If you have three children, you know the youngest one often gets robbed. His scrapbook is half as thick as the others, and by the time he’s old enough to care, the family has already done all the cool vacations and sight-seeing trips.
Oh, all right, so the middle child probably gets gypped, too. Or, at least, that’s the way it might appear, because you middles never really speak up about it. You guys are quiet like that.
My middle son, Owen, rarely complains, even though he could often make a good case. He’s shared a room with a brother since — literally — the day we brought him home for the hospital. I didn’t feel sorry for him because many siblings share a room. I planned for it to be that way until the kids went to college.
Owen’s first bed — his crib — was next to big-brother Ford’s toddler bed. Ford was 2 at the time. He had just been evicted from the crib when I went into labor early with Owen, and we were worried he might try to crawl back in, or, worse, put blankets and pillows in there with Owen. So Owen’s crib had a mesh, pop-up tent around it. He looked like he was sleeping on a safari.
In the morning, we had to unzip the tent and get him out. The whole thing was rather ridiculous, but the setup kept curious brothers safely out of the area. And if we had had a cat, it would have kept it out of the crib, too.
Eventually Owen moved into a toddler bed — right next to Ford’s. In all of our first four homes (thanks to all those Navy moves), Ford and Owen were always roommates.
Late at night, while I was rocking baby Lindell in the other room, I could hear Ford reading books aloud to Owen. Sometimes, I would yell for them to, “turn off the lights and go to bed already!” Until that time Owen yelled back, “But he’s almost done reading me the Bible, Mommy.”
“Oh, well ... carry on, then.”
When Ford started third grade, he got a hankering to have his own room. This seemed to bother Owen at first. And, honestly, I wasn’t going to allow Ford to move because I had always said that brothers sharing a room isn’t such a bad thing.
I mean, there are worse things in life, certainly. Except, by then, Lindell wasn’t a baby anymore, and I worried that he felt left out. While Ford and Owen giggled in their room, Lindell was alone in his.
So I let Ford move into a different room, and for about 12 (daytime) hours, Owen had a room to himself.
I wish I could say the process was as easy as it seems, but the whole thing was a lot like a divorce. Emotions ran high, and there were plenty of belongings to divvy up.
Ford started to lock up high-value items in his new room because he knew Owen might try to retrieve them. Owen stared gloomily at the blank walls where Ford’s pictures used to hang. He made an argument that at least half of those pictures were his. Right?
But by bedtime, we had already moved Lindell into Ford’s old spot. Now half of Owen’s room was filled with Scooby Doo, toy trains, stuffed animals and pictures books.
Still, he didn’t complain.
Through the ensuing years, Owen would periodically point out that Lindell snores and talks in his sleep. Owen had trouble falling asleep because of this. Also, as he matured, he was tired of having half the room belong to someone still in kindergarten.
This fall, Owen finally complained. “I want my own room,” he said. “I’ve never had anything to myself since the day I was born.”
I was rather unsympathetic. Remember, there are worse things than sharing a room with a younger brother. The pleading continued.
And then one day, Lindell said, “I’ll move out, Owen, and you can have your own room.”
I was so surprised and touched by Lindell’s selflessness, I allowed the move to happen.
We converted an unused room upstairs into Lindell’s new bedroom. Everyone had their own space, and Owen nearly burst with the possibilities of what to do with “his very own room.”
A few weeks later, as I lay in my bed across the hall from Lindell, I heard what sounded like a chainsaw cutting wood. It was Lindell snoring. Then I heard talking. And more snoring. He snored (very loudly) all night.
I thought, Is this what Owen was talking about all those years? Is this what he slept through? And he never complained?
And that’s when I knew: Someday, when Owen is in college, his experiences sharing a room with Ford and Lindell are going to make him the most tolerant roommate ever. That, and also because he’s a middle child.
Sarah Smiley is a columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.