Posts Tagged ‘the power of birth order’

I’m trying to remember how it was. I see myself skinny on the concrete driveway, dirty knock knees, a striped t-shirt, tiny bumps for boobs. Not only the youngest, but a young youngest.

I didn’t develop until I was 17, didn’t know about Kotex or tampons, although my older sisters told me about starting periods and not to worry when it happened.

I sat on Janet’s bed and watched her being a teenager, brush her thick black hair and curl her eyelashes. When she was out with friends I tried the eyelash curler on myself, clamped down steel on rubber, my eyelashes held hostage as if in a guillotine, waiting for the blade to fall. I was startled by how tightly the contraption held on to my lashes, so startled that instead of opening it back up, I pulled it away from my eye and ripped out a bunch of hairs. Afterwards, I felt like I was peering out of one of those old clown wigs that’s missing sections of bangs.

Being the youngest makes me think of creeping around places I shouldn’t be, opening drawers, looking for scandal. Nudie pictures, drugs, notes from boyfriends. I fell in love with Janet’s boyfriend, Paul, and every time he called I listened in on the conversation. I perfected how to lift the receiver without them knowing. I would unplug the cord from the wall jack, pick up the receiver, plug back in the cord.

Once Paul yelled at me to get off the phone. I got so hurt that I crawled under the impossibly small space under Mom and Dad’s bed and cried myself to sleep. I woke up hours later to my parents and Janet, frantically searching the house, about to call in a missing person’s report.

I loved sneaking around Larry’s room, too. I stole his clothes, wore too-big flannel shirts that sometimes smelled like sweat, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be like him, listen to New Riders of the Purple Sage, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull.

No music, it seems, was ever my own. Everything I got they gave to me, from 50s bop (Patty), Carole King and R&B (Bobbi), Cat Stevens and The Carpenters (Janet), and Frank Zappa (Larry).

They taught me how to drive, I still remember going around the corner of Glenarbor Court for the first time in Janet’s VW. She said to shift into second, but second was right next to reverse. I hit the wrong gear and it sounded like the engine was going to drop out. We came to a halt and she said, “I’d better drive.”

Larry once rescued me when Jay Baca was going to take me off to one of the bedrooms. We threw a party when Mom and Dad went to the lake and Janet had already moved out. I got drunk and Jay had me in his arms. “Where do you think you’re going with her,” Larry asked, blocking Jay at the hallway. They threw Jay out, and me and Larry got in trouble, much as Janet tried to erase the traces of the party the next day.

Being the youngest, I think how much I adored my older siblings, how much they left their imprints on me. I sometimes wish we could go back to those days, those natural roles. My oldest sister says I’m bossy now. I think she’s probably right.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BIRTH ORDER

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Yes, I’m a firstborn. With all the flaws, rights, privileges, and responsibilities that go with being a firstborn. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Hmmm. JFK? No, it was Peter Benjamin Parker. Spider-Man.

Maybe it should read, “With great responsibility comes great power.” Either way, there is an ethical piece, a balance between burden and privilege.

Firstborns can be overly responsible. And bossy. We’re also always looking out for others, and imagining the worst possible scenario. There are two reasons for this: 1) so that we’ve thought about how to handle the worst case when it comes along (and won’t be standing there humiliated); 2) we genuinely care about the fate of those around us (and we’ve been trained, from toddler age on, to take care of others).

A few months ago, I was at a poetry reading at my friend, Teri’s. A whole group of us were gathered in her living room, chatting and drinking tea. Two of us, decades apart in age, were firstborns. Late into the evening, someone leaned back in a rocking chair that was bumping against a standing brass lamp. It started to wobble and tip.

My eyes darted to the light. I noticed it right away. I had the thought, “I should go over and upright that lamp. It’s going to fall.”

I didn’t even get the chance. Within seconds, the other firstborn calmly walked over, grabbed the light, settled it into place, slid back to her seat, and didn’t miss a beat in the ensuing conversation. I simply beamed. Slick. I felt a solid kinship with the Lamp-Saver. Silent Superhero.

Later, I joked about it with the group, mentioning how both firstborns had spotted the lamp’s potential plunge to the floor, and rushed to save the day. Everyone else said, “What? What are you talking about? A lamp almost fell over?” No one else even noticed.

Firstborns operate behind the scenes, making sure things run smoothly. Unlike only borns, we sometimes don’t take the credit we are due. Flaw? Or humility.

Firstborns have a reputation for being valuable. Many 50’s families wanted their firstborn to be male. If they ended up with a female, well, you got names like Earline or Fredericka or Andrewzilla (just ask oliverowl). Isn’t there a story in the Bible where a faithful believer was asked to sacrifice his firstborn son? Maybe it was Isaac and Abraham. Or was it Ishmael? It depends on which religion. And I’m not good at names.

I do remember being a young kid and reading a thick tan Bible Story book, handed down to my by my Aunt Cassie. I recently ran into it in a box of memorabilia. It rekindled a fading image of me as a child, rocking in my bedroom, reading Bible Stories out loud to myself.

I don’t remember the names. But the concepts made an impression. Turn the other cheek. Give unto others. And you don’t really have to sacrifice your firstborn — setting an intention is enough to show your faith. The Bible is about stories and parables. We don’t have to cling to every literal word to live a spiritual life. Still, that story of sacrifice scared me.

My mother is a middle-born child. But her oldest brother died when she was a teenager, a few months before I was born. He drowned over the July 4th weekend, while swimming at Clark’s Hill Dam. He had been sick with something like pneumonia, too weak to make the shore. He was only 18. No one expected it. After that, my mother became an oldest child.

Last June, when Mom and I visited my Aunt Annette for the first time in 50 years, we talked about the drowning. She remembered it. And when Mom and I visited her brother’s grave, I asked if everyone was still sad a few weeks later when I was born. Were they still grieving?

She looked at me gently, surprised at the question. Then, without hesitation, she said, “No, Honey, everyone was so happy when you were born. You were a bundle of joy.” Firstborns worry about these things. (Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!)

What I have noticed over the last week, as I’ve been thinking about this Writing Topic, is that in my relationships, I have been attracted to responsible middle-borns. What is a responsible middle-born? One who is independent like a firstborn, but has a middle-born carefree Tiggerness. They like to have fun.

This has been a consistent theme in my relationships. I have not been with an oldest child. Or a youngest child. Only responsible, free-spirited middle children. And usually with women younger than I am, anywhere from a few years, up to a decade.

And when I ask them about their relationships, they tell me they’ve always been attracted to those who are older then they are. I didn’t ask them about the firstborn part. All I know is middle-borns keep me feeling young.

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, May 8th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BIRTH ORDER

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Birth order. Does it matter?

That was the headline, more or less, of a CNN article that came out last fall, which said that birth order may, in fact, matter a lot. That same month TIME ran its own take on recent hard evidence demonstrating “The Power of Birth Order.”

For example, firstborns are more likely to go to college than children in any other position in the family. Firstborn IQs tend to be higher — albeit by just a point or two — than those of younger siblings; second-born a point higher than third-born. These were the conclusions of a study conducted in Norway and the cause for last year’s flurry of articles about the topic.

Psychologist Frank Sulloway, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and the U.S.’s leading authority on birth order, says that “in many families the firstborn is going to get into Harvard and the second-born isn’t.”

There are physical differences, too. According to the TIME article (which is worth the full read) earlier-born siblings weigh more and are taller than their later-born siblings. Older siblings are more likely to be vaccinated than younger ones. Firstborns are disproportionately represented in high-paying professions, while younger siblings are less educated but “statistically likelier to live the exhilarating life of an artist or a comedian, an adventurer, entrepreneur, GI or firefighter.” And researchers don’t know a whole lot about middle children, as they seem to have succumbed to the same not-very-visible spot that they tend to occupy in their families.

According to the book The Birth Order Connection: Finding and Keeping the Love of your Life, the order in which you are born determines a host of traits, positive and negative. These characteristics, which other birth-order resources and books also tout, are listed below.

Only Borns

  • Mega-movers of the world
  • Task oriented, well organized, dependable
  • Like facts, ideas, and details
  • Feel extremely comfortable with responsibility
  • Often unforgiving
  • Very demanding
  • Hate to admit when they’re wrong
  • Usually don’t accept criticism well
  • To others, they seem very sensitive, feelings easily hurt


  • Natural leaders and high achievers
  • Majority of politicians and CEOs are first-borns (President Bush is a first-born; Brad Pitt, too)
  • Come in two types: nurturing caregivers or aggressive movers and shakers
  • Pay attention to detail, tend to be organized, punctual, and competent
  • Want to see things done right the first time
  • Don’t like surprises
  • Often moody
  • Can push people too hard
  • Often poor at delegating tasks to others
  • Tend to be perfectionists, overly concientious


  • Relational, people-pleasers, dislike confrontation
  • Basic need is to keep life smooth and peaceable
  • Usually calm, roll with the punches, down-to-earth, great listeners
  • Skilled at seeing both sides of a problem, make good mediators
  • Less driven than first-borns but more eager to be liked
  • Have difficult time setting boundaries
  • Can drift into becoming “co-dependent” in an effort to please all
  • Not good at making decisions that will offend others
  • Tend to blame themselves when others fail


  • The world’s cheerleaders
  • Strong people skills, love to entertain and talk to others
  • Make friends easily and immediately make others feel at home
  • Extrovert, energized by the presence of others (Cameron Diaz is a last-born)
  • Not afraid to take risks
  • Tend to get bored quickly, short attention span
  • Strong fear of rejection
  • When they’ve had enough, they tend to check out
  • Self-centered to some extent
  • May harbor unrealistic expectations of finding a relationship that will always be fun

What do you think? Do these traits fit you?

If you’re skeptical, perhaps you should take the Birth Order Predictor Quiz. Although, be warned — that might make you more skeptical.

Maybe you think there is something to all of this. If so, you might want to forego astrological compatibility in your next relationship and plan your couplings using The Birth Order Book on Love by William Cane. (In case you’re wondering, the “perfect pair” is firstborn partnered with youngest.)

But before you do anything rash, check out PBS’s Celebrity Birth Order Quiz to make sure you want birth order to dictate who’s hot and who’s not.

Once you’re finished exploring the world of birth order and collecting your opinions about the matter, do a 15-minute writing practice. Think about your childhood. Think about your relationships to adults and to siblings (if any). Think about what your traits were then and what they are now. Seriously, does birth order matter?

Now write.

Big, Medium, Small, pen and ink on graph paper, doodles © 2008 by ybonesy.
All rights reserved.

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