TV to change the channel. It was a very happy day for me when we got our first TV that had a “clicker.”
In the car, it was a no-brainer. I got the middle of the back seat of the station wagon, with my feet up on the hump.
In my years of commuting in Chicago, these experiences helped me endure being crammed onto crowded city buses and trains. I also think that if I’m ever kidnapped, I’d probably do just fine in the trunk of a car, so it’s all good.
- We can keep a secret.
My family teases each other a lot. While I feel I can match wits with them and dish it out as well as taking it, it was not always so. This was particularly true for both me and Mr. Maid regarding our adolescent love lives. If I liked a boy, I would NEVER let anyone at home know about it. I learned this in first grade when David P. ran up to me at school while I was standing in the bus line, kissed me, and ran off again. I innocently said something about it at dinner that night. My brother and David’s older brother teased us about it mercilessly. David didn’t speak to me again until high school and I can’t say I blame him.Mr. Maid’s mother was the culprit in his family. She would tease him about various “girlfriends” during grade school. Honestly, with that kind of history, it’s a wonder that either of us ever formed any relationships at all.
I’m not sure that the teasing succeeded in giving me a thick skin. I am still fairly sensitive and get my feelings hurt easily. It did teach me how to keep a secret though. My friends know that if they tell me something in confidence, it will go no further. And on the flip-side of the secret keeping, it taught us that our siblings’ secrets were valuable. My husband and I agree that we learned the fine art of blackmail. As we got older, we realized that the simple words “I’ll tell Mom and Dad about…” could get us far.
- We were part of the “Reuse-Recycle-Repurpose” movement before it was a thing.
Clothes, toys, bikes, you name it – if you were the youngest you got hand-me-downs. I blame hand-me-down clothes for my lack of fashion sense as an adult. While everyone else in 4th grade was wearing their bellbottom hip-huggers, nothing screamed “nerd” like my knee length skirt and peter pan collared blouse.You have to remember that these were the days before having your own look was encouraged. I didn’t want to be unique – I wanted to look like everyone else! My parents didn’t see what the problem was and couldn’t understand why I’d want to dress like “those hippies” anyway (see #5 below for more on this.)
To this day I still always seem to be one step behind the latest trend, so I’m not sure there was a benefit to wearing hand-me-downs. In college, when it was popular to hit up the thrift stores for funky retro pieces, I did know how to spot some gems. It also gave me a closet full of material for potential Halloween costumes.
- Our parents weren’t cool.
When you’re the youngest, your parents are older than many of your friends’ parents unless they got a really early start. In my case, I thought they were ancient. Mom and Dad were 31 and 32 when I was born, which isn’t terribly old, but they definitely acted more conservative and mature than some other parents.Dad wore a suit and tie to work. Mom only wore makeup when she went out and as a stay-at-home-mom dressed simply. They drove a station wagon and listened to “old people” music, i.e. pre-rock and roll crooners and big bands. They had the occasional party, with mostly family and a few close friends.
Then there were my friend Cindy’s parents. I’m guessing they must have been in their mid-twenties when my parents were pushing 40. Her dad had long sideburns and tinkered with his purple dune buggy in the garage. I never saw her mom without full makeup, including false eyelashes. She wore her platinum blonde hair in a tall beehive and sunbathed in her bikini. They took disco dancing lessons and had pool parties. They told us to call them (gasp!) Jack and Charlene. Why, oh why couldn’t my parents be that hip?!
Part of growing up is wishing that things were different – that we were different. I joke about my family, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. We love each other and have wonderful memories that never fail to make us laugh. I really don’t mind that I’m the youngest, after all, now that we’re grown up, I can tease my sister and brother about how ancient and decrepit they are.
I can get away with it – I’m the baby!