Tonight, after a birthday dinner ending with a hot fudge sundae topped with a candle, I sat on the sofa next to Jack, our middle child who just turned 15. He wanted to watch a movie we’d recorded on cable.
We weren’t even 10 minutes into the movie before he got a case of hiccups. I smiled because it made me happy to know that some things never change. Before he was even born, Jack got the hiccups in utero at least two or three times per week. When you’re pregnant and your on-board passenger gets the hiccups, it feels like someone is rapidly tapping on your belly from the inside out.
Last night, exactly 15 years after he made his big debut into the world, Jack still gets the hiccups more than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m always telling him it’s because he eats too fast — like a boy who has been dared to inhale a slice of pizza in 30 seconds or less.
But Jack certainly doesn’t look like he did 15 years ago. My “baby” has grown to nearly 6 feet tall and relishes the opportunity to pat me on top of the head, as if I’m a puppy. His feet look like those of a giant, and when he gets out of bed and walks down the hall, it sounds like a horse is walking around upstairs.
His taste in entertainment has changed, too. Tonight’s movie had lots of combat, car chases, tough guys, gunfire and steely-eyed vows of revenge. But when Jack was 2 years old, he loved watching a cartoon called “Max and Ruby,” which was about two sibling rabbits — the younger was always getting bossed around by the older one. I often wondered if Jack could relate since he was a little brother, too. But then his younger sister, Kate, was born and transformed him into the middle child.
Birth order stereotypes often paint the middle child as the one who gets a raw deal. After all, the middle child is not the firstborn who got all of Mom and Dad’s attention, and he’s not the baby who often enjoys more leniency. He’s stuck in the middle, often playing the role of peacekeeper or negotiator.
When he was younger, we had a hard time figuring out where Jack wanted to go out for special dinners because he would often pick the restaurant he knew his older brother or younger sister would like most. What he wanted — what he still wants — is for everyone to be happy.
But peacekeeping and negotiating are valuable skills to develop. They’ve helped make him our most socially intuitive kid, able to make a new friend effortlessly or make someone laugh with nothing more than a well-timed smirk. Like most middle children, he’s comfortable with people older than him and with little kids, too. He can be equally happy talking about the news with adults or giving piggy-back rides to little cousins.
We often call Jack the “creamy white center of our Oreo cookie.” He holds it all together with his laid-back, easygoing brand of cool. Even as a toddler, he had an undeniable swagger. He’d put on a blue Superman T-shirt, red cape and green rain boots and strut into any room (or grocery store) like he owned the place.
As much as I miss Jack’s baby days, having a kid turn 15 is a fascinating thing to witness. Somehow, in the course of our ordinary, day-to-day life, Jack turned into a person who hears new music in his head and is drawn to the piano like a magnet, where he works out those melodies and writes them down. And somehow he developed a skill for electronics and computers and has become the go-to IT manager of the household — the one who fixes the remote when I’ve hit the wrong buttons.
I wonder what Jack will be doing 15 years from now, and I wonder if he’ll still be getting the hiccups.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.