If you ask any older or younger sibling to define the role of the middle child, they will be so wrong. So wrong. They’ll say stuff like, “great mediator” or “reaps the benefits of being both older and younger than someone.” They’ll cast their eyes down momentarily and say, “Sometimes gets a little lost in the shuffle,” like acknowledging my pain is enough to make it go away. The tone is sympathetic, but the cold, dead eyes tell the true story.
Indisputably, being the youngest is ideal. You’re Donald Trump, saying and doing what you want, when you want. Maybe it’s dramatic or inflammatory or wrong, but your parents are tired and you know they’ll let it slide. You’ve bided your time, watching those before you toe the line, push the limits. But now that it’s your turn, frankly, the limit does not exist. You have no long-term plan for this rebellion and haven’t really figured out what’s going to happen if you get your way. But be sure of one thing: you will get your way. Or you’ll wreck everything in your path.
Being the oldest ain’t bad either. Barack Obama is definitely an oldest child, at least for the sake of this metaphor. You get a lot of credit for being the first — the first to go to a sleepover, the first to go to college, the first black president. There are a ton of barriers you run into and many hoops your parents make you jump through, but after all is said and done, you were first. There’s pressure that comes with that responsibility, and when you find out the groundwork you laid is going to end up benefitting Donald Trump, sure, you’ll be angry. But then you’ll remember: you got to drive the car before it was totaled by running into a pole full-speed. And you will always shine brighter for being the one that didn’t run the car into a pole full-speed.
Stuck somewhere between news-making and newsworthy comes the middle child, the Marco Rubios of the world. I say this without a hint of political affiliation: Marco Rubio is a middle child, and even as a middle child, that makes me not want to vote for him.
There are some tell-tale signs. He repeats himself, over and over again, assuming no one heard his great one-liner. Rubes, I’ve been there, and I have to tell you: they heard what you said. They just didn’t care. Repeating it again and again isn’t suddenly going to make a dent. I’ll still try it at Thanksgiving this year, but that’s because my story is actually really great and I’m sure everyone just missed it the first time.
No one really notices anything he does until one time he makes a bold fashion choice. For Marco, it was the high-heeled boots. For me, it was the asymmetrical pixie cut. I bet he was asking around to all his friends, trying to get a read on whether the boots were in. I bet they all blew him off and were like, “yeah, totally, go for it” while continuing to watch re-runs of Friends. And then when he showed up wearing them, everyone made fun of him! But they were the ones who suggested the boots so I guess the joke’s on them!
They were the ones who suggested the boots, so I guess the joke’s on them! Do you see how the joke’s on them? Do you want me to explain how it’s their fault, the boots, how the boots are the fault of his friends? Did you hear me?
But most of all, in Marco Rubio, I see the truest sign of a middle child: when given the chance to seize power, when given an inch of an opportunity to rise out of the great, gray middle-distance, he will.
We will. We will do whatever it takes. We will doom our families, ruin our friends and make everyone regret choosing a name for you that starts with a different letter than your siblings.
Like all good middle children, Marco is mayor of Compromise Island. He’ll tell you he wants immigration reform, speak to you in that sweet, seductive Spanish and high-five those DREAMers like he’s on team Oldest Child, team Barack Obama.
And then he’ll sidle up to the youngest children, talking border fences and stolen jobs and the collapse of the American Dream. How do we know Obama wasn’t born in Cuba, he whispers, burying his own birth certificate in a pile of rubble that was once a bank.
Once he has both sides eating out of the palm of his hand, he’ll clap those hands together, smashing their heads against each other. He’ll laugh that laugh that makes you think you should laugh too, because otherwise he’ll call you a nerd, and those words hurt. And then when Mom comes in because his stupid siblings started crying, Marco’ll act like they started it, and somehow sneak off without punishment.
Rubio will play it cool, play it smooth, convince everyone he’s on Team Whoever Is Big At The Moment. But really, he’s on Team Marco. He’ll willingly convince anyone who wants to be on Team Marco that they are welcome on Team Marco. But Team Marco has one member, the only member it needs: Marco.
Marco will win, or he will blame the system for his loss. That’s what middle children do, and we do it exceptionally well. I would have excelled in school if anyone cared even a little about me when I was growing up. I would be better at sports if I didn’t have to first compete with my siblings for attention. I wouldn’t have spent three years growing out a pixie cut if someone had raised a red flag at the time.
And then he will take the vice-presidency, because it’s all the fame with none of the responsibility. It’s the perfect compromise, and you know how much we love those.
Not sure I agree with everything, as a quintessential middle child myself. But you got the essence of it. Slide through just below the surface and pretty much get what you want.
I did, however, find myself in that stereotypical role of the great pleaser more than the cunning self-promoter.
Great piece EKlib!