Shared Stories: Middle Child Syndrome

Maria Garcia shares her story about a common parental experience – “the children are so different.” Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Maria L. Garcia

Growing up as the youngest child, with three siblings ahead of me, had its perks. How was I to know that seven years later I would be displaced from center stage and become the middle child when brother after brother would be born?

I do not remember ever feeling left out from my siblings; enough to call it a syndrome of sorts. My dad’s love for me was always reassuring and reaffirming, and so my behavior was aimed at pleasing him with much due respect.

Not until Ed and I were newly married and ready to start up a family did we start to think of children. We were in the era and culture where newly-weds were already subjected to the Philippine Inquisition:  “Are you already pregnant?”

If your answer was yes, people would start counting the months, and anything short of nine months is a “deposit,” indicative of some premarital taboos in society. And if the wife isn’t pregnant yet after nine months, she is labeled as “barren.” Either way, the Filipino culture dictates that it’s everybody’s business to know the wife’s pregnancy status when wed. 

Ed and I got pregnant with what one would call a “honeymoon baby.” Ten months after we were wed, our first child, a son, was born to us. Although we had a yaya, or nanny, for Carlo, we were both excited to try our own parenting skills. We gave him much attention and time, as would be the case for most firstborns.  

Three years later, we felt we were ready for another baby, but wanted a girl. We were going to try a Reader’s Digest suggested method on conceiving a girl.

A few days before my due date, I began having labor pains. In nervous anticipation, the suspense was over when the obstetrician announced it was a boy. We had a good laugh, with a sigh of relief that a normal healthy baby boy, although not a girl, was born to us on April Fool’s Day. Grateful, we named him Mark Anthony.  

Parenting the second time around, we found ourselves more relaxed and less anxious, now that we were veteran parents. The two boys were pretty much best friends, playing and sharing toys with not much of a sibling rivalry. 

Mark displayed his very social traits, even with the other street children in the neighborhood. He would invite them over and feed them our food behind our backs. We would often see neighborhood kids with chocolate rings around their mouths from Mark secretly sharing our chocolate milk powder.

Four years later we got pregnant with our third baby. This time, we would simply be accepting of whatever God blessed us with, which turned out to be a baby girl. We named her Noelle Nicole, like a Christmas gift given to us in February.

Although each of them had their own yaya, we did not diminish in giving them parental attention, or so we thought. Carlo was excelling in school academically. Noelle was too, gifted in both math and the arts. Mark received certificates in handwriting and spelling, but was not academically excelling like his siblings. 

It was only much later that, in retrospect, I gleaned that Mark’s visual acumen and hand-eye coordination would translate itself in his growing years. He seemed to be more interested in after-school Boy Scouts or karate class, rather than academics. Being a young mother then, I started to be concerned. Was he really lagging behind his siblings at school?  

Mark had difficulty sleeping when he was young, so Ed would put him in the car and drive him around the block until he fell asleep. Other times, Mark would ask to sleep before 8:30 PM as he feared that he would have insomnia. 

We noticed Mark was not interested in any of the academics, but he would draw the motorized taxi-tricycles shuttling around our neighborhood endlessly. He included all the details, and from various perspectives. Mark never drew the same model twice; each one was different from the other.  

In 1982, we decided as a family to migrate to the US. Carlo had been on vacation to San Francisco with his grandmother and cousins the previous year. Being the quiet 11-year-old that he was, Carlo did not say much about his feelings on our plans to move. 

On the other hand, Mark, age seven at the time, was excited. He “could hardly wait to roll down the snowy slope,” but, “must take some bananas to America!” Noelle at age 4, was not quite aware of moving our permanent residence to a different country.

Mark was getting rather difficult and defiant in his teenage years. I was in a quandary on how I should deal with his choices. One time, I was called in by the principal because Mark had come to school with his head shaved on both sides. If I had not confirmed with his grandma that she was the one who actually cut it, the principal would have had him suspended. 

Mark did not want to continue on to Catholic high school like his siblings, so we transferred him into the public system. His high school years were difficult. He was ditching and failing his classes. He was more social than focused. The school recommended that we go to family counseling. 

It was then that I came across the “middle child syndrome” terminology. Mark wanted to be his own self, a trait we had noticed even at an early age. Ed and I called him “Indie,” short for independent. 

I did not think Mark would even graduate from high school, with the kind of rebellious streak he was having - his ear piercings, his driving without a license, his running away for days. Thankfully, I followed the advice of Mrs. Leone Jackson, an elderly parishioner and retired teacher in her 90’s: “Look for him and when he comes home, hug him and just tell him you missed him.”

While both the oldest and the youngest earned degrees from universities in computer science, chemistry, and biology, Mark dropped out of community college and chose to go his own course and take animation classes. 

I feel like I prayed for Mark doubly hard out of the three children. I had even gone on a pilgrimage and climbed a mountain for Divine intervention. I learned that I could not control Mark for what he wanted to be – an animator.

The good news is that Mark rose from the challenges of his own journey. Even without a degree, his hard work and persistence got him into animation studios such as Sony, Klasky Csupo, Fox, Nickelodeon, Disney and Laika. 

This year, he received an Annie Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production for his work on the film, Kubo and the Two Strings. 

Although not many have seen the film, it has been acclaimed by many critics and has received nominations for Best Animated Picture by the Annie Awards, the Golden Globes and currently, the Academy Awards. As a proud mama, I believe that the “middle child syndrome” is just a part of the cocoon’s stage of turning into a butterfly.