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Column: Being the baby

I’m in a Moose Lodge having a beer with my parents. My mom strikes up a conversation with the woman next to her. She points to me and says, “That’s my baby.”

Being the youngest of seven kids can be difficult. For instance, I’m a 38-year old baby. I’ll always be my mom’s baby. If I were to tackle a bear and wrestle it into submission to save a damsel in distress,
I would still be known as “The Baby.”

Being the baby means wearing hand-me-downs. Growing up, there wasn’t much I owned that wasn’t pre-owned. If you look at my sixth grade school picture, I’m wearing the same shirt my brother Mike was wearing in his sixth grade school picture. We even had the same haircut because, when Mike was done, my mother would point at me and tell Tony the Barber, “Now do that to him.”

Being the baby carries with it a stigma of entitlement. My siblings consider me spoiled. They resent the attention I was paid. This led to more attention; the kind of attention you don’t want. When you’re the youngest of seven kids, you get noogies and swirlies. A noogie happens when your brother forcibly rubs his knuckles on your head. A swirly happens when your head is dunked into a flushing toilet. Low self-esteem happens when you get noogies and swirlies.

I’m pretty sure being the baby has had a permanent effect on my life. When I walk by a group of people, I instinctively cover my chest because I expect to be punched. I tend to swallow my food without chewing out of fear that, if I don’t finish it quickly, someone bigger will take it away from me. I don’t bother people with trivial things like my opinions.

My entire life, I have had eight bosses. My orders have always started with Mom and Dad and gone down the chain of command. I’ve been told what to do so much that I’m afraid to make decisions without consultation. While ordering at a restaurant, I ask the waiter to just bring me what other people won’t eat. I tend to apologize for no reason at inappropriate times, like when someone congratulates me for something or while I’m cashing a check at the bank.

Being the baby is a blessing as well as a curse. As the years went by, my parents advanced their careers and could eventually afford to splurge and bring home brand name cereal. My older siblings, who were forced to survive on yellow packages with black letters that spelled out things like “Toasted Oats” and “Bran Flakes & Raisins,” came home to find me eating bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. They never got Cinnamon Toast Crunch and they hated me for my privilege. It was nice. It almost made up for all of the noogies and swirlies.

There are some who would consider being the baby a bad thing. I disagree. I like to think that Mom and Dad had six kids to practice with before I came along. With me, they knew when to scold, when to praise, when to ignore and when to call 911. My brothers and sisters were the guinea pigs. I am the super-human end result of a completely refined and perfected upbringing.

Not bad for a baby.

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