I am my mother’s fifth child. There are six. The firstborn, my eldest brother, is only seven years older than I. That’s how cute my mom is.
My little sister is ten years younger. I think it took ten years before it became apparent to my parents that they hadn’t gotten it quite right yet.
The oldest—we’ll call him “Ken,” because that’s his name—was always the smartest. Scholarships, class president, front man of a popular rock band. He was hard to hate. As I grew long and lanky like he was, with the same stooped shoulders and head-bobbing walk, I secretly liked it when people called me Ken. I liked it less when, as I grew my hair out long like his, a few people called me Patty. My sister Patty didn’t like it much either. As an adult she admitted to me that she had spent a considerable amount of her childhood rifling through my parents’ drawers looking for proof that she was adopted.
My dad traveled a lot, and regularly referred to me as KenChuckCherylPatMick, with an instant blink of correction between each name. At least he got everybody in the right order. When my litter sister was born, he got her name right on the first try, probably because he’d had a decade to sort the rest of us out. He wanted to name her Jodi, but my mother refused. They agreed on JoEllen Marie. Everyone calls her Jodi. If Ken were to step out in front of a bus, my family would unanimously name Jodi as the smartest, and not just because Ken was gone, but because, well, how dumb do you have to be to step out in front of a bus?
Not long after Jodi was born, I was cheerfully reciting the names of all the kids in my family, in my little sing-song voice. “Ken, Chuck, Cheryl, Patty…Jodi…”
The sing-song stopped. I knew there were six kids. I went back through the names, feeling a little sheepish at first. Ken. Chuck Cheryl. Patty. Jodi… Who was I missing? After a moment, unstoppable hot tears pressed out of my eyes. I hated myself—how could I be so thoughtless and self-centered that I didn’t even remember all my brothers and sisters? In shame I confessed it to my mother, so desperate was I to find out whom I had forgotten that I was willing to reveal to her that I was a selfish cretin.
She waited a few moments for me to figure it out. I didn’t. She blinked at me, sweetly at first, then blankly. Out of pity she eventually added, “You forgot Mickey.”
I think it is to my credit that the relief I felt to learn I hadn’t forgotten anyone outweighed the embarrassment of being dim.
Perhaps someday I’ll be the smartest kid in my family, but it’s going to take a whole fleet of buses.