Jackson was put on this earth to challenge me, not always (if ever) an in-your-face-teenage-boy-challenge, but a subtle request to do better. He challenges me to be my best, to follow my moral compass, to not only seek justice but to redefine it, to find it hiding in the nooks and crannies of life as we live it. Don’t get me wrong, he challenges me in other ways as well — many of them — but none as important as his quiet request for me to do better. He asks me to go hunting, he invites me to swim with sharks, he begs me to try hot sauce. He talks me into wake surfing and wants me to climb rocks with him when we hike. He is the definition of “getting out of your box”, in fact, he dances on his daily.
I remember, very clearly, the day I knew for certain that Jackson would no longer be “the baby” and would move up a notch in the design of our family. He and his brother were running out the door, heading to Grandma’s house. I knew a pregnancy test was in my immediate future, and I knew the answer would be two pink lines. I asked Jackson to come back for a second, I picked him up, snuggled my face into the tender angle of his neck and chest, just below his chin. I breathed in the scent of his three year old self, a mix of sunshine from playing outside and the sweetness that comes from little boys. I kissed him until he giggled. I whispered quietly into his ear, “Always my baby you will be.” I cried when he walked out the door. As happy as I was that our family was growing, a sadness lingered that he would be bumped, moved over. That his little world would change, in so many good ways, but in challenging ways, too. I cried for the way life was changing, the tenderness of it all.
I didn’t know then that Jackson would move on to be one of three boys. That not only would he not be the oldest son, or the youngest son, but the son in The Middle. The boy stuck between the beginning and the end, the one who would feel at times unimportant, ignored. The one who would go with the flow, who would be pulled along the path his older brother paved, leaving it for the last to come behind. Sometimes being left to not feel special, distinct in any way from his brothers.
Did you know that a study from Stanford University showed that middles are considered the most envious, least bold and least talkative of all the birth orders? I did. I have read all about it. And I don’t believe a word. Did you also know that 52% of our presidents have been middles? I know that middles are drawn to greater principles, such as justice and empathy, rather than possession or greed. They are great negotiators, they can compromise and are good leaders. My middle is his own man, at least he’s growing into that. He defies the stereotype of a middle, to spite it.
Following a brother who has been as successful as his older brother has been to date, is a struggle. It’s hard. The comparisons flood your thoughts, and you don’t always feel as though you aren’t measuring up. I see this, I feel it. I don’t know how to smooth it over. I don’t know how to have him understand the great depth he brings to our life. The power with which he wields his humor and his presence is as great an impactor as that of his brothers unique skills, Jack just can’t always hear it as he listens to his brothers’ drum.
In an interesting twist of fate, Jackson is neither the youngest son or the oldest son, but he has been the most challenged boy in our home. From breaking 18 bones (Yes, 18. Yes, I’m not lying. Yes, I’m not exaggerating. Yes, it scares me.) to handling a drastic change to his diet when we removed gluten over 3 years ago. He spent two months in a wheel chair after a football injury on his 10th birthday. He dislocated his hip and fractured his pelvis in his very first tackle football scrimmage. He spent a few weeks quietly handling himself in his wheel chair or on his crutches. He barely ate, he slept fitfully and worked diligently to keep up with his homework, he hardly spoke. He broke my heart a little more every day. His spirit, the fire in his belly that makes him so uniquely Jack, was dim. I couldn’t feel its warmth, I couldn’t flame it. There were days I couldn’t even find it.
One day as I was moving things around in the trunk of the car so I could load his wheel chair he looked at me with his hands on the wheels and said, “Momma, do you think I could ride my wheel chair down the driveway and off the skateboard ramp?” Tears burned my eyes, “Not today, baby. But someday. Before you turn your wheel chair back in, we will.” He is resilient in ways my book ends are not. We did ride down the drive way and off the bike ramp before we turned the chair in. He smiled the whole ride.
What I have learned over the past few months, is that while I am mourning Cooper’s impending departure and the change in our family, so is my middle. Sure, it’s not a new revelation, obviously, he’ll be sad when his brother leaves. But the past few weeks have pointed out to me my ego centric view with which I was looking at Coop’s graduation. It has been about me, how will I survive? How will I go to sleep when he isn’t sleeping tucked into his bed where he has been for all his life? Jackson helped me see it’s not all about me, it’s about him, too. And E and Aiden. He has quietly requested I do better. He has quietly sought out more time with Coop. He has quietly supported and praised his older brother. He has quietly reached out.
Much like the last day I kissed the baby he was, our family is preparing to change. Again, Jackson will be bumped a notch. While he can never replace his brother, and certainly wouldn’t want to (most days anyway :)) he is preparing to take the lead. To help forge a path in the foot steps of his idol. For the first time in his life, that path will not be shadowed by the presence of Cooper. He will have a clear sight line, he will carve his own stones to lay in his own unique design. It will be Aiden who is following, watching, learning, growing behind him as he learns to spread his wings. We are changing. Jackson has helped me bridge the gap between the last big change in our family, to this one. He has helped me to remember that all change is hard. That growing and learning and loving is bittersweet.
My 16-year-old is showing me how to prepare for college. Jackson is showing me the way to enjoying our last few months as a tribe of five. He is helping me see the beauty of what the last 18 years have created. He is my middle, thank God.