My second child baffled me from the very beginning. She was two weeks early, sickly, and small. She weighed a mere five pounds when I brought her home. My first child had weighed over nine pounds and I was a hefty eleven pounds at birth. All my experience with siblings and cousins and neighborhood children had been with babies over seven pounds. I remember thinking, “What if I hurt her?” She seemed like a tiny doll. That’s when I made my first mistake.
I should take a moment to explain something very basic. I’m a first child. My husband is a first child. My only experience was in raising a first child. The characteristics of a first child are extremely different from other birth orders. First children are more likely to be organized, on time, controlling, demanding, independent, and gregarious. These things I knew how to handle. So…
I had searched through numerous name books and finally settled upon what I thought was a unique name- Katrina. Our heritage is Dutch and her big sister’s name was Karen, so it seemed perfect. However, when I saw how tiny and cute she was I decided to call her “Tina”. I even found an adorable children’s book called “Tina’s Truck.” Well, little did I know that my quiet, shy, second child would have her own ideas. As soon as she was old enough to express her opinions she made it very clear that her name was NOT, and never would be, Tina. We’ve called her Katrina ever since.
At first she didn’t express her opinions very often. In fact, I took her back to the doctor the second week because she wouldn’t cry. She just mewed like a little kitten. The doctor said I was “anticipating her needs” and I needed to give her a little more time to get worked up about things. She needed to cry to develop her lungs. So I learned to ignore her, just a bit, until she cried. In a few weeks she really got the hang of it and we no longer had to worry about her lungs!
However, for the first few years we did worry about her speech. Katrina hardly spoke at all. She followed her sister around and before she had a chance to request anything Karen did it for her. She was also shy around strangers. She hardly raised her voice in a crowd. We had her tested to see if she was hearing impaired. No. The doctor said her problem was that we, her parents and her sister, were merely “anticipating her needs”. There was that phrase again! We started paying attention to how often we gave her things before she asked for them. We made Karen stop talking for her. Finally Katrina started talking more. And more. And more. Imagine how surprised we were when as a teenager she became California’s Lincoln-Douglas debate champion!
I suppose that being a second, and later a middle child, made Katrina feel less special at times. We did some of the typical things parents do- fewer photos, less “wow” at every accomplishment, more group activities. Let’s face it, by the time the second and third children come along parents are older, wiser, and very tired. But I think she had more freedom than her older sister. I knew eating dirt wouldn’t kill her. I was less apt to worry about messy activities like painting and play dough. I let her stay with friends and relatives and play with other children.
Over the years Katrina has continued to baffle me at times. She has been more courageous and more creative than I would have ever dared. I’ve read that the middle child takes risks in order to create their own identity, apart from the older sibling. She must have read the same book! She has chosen her own path and been less rigid about adhering to the conventions of life that are so important to first children. I don’t think she’s ever been on time in her life and it doesn’t seem to bother her. She can be organized, but she doesn’t feel a compulsion to have every aspect of her life in rigid control. She is flexible, sociable, and sensitive. Because she was squeezed in between an older sister and a younger brother she learned to be a great negotiator, a trait that has served her well in her business career!
No, I don’t always understand my middle child, but I love her anyway. The best way to start a new year is with a new child, and 35 years ago I began the new year with Katrina. Today is her birthday and I wish her joy, peace, and prosperity. She deserves all three.