A Letter to my Middle Child

My Dearest Paxton:

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I grew up in a “rich man’s family,” as it’s called: one daughter and one son. I am older than my brother, Uncle Patchy, by four years and enjoyed the privileges of being the first born and of being female. I set the tone for teachers’ expectations of Wrede family kids. I could play Mommy to my brother and get away with–if only in my mind–telling him what to do or telling on him to Nanny and Poppop. I set the play date schedule and extracurricular/athletic activity interests of the family. I felt great power. Uncle Patchy also felt his own sense of power. He could play the “little brother card” and tell Nanny and Poppop I was picking on him. He could often experience freedoms–later curfews or less questioning of his whereabouts–because I had already negotiated our parents through it all. In my opinion, he could get away with a lot more because he was the “baby.” Plus, he had his four years of high school with his sister away at college and was able to take all the attention he wanted. We each felt the benefits of our genealogy.

You, my blonde and silly and wise and emotional middle man, don’t get those automatic rights of passage. Kayden is the oldest, the boss, and the only girl. She will leave the first impression on teachers and micromanage your play and get the first choice for many things. Kellen is the baby, the coddled one, the one who will probably experience few rules and restraints. You are supposed to be the proverbial Middle Child: the neglected one, the mischievous one, the bad egg.

I am here to tell you that you are not. You are our light, our core.

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When you grow up, you may or may not remember the summer Mommy was pregnant with Kellen. You may or may not recall the stress of his CCAM diagnosis and the weight of his surgery. I know I’ll remember it all. What I will truly reflect on, though, even years from now, is how you guided me through the emotions and baggage and worry without even realizing it. At 2 1/2 years old, your intuition took over. You frequently walked over and took my hand as I stood at the sink, mulling over the doctor’s latest information. You cuddled up to me on the couch, silently and still fixated on an episode of Odd Squad, when you heard my breathing get heavy or noticed a tissue in my hand. You made me laugh with a silly facial expression or a knock knock joke of your own creation (Knock knock. Who’s there? Joseph. Joseph who? I love cereal!) when I would get lost in my own thoughts again. You made me present, brought me back to reality.

You smiled. Always. Every day. Without reservation. That smile mended the broken heart I was fighting against. You saved me. Throughout that entire process, I could count on you to keep me afloat. That is a hefty burden to put on a toddler, so know it was not something I expected of you nor demanded of you. But you gave selflessly–whether consciously or subconsciously.

Your sister is remarkable. She is brilliant and capable and athletic and beautiful and I love her more than words. But she spent this summer out of her normal school routine. Take Sissy out of her routine and you create a powder keg. Kayden needs time and space to be creative, but she needs to know that time and space exists in a predictable, scheduled way. A summer of countless doctor’s appointments and play dates and shore trips and a Disney vacation and pool visits and you name it left her feeling overwhelmed and unsure of when her next opportunity to play school would come. This overwhelmed her and drained me. We–maybe it is the cliche emotional makeup of females–felt stress in the summer’s randomness and the unknown. You embraced it.

You live optimistically. You love life’s variety. Yes, you have tantrums and breakdowns. You are a preschooler; those are unavoidable. Your sadness arises from some physiological need not being met: you are hungry, you are tired, you are hurt, either physically or emotionally. You feel and take offense, but you care and give. You are the most genuine soul I’ve ever known. Daddy and I may joke to you that you wear your heart on your sleeve, but be assured that is a trait you possess that we will never truly take lightly nor will we take it for granted. We understand that this capacity to feel will make life heavy at times, and we will be here to guide you or hold your hand or smile in your direction.

We also know this means, conversely, that you will celebrate every small win and every tiny joy. I made you a frozen English muffin for breakfast the other morning when we were rushing out the door and you told me I was the best mommy ever. Whenever Daddy makes your favorite shrimp for dinner, you remind him after every bite that it is “mmm, MMM! Delicious!”. You often ask your babysitter for an extra snack to bring home to Kayden when she is at school and you thank her with real, grateful hugs when she relents. You cheerfully yell the name of anyone who comes to visit and praise the dogs when they come in from doing their business. If you feel it, we know it–the good and the bad. And when we feel it, and you sense it and act in a way that makes our feelings valid and supported. Kayden is intuitive, too, in that she thinks situations through and has this endless desire to know all aspects of a situation, even aspects beyond her years. You have an endless capacity to feel alongside a person, to climb into another’s heart. I cannot wait to see how this ability of yours evolves as you mature and grow and engage with more and more of life’s “stuff,” and though I know this will be difficult to navigate at times, I pray you remain genuine through it all. Never be too proud of your emotions, happy or sad. Feel them. Live by example. Don’t worry about the world’s definition of being tough or being a man or being soft. You are all of the above at once. How special is that?

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This past Sunday night, the only beings who slept for more than a handful of hours uninterrupted were our two dogs. Your baby brother had a bad cold and a fever from teething and was up nearly every hour. Your sister had a cough and a tummy ache and the nerves of her first standardized test (in kindergarten! More of my feelings on this at another time!) keeping her awake from 12-2 am. Daddy and I were up and about for hours changing sheets from baby spit up and Kayden’s night sweats and calming nerves and cries when, at some point in the melee, we heard you walking around your room. When I peeked in and found you reaching for a shirt in your closet, I asked what you were up to. “I’m getting dressed,” you stated with the matter-of-factness of a man 20 times your age. “You know, for school. Sissy’s not in here so it must be morning.” Bless your heart. Bless your “let me be of little nuisance” mentality. Bless your intuition that taking care of yourself in that moment–even though it was hours before you needed to and something we would never ask of a now 3 year old–would just help. Daddy got you back to bed and I snuck in an kissed you after Kellen finally settled and you know what we both said as we closed your door, 45 minutes apart? Thank you.

That very same morning, but when we actually needed to be awake and getting ready for school, I skipped my morning workout, hit snooze nearly a dozen times, and took a groggy, rushed shower at the latest possible time. When I turned off the water, I was startled into a smile, surprised to hear you singing in your room. You had been awake during the night shift with the rest of us and sleep is so very essential to you. Yet here you were, sitting on your bed singing, “it’s morning! Good morning! It’s morning!” in a tune I didn’t recognize and in a voice so full of vigor and sweetness.image You did it again: turned my mood in a way only you can.

When the dust of the morning settled and everyone had shoveled down some sort of breakfast and was dressed and combed and jacketed to get the heck out to school, Daddy scruffed your fluffy blonde hair and said, “Bud, you get us through.” You really do.

You are not the middle child. You are the center, the heartbeat. You are the rock that grounds us all. Don’t ever forget that. I know I won’t.

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