I don’t need to ask you what you’re doing on August 12, 2018. You’re no doubt planning to attend your local Middle Child Day parade, or take in a lecture on Famous Middle Children Throughout History (Abraham Lincoln, Anne Hathaway, Jan Brady), or perhaps treat your own middle child (or middle children — after all, every child born after the first and before the last is technically a middle) to a special Middle Child’s dinner, then come home and cut your Happy Middle Child Day cake into several perfectly equal pieces, then crack open a bottle of Middle Sister wine to celebrate. (It’s a real product, created for “middle sisters everywhere.”)
Or, more likely, you’re doing none of these things, because you had no idea that August 12 is National Middle Child Day. I am a middle child, and until very recently, I had no idea. Of course, to middle children, this exact brand of ambient neglect is what defines being a middle: Not the lionized firstborn, adored and groomed to succeed, and not the coddled lastborn, the baby of the family, who benefits from inexhaustible attention and experienced parents. No, the middle child is just that — the middle. Excluded, forgotten, shoved into the role of de facto peacemaker among squabbling kinfolk, stripped rudely at an early age of the privileged status as the youngest and taught instead to accept benign indifference from siblings, parents, and the world.
So here’s a suggestion as to how you can spend the next National Middle Child Day: contemplating the extinction of the middle child. Because, like the mountain gorilla and the hawksbill turtle, the American Middle Child is now an endangered species. As the ideal number of children per family has shrunk to two — that’s not me speaking, it’s demographics — the middle child, in a very real sense, is disappearing. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Read that again: In the ’70s, four kids (or more) was the most common family unit. Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one.