He appeared out of nowhere in the nature reserve with tears in his eyes. I thought this four-year-old was lost, but before I could approach him, his face lit up with a happy smile the moment his family appeared. I was shocked how fast his emotions changed.
His older brother was having his father’s attention as they explored the different plants and animals in the nature reserve. His mother was holding his younger sibling, and her hands were full with all the baby stuff.
I understood immediately. Like me, he is the middle child.
My parents, like most parents trying to survive in a third world country, were so busy making ends meet and put food on the table that they had no time to do the parenting thing.
My memory of my parents were them using the cane liberally and I believed it was their way of expressing concerns because they cared for us deeply.
Although I was shocked when my mother told me in my 40s that I was the only one she caned. I remember how embarrassed I was when my friends stared at the cane lines all over my legs when I was already 18.
I consider myself fortunate when my parents registered me into a public school at seven as I ended up having a good education. I think it was also a privilege to be able to tag along my siblings when they went for swimming classes.
My parents worked really hard, waking up at 3 a.m. each morning to slaughter chickens to sell in the market. I learned and became a really hardworking person myself because of their examples.
When I became a mother, they reminded me to be a good one and my mother would help by cooking a meal or two for my children when she stayed over during weekends.
I have never thought that being a middle kid was rough, until I have raised my own children or when I see other people passing over their middle kids. I am so used to people forgetting about me that it has become strange when they don’t.
Things got more exaggerated in my family because my oldest brother was still-born, so when my sister arrived, my parents were so happy their had a child at last! When my brother was born after me, they were elated to have son!
However, when I was born, my mother was ridiculed. Firstly, who wants a child looking like Mystique. The doctors told my mother that this blue baby was not going to survive and they set me aside, presumably thinking I wouldn’t survive.
My paternal grandmother rushed to Singapore excitedly to see me, and imagine the shock she had when she saw how ugly I was. Even my docile grandmother couldn’t resist telling my mother I was so ugly.
As a kid, my siblings were fat and cute, like what babies should be, but I was ugly and thin. Ah. Here’s the thing. Because of that, my mother breastfed me twice as long as she did my siblings. I had eight months of great nutrition!
Because of that and definitely other reasons, I quickly become really healthy. And before I knew it, I was that good-looking slim and intelligent girl.
By the time I was about to start school, I was told that writing or stirring a pot with my left hand makes me a witch, so my sister insisted that I switched to using my right hand, while my brother stayed left-handed all of his life. I was confused forever if I were left or right-handed. Because of that, I became ambidextrous, I can play games to national levels, write and use chopsticks equally well with both hands.
One time, my father was giving out pocket money. My sister went before me and was brandishing her $50 note. When it was my turn, my dad dug into the deepest of his pocket and found a $2 note. Even at eleven, I understood that the world is not fair, and that I have to work very hard if I wanted anything. To this day, I ensure I work harder than any of my peers in anything I choose to do.
Even though my academic results were far better than my older sibling, my father made it clear he would not put me through the university. When my family celebrated my sister’s graduation from the university, my father decided not to fund our studies any longer. That started my journey of putting myself through the university. I slept in my tutee’s toilet, became a lifeguard, and sold mooncakes to earn enough for my tuition fees. Those were the years I learned so many skills that last me to this day.
While both my siblings expected my parents to pay for their first vehicles and first homes, I did not think I was entitled to those things. Instead, I worked like crazy to attain those little luxuries in my life. I understood that I could only dream to own things I can afford.
Now that my father has passed on for more than 25 years and my mother is confused if her own mother is alive, I have my birth order to thank for who I am today.
People assume that I am so resilient, possess so many skills and have so many resources because I was born lucky or born rich. The truth is, had I been from a rich family or from a more developed country at the time I was born or been a favored child, I’d probably be a weaker person. A person with less skills, who is less resilient and less capable.
The middle child in my own family feels loved above all else. Maybe it is because I have five kids instead of three. Maybe it is because we happen to find the right formula to not make her feel left out. Maybe she is not the forgotten one.
I believe all of us as parents must have unintentionally forgotten a child, whether they are in the middle or not. Perhaps their siblings need a bit more attention. Perhaps you have too many other things to handle and juggle.
Looking at that little boy from the nature reserve, I know that there are still children who are forgotten. From experience I know that a forgotten child will always turn out to be great, as long as they refuse to be jaded or bitter. In fact, if you look carefully, that forgotten child will often be the one who loves you the most in the end.
If you are a forgotten child, just be a little braver and brace for an unconventional future. If you realize you have forgotten a child, give them a little hug, and set aside some time each week just for them, because that little attention will come back to you in many, many folds. I guarantee.
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