My middle son Owen doesn’t get a lot of playtime in this column. Or so he tells me. Of course, Owen also once told me never to write about him again. So I’m in a bit of a predicament.
If I read between the lines, however, what I hear from Owen is this: Write about me, but give me my own space. Therefore, in honor of his 10th birthday this week, I will attempt a feat that until now has seemed impossible: writing about Owen without mentioning oldest son’s name and youngest son’s name.
I went into labor with Owen while I was cleaning up from, ahem, someone else’s second birthday party. He was nearly three weeks early, and I was glad, because my husband had volunteered me to make five turkeys for the squadron’s single-sailor Thanksgiving party. (Apparently Dustin had forgotten that I was nine months pregnant and that I didn’t know how to cook one turkey.)
Owen spent his first year of life sleeping in a crib with a netted tent above it because we were worried that another well-meaning toddler might accidentally throw a blanket or a handful of Legos on top of him. Each morning, as I unzipped the tent to get him out, Owen smiled and cooed.
He almost never cried. So thoughtful of him, I thought, because there was already enough noise in our house.
Our dog, a Shetland sheepdog named Tanner, took a liking to baby Owen.
Sometimes, she enjoyed laying on his head. Still, Owen didn’t cry. And I was lucky because this other, um, boy would say, “Mom, Tanner is sitting on Owen’s head again.”
Otherwise, it could have been dangerous.
One tuft of hair grew straight up from the top of Owen’s head, which led to his nickname “Rooster.” His dark brown eyes glistened and seemed to sparkle. Whenever this big kid who lived in our house drew pictures of Owen, he included “sparkly eyes” and “sticking up hair.”
Owen didn’t talk until well after his second birthday. He was a late walker, too. He spent most of his time sitting in my lap or on my hip. I worried that something was wrong. The doctors did all kinds of tests, and eventually, after the results came back normal, the pediatrician told us, “Owen has just one problem, and his name begins with F.” After that, a constant refrain became, “Let Owen do it himself” and “Let Owen talk for himself.”
Owen’s favorite song was Nina Simone’s version of “Here Comes the Sun.” He called it the “Little darling song,” and I can still remember the vision of him in the rearview mirror as it played: sunk in his carseat; hair sticking up; eyes twinkling; a little bit of drool falling down his chin as he smiled and grabbed at the toe of his shoe.
When Owen was 4 years old, he had oral surgery and double pneumonia in the same winter. He had always been small and skinny, but by his fourth Christmas, he was fitting in old 2T clothing. I said he was like a kitten: long, bendy and skinny. He was still quiet: Never complained, hardly ever cried, not even after surgery or when he was sick.
Soon after, another little person joined our family. Owen seemed to grow faster after that. In another year, I referred to him as a “sunflower.” While some children consistently grow and change almost without detection year to year, Owen pushed through the soil and sprouted in a year’s time.
Everything from his button nose to his pudgy knees took shape.
Today, Owen is quiet but cheerful. It is impossible not to smile when he does. He doesn’t get into trouble at school or home. He seldom needs help with anything. He makes few demands. When other people want to be right, he lets them be. When other people want their way, he lets them have it. (Dear future daughter-in-law: You’re welcome.)
And … [sigh], I wanted to make this all about Owen. But I can’t. You see, Owen is who he is in part because of his older and younger brothers. His place as the middle child is as much a part of his character as being the baby of the family is part of … um, our other boy’s (you know, the one who is leaning over my shoulder right now squealing, “What about me? Write about me. I don’t see my name on the screen.”)
All three of my boys play off, and to, one another. They are shaping each other in ways they might not appreciate until later. Except that, one son already gets a lot of attention for being the oldest, and another gets attention for being the youngest. And Owen, I fear, gets lost in the shuffle.
He would never ask for it to be different. He wants them to be happy, but mostly, he wants peace. He even told me to include the youngest’s name so he’d stop crying. But I won’t. Everyone needs his own day. Today is Owen’s. I just hope that, uh, the others, can appreciate that.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.