This is my middlest middle child on the first day of school.
“Who is that girl? She has a lovely singing voice!” I whisper to my husband as we sit in the darkened auditorium watching a local theater production of “Annie” featuring kids from our church and the neighborhood.
I’m referring to the girl on stage: she’s about ten, with glasses, looks like a tiny librarian, and is holding the audience transfixed with her sweet, tremulous solo.
“That’s our daughter,” he whispers back.
“Are you sure? That doesn’t look like Lilly.”
“Not Lilly, the other one. I think her name is Grace,” he says.
“Oh, yes, Grace. I don’t really know much about her.”
Well, who can blame me? Grace is a middle child and as all parents (and all middle children) know too well, they can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. I’m a middle child myself but since I came five years after my brother I wasn’t as squeezed as some middle children. But Grace—well there’s no way to put a good spin on it. She is stuck between two siblings who could suck the life out of a room let alone a quiet, introverted middle child.
The older sibling is her brother, “Atticus-the–wonder-boy”, who is just a year ahead of her in school. He is blessed with both brains and a heart of gold. He can hold an intelligent, friendly conversation with anyone from the grocery clerk to his great-grandmother. He is the kind of kid elderly neighbors, teachers, and ministers love. When I see teachers who have had both Atticus and Grace in class they inevitably say, “Tell Atticus I said hi,” and when I add, helpfully, “And Grace too?” they squint a moment, trying to figure out who I’m talking about then finally say hesitantly, “Oh, yes, and Grace.”
Grace’s other sibling is “Lilly-the-hilarious-baby-of-the-family”. She is funny. Not just “kids-say-the-darndest things” funny but “pitch-perfect delivery” funny. Once, when she had just turned four, I was admonishing her to be more grown-up as she was throwing a tantrum in the car on the way to Starbucks for my usual. She said, “Mom, look at me. How grown up can I be? I’m sitting in a baby seat and I don’t even know what a latte is.”
To make things worse for Grace, Lilly is also a cancer survivor. Yes, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a bigger attention-stealer than getting the big “C” at the age of 3. Poor Grace, at one point during the ordeal, when Lilly was receiving yet another package of toys from well-meaning friends, Grace blurted out, “No fair, I want to get cancer too!”
That’s Grace in a nutshell—so squeezed between a math genius with the gift of gab and a stand-up comic cancer survivor that she’d risk a life-threatening disease to get a little attention. She might just be the “middlest middle child of all time”.It’s not that Grace doesn’t have many wonderful attributes too—she does—it’s just that they aren’t of the attention-getting variety. At the age of eleven, she can bake homemade bread from scratch, sew doll clothes without a pattern, and create art projects from nothing at a moment’s notice. She is so good at taking care of her little sister that Lilly often calls her “Mom” accidentally. Her talents are many but they don’t often bring her the attention she’d like or the attention every child deserves—she’s just too normal for that.
At the end of third grade when the school sent the paperwork home about the gifted program, (they send it home with everyone because all the children in my town are gifted, just ask their parents, which makes it rather awkward for the three of us with non-gifted children) I looked at it and set it aside casually saying, “Oh, we don’t need to fill this out.”
“But you filled it out for Atticus,” she pointed out. (She’s not gifted, but she’s not stupid, either.)
“Yes, well, it’s for that gifted crap,” I said, waving a dismissive hand.
“Oh,” she said quietly thinking about that, “You’re right, I don’t need that, I’m normal,” she said.
Amen to that. The world could use a little more normal—but normal does not get you noticed. For years I’ve worried about this fact. I mean we, her parents and family have always thought she’s fabulous but we’re aware she was often overlooked by the outside world. She has had to remain in the shadows of her more noticeable siblings.
All that changed, that night in the auditorium, when she took the stage. I literally did not know she could sing. Hell, she’s so soft-spoken, I barely know what her speaking voice sounds like. She walked out on stage and opened her mouth to sing and I had butterflies in my stomach (as all mothers do when their children perform) and I was a little worried about how this could turn out. But out came the clear, sweet tones of a very talented little girl.
A girl with a gift! I could not have been more delighted.Grace’s singing has turned out to be a true gift: unexpected, unasked for, and exactly what she needed. It has opened up doors to performing and applause. It is the perfect gift for all middle children and affords her the attention she craves and deserves. I wish I had thought to give it to her; I’m grateful someone did.Now when she takes the stage and starts to sing I am no longer surprised, but I continue to be delighted. The other two kids (what are their names?) sing too, but it isn’t the same thing, those two are always on stage. The true miracle is Grace, the quiet, unassuming, middlest of all middle children, singing like a nightingale, finally in the spotlight.Sing on sweet Gracie, sing on.
By Judy Zimmerman
This essay dedicated to Pam Boudreau who discovered Grace's talents long before the rest of the world