*To preface, Sarah’s words are italicized and Meredith’s are not.
I’m the oldest of three girls.
I’m the youngest of three girls.
I’m the trial subject—the guinea pig kid. I was the first to talk and walk, the first child my parents learned how to parent on. Decisions were made with an air of caution first.
By force of nature, I’m the leader. My parents aren’t the only ones that had to go through everything first–I did, too. I was the first to experience new things, from practically pointless matters like having a later bedtime to life-changing moments like being the first to get a car. I got to acquaint myself with the novelty of the world first and then teach my sisters about it afterward.
I’m always the one who gets everything last: sleepovers, a phone, a driver’s license. I am outgoing, social, and I often depend on others. As a child, I never got blamed for wrongdoings or punished for arguments. Growing up as the subject of everyone’s laughter, I’m used to being the root of their jokes. I’m the one who had to stay back when everyone could keep going. And, no matter how old I get, I will always be the baby.
I’m the first of my sisters to go out into the world. I get to learn new things and meet new people. I get to leave my little neighborhood behind.
I watched my sisters go out into the world, to learn new things and meet new people. I saw them leave me behind in our little log cabin.
I get to set the standard. The pressure of that notion is almost too abstract to wrap my mind around at times. How I choose to live my life directly affects how my parents react to me which affects how they parent my sisters which affects how they get to live their lives. Yes, I get to do new things “because I’m older,” but it comes with the price of creating a blueprint for my siblings. They can choose to follow it or not, but it exists nonetheless.
I always get compared to my sisters. Whether it’s my grades, my extracurriculars, how I look, what college I will go to, someone is always there to compare me to them. At first, it’s somewhat flattering, but over time, my confidence grows weary with having to live up to the expectations of the two beautiful, smart, and talented girls who came before me.
My sisters used to get scolded for being out too late, but now I don’t even have a curfew. I never had to do anything new without already having an idea of how it would be or advice on how to do it well. While I always had to wear hand-me-downs, I did get to share their cute clothes with them while they were still in style—turning my one wardrobe into three. When their friends came over, I always wanted to join in on the fun; but, I always got kicked out because no one wants their annoying little sister around. The phrase “because she’s older” has been ingrained in my brain as an excuse for every “what about me?”
Growing up, I was always ahead of the latest fads and trends because I knew them from my older sisters. By the time I reached high school, I already knew my way around the building that was confusing to everyone else because my sisters already went there. I knew the teachers, upperclassmen, and I was already thinking about college as a freshman. I’ve always been mature for my age and sometimes even mistaken for being older than I really am.
Psychologists say that your place in your birth order affects your personality. Oldest children are supposed to be controlling, structured, conscientious, and ambitious. When I was a young kid, there was a time where I was the only VanSkiver girl around. For the first few years of my life, I had my parent’s undivided attention. Due to that, I’m supposed to have a subconscious desire to always overachieve—I’m supposed to be a product of “oldest child syndrome.”
I think there is certainly truth to this; the feeling of failing, or, more specifically, letting someone down, is one of the most abhorring feelings for me, and I try to avoid it at all costs. I think my high self standard comes from the built-in responsibility of the oldest child. It sometimes feels like I’m the third parent, having to have sheltered and taught and led and protected my sisters for much of my childhood. This sense of “duty” wasn’t something I actively chose, more an unspoken knowledge that I had an inherent obligation to guide them.
But there should also be a caution to the seemingly candid clarity of psychoanalyzing massive groups of people and generalizing them based on their birth order. Just because some far off figure with a Ph.D. writes online that I’m a type-A because I’m the oldest doesn’t mean I have to be. I’m just who I am because I want to be.
Psychologists say that the youngest child is often spoiled, manipulative, and a risk-taker, as a part of “youngest child syndrome.” Nevertheless, they say youngest children tend to be easygoing, affectionate, funny, and creative. Some of these traits I see strongly in myself, but others lead me to believe that this ‘syndrome’ is all a myth—like my lack of creativity along with my tendency to overthink everything before I make a decision and not take many risks at all. However, I am outgoing and funny because I fought for attention as a young girl, and I rely heavily on the support of others because my sisters taught me that there is always someone there for me to lean on. My birth order has made me the person I am today; but, no matter what order I came in, I’m forever grateful to have two best friends that are always here for me and did it all before me.
I am the oldest.
I am the youngest.