Family Labels: Fifth Chinese Daughter, Uninteresting Middle Daughter, Favorite Second Daughter

Any of you out there a middle kid? I’m a middle in a couple of ways. Six kids in my family: Three boys, then three girls. I’m the middle of the three girls, #5 in the entire sequence.

When I was around 13 or so, I read a book with the line “uninteresting middle daughter.” The character in the book felt that the oldest got attention by virtue of being, well, the oldest (and therefore the only one to get the undivided attention of their parents, at least for a while).

The youngest was the little, sweet, cute, cuddly one.

That left only the role of “uninteresting middle daughter.” I told my dad that I was the uninteresting middle daughter; he chuckled, and from then on would occasionally use it to poke fun at me. (That was just one of many Dad-isms, alongside such keepers as, “So, are you bubbling over with effervescent joy?” and "Whatever smokes your drawers!")

As a voracious reader—the kind who vowed one summer to read every book in the library, beginning with the authors whose last names start with A—I’m sure I’ve read literally thousands of books over the years. For some reason, one that stuck in memory is Fifth Chinese Daughter (here it is on Amazon), an autobiography by Jade Snow Wong.

Wong was the child of Chinese immigrant parents, growing up in San Francisco and undergoing a cultural transition to a more independent—American—way of living as a woman. The kids were all referred to in by their place in the family, hence the book title. What a pragmatic system, with a sense of security: always knowing your place in the family.

Fast forward to today. I have two daughters, a stepson and stepdaughter. In writing this blog I thought I should use labels rather than names. Some are easy: Eldest Daughter. The Boy. Littlest Girl. So what to do with #2 Girl?

She’s the middle if you number only the daughters. Not the least bit uninteresting, I hasten to add.

She’s smart, funny, really good at connecting with people, described by her teachers as the one who mixes well with every clique and a natural leader. When she was in about fifth grade (she’ll correct me on this if I got it wrong) she said she wanted to be president, and asked what she should do to start preparing. I believe she can do it, too.

She has justifiably taken exception to "Second Daughter," as a label that gives no indication of her well-deserved specialness.

So what do I call her here? I asked on Twitter and got the suggestion of Favorite Second Daughter, which I rather like. However, I've used that approach as a copout over the year, telling the girls at various times that they were my favorite 8-year-old, favorite 10-year-old, favorite whatever-year-old (since I truly don't have a favorite kid).

Another route I could take would be to label them by characteristics, but I’ve always loathed the idea that in a family, one kid would be “the smart one” while another was “the pretty one” or “the talented one.” (I have to admit that there are labels in my family of origin that may influence my feelings in this case, even though I think at least one of my labels is relatively positive).

Our kids are ALL smart, good-looking, and talented, so that would get very confusing in any case.

If I label by talents, what about the ones they share? Both #1 and #2 sing beautifully, and if I call #1 The Singer that implies she's the only singer (although she’s in choir and #2 isn’t).

#2 is in drama and has acted in several parts, so she could be The Actress--Drama Queen on bad days, not there are ever any of those. (Actually, she's pretty undramatic given that she's 14.)

The Boy could be The Engineer, as he loves taking things apart and putting things together (not necessarily always the same things, mind you).

Littlest Girl would have to be The Movie Sponge, as she will watch movies all day every day if we let her, and happily watches the same movie three times in a row if we don't scream when we hear the soundtrack starting over.

Back to #2. Any labeling ideas? What did your family do, and are your feelings toward the system love, hate, or indifference? Did you do things differently with your kids?