I'm the middle child of three girls...and that doesn't surprise most people at all. I suppose if you spend enough time with me, you'd discover I embody many characteristics of the Middle Child Syndrome. Yet I recently read an interview with Katrin Schumann which reveals that while we may have our quirks, middle children have some pretty fabulous super powers as well. Who knew?
During my formative years I was introduced thus: "This is Katie, our middle child." Then my mother would often flash a knowing look as if to say, I've warned you. She meant no harm. It was simply her way of poking fun at my sassy, independent nature, even though my naughty ways often drove her mad. Still, as an adult, when I'm asked my birth order, I usually bounce my eyebrows and reply, "I'm the middle child....can't you tell?"
To be honest, I've never minded being the peanut butter and jelly in the sandwich of my siblings. As I was often terrified to try new things, I didn't want to be the oldest and have to experience everything first. And I didn't want to be the baby of the family either and have to wait eons to get my ears pierced, wear make-up, or don pantyhose. I didn't give a hoot that I would never be the first or ever be the last.
What I wanted was a brother.
Plenty of imaginary friends kept me company in-between going to school and spending time with the neighborhood kids. At first they were Tom and Lucy from The Littles, then Fern from Charlotte's Web. But over time I crafted an imaginary brother who would accompany me on bike rides, stand by my side whenever I had to go up to bat during gym class, and sit for hours talking beneath a shade tree in the backyard. I can't remember his name, but I do recall that he was a great listener.
He became the inspiration for Michael Schreiber, a character I wrote in both Surfacing and A Tapestry of Truth. He'll show up again in another novel that's in the works. But I find that in the years since I finished the books, a real band of brothers has come into my life, and each man is unique in the way they bring me joy and clarity. Some are older than me. Some are younger. One is almost the same age (although every summer I remind him that he had a six-week head start the year we were born). One lives in my neighborhood and a couple live across the country in California. One is someone I've only recently met and another is someone I've known for more than twenty years.
But they all have one thing in common: they're all named Richard.
Rick lives across the street and is one of handiest fellows I know. Over the years he's helped me build a fence in my backyard, and most recently designed the raised bed that is now growing a host of greens in my garden. He gives great advice on how to use power tools and reminds me of the importance to "measure twice and cut once". Rick loves 1980's music and loves to share compilations of the greatest hits of Queen, Prince, and any rock band that recorded after disco died. Not that he doesn't like a good dance party now and again. He's friendly and generous and funny. Over the years he's patiently listened to my challenges and happily celebrated my successes. I spend time with him and his wife at Christmas and enjoy sunny afternoons on their deck in the summer. Next year we're all anticipating a move to a new neighborhood, and yet I know that no matter where we live in the future, Rick will be my brother for the rest of my life.
His brother-in-law, Richard, has generously sent me rocks from all over the world, wherever he was stationed with the army. I have stones from Baghdad and Iraq, Poland and Germany. One Christmas, he and his wife sent me a gorgeous blanket they found in Korea which still keeps me warm and comfortable all winter long. Richard is well-read and well-spoken. Although I don't get to see him much, whenever he's in town for a visit, I always like to pop over and say "Hi" to him and his family, for he's a gentle soul that is a touchstone and a blessing.
Speaking of blessings, I couldn't imagine a more incredible cheerleader than my pal, Richard who lives in Santa Margarita, California. We met at Esalen in 2007 while attending a writer's workshop. After only a few days, it seemed as if I had known him my whole life. Kind, articulate, and incredibly self-actualized, Richard has been a mirror and a muse in the years since my return to Ohio. We email almost weekly and I save every single missive, for Richard writes from a place not often seen in our world today. He's magical, mysterious, and miraculous. And I'm infinitely thankful for whatever grace brought him into my life.
Then there's my friend, Rick, who I met in 2001. He's hilarious and serious and everything in-between. Rick's a retired firefighter and was an incomparable professional. I remember asking his son once if he ever worried about his dad going to work when he was little. His son replied, "I knew that if anything ever happened to my dad, it wouldn't be because he didn't do it right." After interviewing Rick in 2004 during research for Seven Generations, I learned that men can be extraordinary fathers, no matter their history. I'm not surprised though, as his mom is pretty amazing herself. We wrote a few children's books together and I'm hoping that someday I will find the time to edit them and figure out a way to get them into print so Rick can share them with his seven grandchildren.
Most recently there's Rick, my compound pharmacist, who's always cheerful and helpful and on the lookout for the best way to serve his customers. This month I had a change in insurance and even though I won't need any refills for more than a month, he's already on top of it, letting me know my new co-pay is $0.00. You can't beat that! There's another local Richard who comes to yoga class now and again. We have a ball talking about tennis, California living, and Rolfing. He's been a generous supporter of my work and a benevolent man who typifies the word "compassion".
Last weekend I presented some of my work for "WomenUnbound" and afterwards, a woman in the audience made a comment that listening to my essays was like reading a friend's diary. I replied that I learned how to craft a blog or a manuscript by listening to interviews of the writers from thirtysomething, particularly Richard Kramer. Many of you might remember the blog I wrote in 2013 expounding on the joys of realizing I'm more of a "Melissa" than a "Hope". Richard's heartfelt scripts about the quirky, creative single woman allowed me to embrace my inner maverick, all the while longing to have some sense of a healthy relationship with a man.
Earlier this week I wrote Richard an email, thanking him for his profound influence on my life, both as a writer and a woman who doesn't quite fit the traditional mold, but is still trying to find my place in this world. He wrote back the very next day and surprised me with the gift of his book, These Things Happen. I cannot wait to read it, for great writers only get better with time, and I'm certain that Richard's novel will touch places deep within my heart.
My own band of brothers is a gracious plenty.
I no longer need to lament the sorrows of having no male siblings, for the fellas who have entered my life always seem to arrive at the perfect moment. And if I stop to think about it, they usually show up when I'm right in the middle of something: a significant life change...a long-term project...a dark tunnel that is only just beginning to reveal a glimmer of light on the other side. I find I can never really shake off the joys and sorrows of being a middle child, but I can always look around and celebrate the incredible people who have blessed my life with love.
While going through the whittled-down collection of children's books I've saved since my teaching days, I've been pretty diligent about letting go of titles I know I'll never need again. Huge bins of books by Eric Carle and Patricia Pollacco and Jonathan London are ready for a garage sale next week. But yesterday as I pulled a Richard Scarry title from the shelf, I sat on the stairs and turned the pages of Naughty Bunny, remembering the long hours I used to spend reading in my bedroom as punishment for something I had done that day. Naughty Bunny was my doppelganger in all things mischievous, but his mother loved him anyway. In reading and re-reading one of my favorite Golden Books, I came to realize that no matter what I did, my mother did, too.
I can't let this one go, I thought. So I slid it back on the shelf in-between my well-worn copies of The Littles and Charlotte's Web. After all, the author is another Richard I continue to love and treasure.