I have 3 kids (and one more on the way). When I was pregnant with Nat (fondly known as “Chubby” at home), many people had warned me about the notorious “middle child syndrome”. So much so that the term “middle child” has became quite a taboo to me. I recall looking closely at Renee, my precious little girl who was only 18 months old then, and wondered how would it be possible that my growing bump would turn my sweet-as-a-cupcake baby into anything less. No way!
Renee was a much anticipated child – I had a miscarriage prior to conceiving her. She didn’t have the best start in my womb – I was spotting during my first trimester and was given a couple of injections to stablise the pregnancy. While carrying her, I was working on a business plan, which I hope would allow me to stay home and help provide for my parents. I invested time after office hours and late nights into it, hoping that it would grow, but it didn’t.
When Renee was born at 37 weeks, she was about 2.5kg and blue from shoulder down. I recall looking through the glass panel of the nursery, seeing my tiny newborn (probably the tiniest baby in the nursery) wailing under the blue light therapy for jaundice.
Although Renee was the tiniest baby among the 3, she was the easiest to look after. She was pretty much fuss-free and easy-going. She slept well at night, and was a great joy at home. We thoroughly enjoyed her until she turned 2.
Shortly after Renee turned 2, Nat came along. Because I was working full-time back then, Renee was placed into a new childcare arrangement so that my helper could look after Nat when I work. About the same time, we moved into our new home and Renee was put through a whole bunch of changes all at one go. She started going to a childcare (an expensive one, which I thought I was paying for quality) which turned out to be a nightmare. She wasn’t able to articulate well and we were repeatedly assured by the school that all was well. After a about 9 months there, Renee was still unable to adapt to the new routine, she was emotionally volatile and we just didn’t know what went wrong. But God has a way to right things at His own time – We stumbled upon a new childcare in our neighbourhood, and decided to find out more about it. The fees were higher but just about that time, I had a rise from my then employer and was able to afford the change. Up till today, I am still not sure what made me took the big step to move Renee to the new childcare, but it was one of the better decision I made for Renee. Just a couple of months ago, I heard from a couple of friends that the childcare Renee used to attend had just fired a teacher for slapping kids in school. I went from shock (I didn’t know!) to awe (WOW! Thank God we moved out early).
Renee settled down well in the new childcare. She was well-loved and very happy there. Late last year, I left my full-time job and Renee moved on to a Kindergarten where she adapted well too. I cannot be more thankful.
Yet, something must have went wrong after her 2 yo mark, because I find it challenging to parent Renee since. Frankly, she is nothing like the infant she was. It is a pain to get her out of bed in the morning and a bigger challenge to tuck her in at night. She whines and cries at the tiniest issue, has a big appetite for attention but none for her meals. She seems to have a reverse mechanism that does the exact opposite thing she was told, and schoolwork was a huge test of patience for me. Too often than not, I would lose it with her, I rarely had a scream-free day with her and that left me broken and guilty, yet feeling completely helpless.
Just yesterday, I left the girls to play on their own while I tuck Chubby in for his nap. I was on my way to the kitchen to get more milk for Chubby when I saw this…
Renee was packing up – putting some of her favourite dresses into plastic bags. I stopped at the door and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I am leaving…”
Shocked, I asked, “to where? and why?”
“Jiejie, don’t want me at home” she said with her head low.
It was quite a funny sight, (I know I shouldn’t but) I laughed a little inside, especially when I looked at the plastic bags. But was quickly overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and a stabbing pain I did not quite understand.
“But Mummy will be very sad if my Renee leaves..” I wondered if she knew.
I went to speak to Shanice and got her to help her sister pack her clothes back. Renee later came to me crying and we spent some time cuddling together.
Later in the late afternoon, I was dragging myself to the kitchen for a glass of water (my hips hurts when I move due to my current pregnancy), when Renee sat down with her favourite book and started to read out loud (She doesn’t recognise the words in it, but she know the content by heart) …
“I love my mummy… because she plays with me.” She paused and said under her breathe (but still audible to me), “but my mummy doesn’t plays with me”.
I walked over to join her. And the more we read together, the more I felt defeated. A lump formed in my throat, and I felt faint.
I tried to defend myself…
“But it doesn’t says, ‘she always plays with me’, right? If mummy does this, how is mummy going to work, and eat, and go to the toilet?”
She didn’t respond. I didn’t dared to look at her face.
I know what she wants. And I know how much I fall short of it. I am at a point where I need an urgent upgrade – more energy, more hands and greater mental capacity would help. Trying to do 3 jobs (albeit all part-time and freelance) with 3 kids in tow at the same time isn’t a walk in the park. As much as I can soothe my guilt a little, especially considering I am also heavily pregnant at this point, this will not help Renee. I, in my busy-ness, had turned my sweet cupcake into an attention-seeking piranha.
Many people I know (yes, even family) often label Renee as the “middle child”.
“Too bad, she is the middle child… you know… not going to be easy”
“Middle kid are usually more …”
But frankly, Renee didn’t choose to be the middle child; it wasn’t her choice. I do not believe it has anything to do with the birth order. It’s how she is treated by her parents and people around. My precious middle child may be quite a handful but despite some painful moments we went through together, Renee has the sweetest heart. She says the funniest things and has the wildest imagination. I like to think she is a lot like me (which may be why I feel it challenging to deal with her sometimes) – unorganised, stong-headed, wild and free-spirited. But she is a sweeter version of me, she is kind, gentle and loves little children. She is Chubby’s and my niece’s favourite sister because of her fun and giving ways.
For all the time I’ve wasted hoping that she is more “manageable” and less “whiny”, I should have channeled my energy to enjoying her and give her more time to grow up. Yes, she is an elder sister, but she is really just 5. What am I expecting from a 5yo? Discipline? Maturity? Altruism? Who am I kidding? No doubt all these are great virtues, but by forcing her to be what she is not ready to be may be causing more harm than good.
I often walk into the girls’ room after their bedtime (that is after Chubby fell asleep) and watch my precious Renee, as she snuggle into her pillow – she seems so lonely. I cannot help but dies a little inside every time I think about the role I played in her loneliness. O God, how can I be a better mum? How can I be the mum that she wants?
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