Being the 'middle child'

The foolishness of refusing help

There’s nothing enticing about being in “the middle.” No one wants to be second-best because naturally it feels more gratifying to be the best. Growing up, I was dissatisfied with my status as the “middle” child between two brothers. I wanted to be ahead of them both, but I found my vote was often overruled or my voice was overpowered by theirs. I learned quickly that competing with them would entail much shoving and foot races as tests of strength, the throwing of harsh words and a thick skin.

Some arguments pertained to who should get the Player One controller of our Nintendo 64 — completely valid, everyone knows Player One always gets the advantage. Others dealt with accusations that someone was cheating in a board game — again a noble fight, as all three of us were always cheating. The mentality — do not show weakness and always win or claim your loss was during a “practice round.”

To everyone else, my childhood must seem stifling and cutthroat. To an extent, it was as exhausting as it sounds, but I remember that I revelled in the competition and vied for chances to be the best of the three. I was the one who encouraged high-speed chases down ski slopes and bragged about how many times I could juggle the soccer ball. Not to mention the fact that the brevity of this recap doesn’t account for the times we settled disputes over what movie to watch by choosing Star Wars — a win for everyone. Actually, it’s rather difficult to think of other times we agreed on things. Even still, I’m grateful for the childhood I had — it made me strong, loud and undaunted.

But with competition came the pressure of being self-reliant. The rivalry that colored our relationship rarely afforded chances for teamwork. I grew up to be resolute and determined, but harbored the opinion that victories can only be claimed when you work alone.

It’s always felt embarrassing to ask for help. In high school when I didn’t understand something, I seldom sought further explanation. My teacher would say, “Does that make sense now?” and I would smile, nod and walk away thinking, “Yeah, no sense at all, I’ll figure it out at home.” There isn’t much logic behind it, just stubbornness and the belief that maybe the more I can handle, the better or more impressive I am.

“Yes, I can deal with a full course load, stay up all night doing work, plan a community-wide event for sexual assault awareness during midterms season, look for an internship, volunteer six hours a week, deal with roommate issues, exercise five days a week, meet numerous times with neurologists to discuss my chronic migraines …” And so my mind trails on.

I tell myself I can do all of these things. I can complete all of these tasks and handle all of my problems, and on my own. I can handle it. Even when, one night, mom calls me in tears and tells me what’s been going on in my family, I think I can take it. But I find myself faltering under this bring-it-on, the-more-the-better mentality. I really can’t do this, not all by myself. And I shouldn’t want to.

It’s fun to be competitive and healthy to be ambitious. Though I attribute my refusing help to my childhood with aggressive brothers, it’s partly my own doing. I don’t know when I first decided that seeking assistance was a sign of weakness. But sometimes there are things I can’t and don’t want to tackle by myself. “So thank you, Competition, but I’ve about had enough now,” I tell myself is a perfect ending to this column as I wrestle with thoughts of joining University Guides and living on the Lawn.

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