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The Middle Child is Leaving the Nest

by on May 12, 2014 7:20 AM

Those of us who live in State College are often given the gift of an extra few years with our kids after high school.

When other graduating seniors enter the work force, join the military or go off to far away universities, the locals who make the decision to attend Penn State are able to delay the inevitable for their families.

For the duration of their college experience, even though my daughters lived on campus or in apartments while attending Penn State, as "townies" I could still meet them for lunch, pick them up to come home for an occasional dinner (or laundry) or have the pleasure of the pop-in to my campus office.

This week, my middle daughter is not only leaving the nest, she's moving to start her career. To another city. In another state. It will be way more than the seven minute commute that we have taken for granted.

I haven't been getting much sleep these last few weeks.

As she takes the next set of steps on her life journey, I find myself looking back. As she excitedly talks about new challenges and new landscapes, I find the increasing sounds of silence in my house to be almost deafening. I'm feeling the need to hold on a bit tighter.

Ambivalence is the human condition that allows us to experience conflicting emotions at the same time. Happy at the same time as sad.

I'm remembering a beautiful little girl who was born with a head full of dark hair that stood straight up, no matter what we did to it. People always responded to her with a smile and I think that set the tone for her personality.

A little girl who would never fight a nap, go to bed when she was tired and wake up at full speed ready to go. A little girl who fought for what she thought was right including helping a peer on the bus when he was being bullied.

I find myself remembering the two years she wore something purple every day – without exception.

I smile when I think about her outrage at being told that sometimes when older sister invites friends over for a play date, little sister isn't always included.

An elementary student whose worst month every year was December because she loved – and still loves - family time and the excitement of the holidays. A dancer who was more interested in the friends in her class and the recital outfits than learning dance routines. A backpack full of pencils and notebooks as she and her fellow "spy" solved mysteries in the neighborhood.

She is our middle child.

Psychologist Alfred Adler was among the first social scientists that identified birth order as a characteristic of personality development. The middle child has often been seen as the one who is envious and jealous. Their view of the world allegedly seen through the lens of feeling neglected and ignored – the proverbial black sheep who is "different" than the rest of the family.

However, recent research in family dynamics has painted a different picture of the middle child. Salmon and Schumann in "The Secret Power of the Middle Child" talk about middles as those who, unlike firstborns, understand shared attention and therefore see nothing wrong with looking outside the family to get reinforcement. Outgoing, flexible and with a strong sense of family, friends and loyalty, Salmon and Schumann hypothesize that middles can be effective negotiators and managers of people in both the family and at work.

My middle holds her friendships close to her heart, has an amazing work ethic and can burp the alphabet.

With daughter number one and now daughter number two, the milestones have been happy and yet also sad. Graduation from State High. Freshman year in Pollock Halls. Sorority rush. Beaver Canyon apartment. The boyfriends who entered our lives and who left again. Wonderful and amazing girlfriends and their families who became part of our Penn State experience and our "adopted" daughters. Commencement. The beginning of a career and a life that is separate and distinct from ours – but always so very connected.

Steps closer to that day when "we" means one less place at the dinner table and phone calls instead of hugs to share good news.

As we watched her walk across the stage at the Bryce Jordan Center this weekend, accepting her diploma and shaking hands with President Erickson, I was reminded of her determination and her focus. Many years ago, as she walked through our family room with the same confidence that we saw on Saturday, dress up high heels and a purse slung over her tiny shoulder, my husband looked at me and said "She has places to go."

It's inevitable. If parents do what we are supposed to do, our children are destined to grow up, move on and separate from us – establishing their own lives and families outside of the nucleus of our familial unit.

Like the very wise Dr. Suess said in "Oh The Places You'll Go."

You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.

You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.

Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Oh the places you will go Jillian.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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