Tomorrow, our son, Zachary is turning three.
I never really understood the dilemma of being a middle child. I am the oldest of four and there was always a playmate for a sibling. Teams were evenly divided; there was equal opportunity for each child to be teased. While the four of us may argue which child received more attention or which child always chose the evening family activity, I don’t think a kid felt lost in the shuffle.
We have three children and while we try very hard to give each child the time they deserve, the “middle child blues” creep into everyday life. The baby inevitably needs to be watched, fed, diapered, held. The older child is more verbal, claiming toys, making the rules. And the middle guy—he is often forced to go along with the flow, gifting his sister with an unwanted shadow and stuck sitting for longer than he’d like because the baby is eating lunch.
But we can’t underestimate that middle child. Last night I asked Zachary how old he is turning and he answered, “three.” And then he showed me three fingers and lifted those fingers to form the Hebrew letter “shin.” And out of my goofy, often stubborn, strong-willed, beautiful boy’s mouth came the words of the Sh’ma. I was amazed that he was able to connect all of the points: his age, his fingers, the watchwords of our faith into one seamless line. And I just laughed because I know—this middle child is going to surpass all of our expectations.
Mishlei 22:6 reminds us: Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Meaning, pay attention to the specific ways your child needs to be taught. If we watch their quirks and idiosyncrasies, learn about their passions and remember that each child is unique in their own progression and capabilities, then perhaps our children will more easily find their own sacred home within our tradition. They just need us to watch.
My middle guy reminded me that he has a lot to teach, a lot to offer.
Watch out world, my middle guy is going places.