On April 15th, 1994 I was born in a little hospital in Greenville, PA, a small town in rural Mercer County. It was tax day, and it was also the 82nd anniversary of when the Titanic sunk, but that’s a morbid point for what was otherwise a fairly exciting occasion. Anyways, on April 15th, my brothers were at boy scout camp, the obstetrician was wanting to buy a new minivan, and my mom was trying to have a baby. Fortunately, the boys didn’t make it for the labor and delivery, the OB got a new minivan, and my siblings got a baby sister. My parents were 37 and 38, and my brothers were 9, 8, and 3 and half. I don’t know how old my OB was, but her name was Janet Segall if you want to look her up and let me know.
Growing up, I didn’t really like being so much younger than my oldest brothers. I felt like I had to learn a lot to prove myself, to survive and thrive as the baby of the family. I felt like life had dealt me a hand of cards I wasn’t sure what to do with. I was one of those kids who never felt their age, who was strangely aware of things like FAFSA while other kids were watching SpongeBob Squarepants. And I was always, always, always keenly aware of my place in the birth order.
By the age of 4, I had observed ladies at the church had this tendency to develop a strange lisp when asking me if I was “the baby princess of the family,“…but by the age of 5, I had developed a characteristically sharp-tongued rebuttal to use towards the battalion of lisping ladies to prove I wasn’t to be lisped at. (In case you are wondering, I disclosed a detailed narrative about the time I tackled pudgy, 8 year old Eric Fassett to the ground in a neighborhood game of tackle football) By the age of 7, I had already logged enough hours at little league baseball games and cross country invitationals to last me a lifetime, and by age 8 I won the softball toss on 3rd grade field day and felt a sudden, fleeting shred of gratitude for all those games of parking lot baseball. By the age of 9, I was hanging out with college boys while they were on spring break, and by 10 I realized college boys could be really annoying and fall asleep on just about any surface. (Still true as in 2016 as it was in 2004) Finally by the age of 12, I realized that we had all forgotten the secrets my brothers said they would tell me when I turned 12, and by 13 I thanked God I was no longer 12.
Being the youngest of the family—the baby if-you-will—meant that when Andy and Josiah and Sam were going to see The Lord of the Rings, I was watching the special features on our family’s very first DVD: Monsters Inc. When Andy and Josiah were going to the prom, I was taking pictures of them on Walmart disposable camera, looking forward to putting the photos in my Lisa Frank rainbow cover photo album. When Andy and Josiah were moving into college, I was moving into the biggest size of overalls from OshKosh and had paid $35 to get a certificate saying that I had adopted a manatee named Lenny from a wildlife conservation group based out of the Florida Keys. When they accepted their diplomas, I accepted a retainer in a sparkly purple case from the orthodontist and a new appreciation for the ease of flossing. And by the time Sam started college, I started finding out my classmates could be cast on the MTV show Sixteen and Pregnant and found a drawing a classmate made of me wearing a nun’s habit. It actually was a pretty good drawing, and she went to art school after we graduated.
For many years, I hated being the baby, feeling like I was always sprinting from behind, like I was standing on my tippy toes—so desperate to catch up, so desperate for my brothers to see me from up there in the mysterious stratosphere known as adult world. And I did not suffer silently. Unfortunately for my parents, their last child was also their most weepy, sentimental, and verbal child, and they certainly heard my laments on the status of my siblinghood. I got the short end of the stick! Why did you do this to me? My lot has been cast, and I’m the guy that Matthias beat out in Acts 1! Okay, so I didn’t actually say that last part. But my complaints had to have been abundant enough to force them to consider if they really should have named me Grace “God’s gift” or if they should have gone with “Cruella.” I hated being behind, being the youngest—being the baby.
By the time my own high school graduation day came, the complaints about being the baby of the family had begun to subside to some degree, but I still felt like my siblings had been raptured into the adult world while I was left behind on planet-what-should-my-college-major-be. Andy and Josiah were married, Sam had written and directed three plays at his college and was thinking about grad school, and my first niece, Evelyn, had just turned 7 months old. Their lives were in such a different stage than mine. But at some point in my senior year of high school, I realized for the first time in my whole life that being the youngest wasn’t a bad thing. Yes my brothers were older, but they seemed wiser, too, and that was helpful for while I was navigating life on planet-what-should-my-college-major-be. Yes they had moved out and gotten married, but I got two new sisters. Yes they were in different stages of life from me, but here I was, a young aunt who had a lot of expendable income to spend on baby-sized overalls from Oshkosh. And I could save money and use their old college textbooks! The short of the stick was getting longer, and being the youngest—the baby of the family—was beginning to become better.
It’s been about 22 years since Dr. Segall bought that mini-van. My mom and dad are 59, Andy is 31, Rachael is 30, Josiah and Brittany are 29, Sam is 25, Evelyn is 4, James is 2, and Peter is 4 months. Being the baby of the family now means that I have the privilege of seeing my family grow. Seeing my brother become a dad, my other brothers excel at their careers, and my parents become grandparents is something I get a front seat to, something I otherwise might have missed out on so fully if I was busy living up in the mysterious stratosphere of the adult world. It’s a great honor to see my parents sit on the couch with Evelyn on their lap, reading her the same Madeline story book six times over, to see James run to my mom and kiss her on the cheek and shout “Grandma!” with such glee, to see tears well up in their eyes in the dimly-lit hospital room when they met Peter Hans. Standing on the other side and seeing my parents become grandparents feels like I’m watching their diaries from 1994 come to life before my eyes. It’s a mysterious and remarkable thing, something that makes me appreciate them so much more, something that helps me find joy in a world that feels somber much too often.
Becoming a young aunt has given me a small glimpse into this mysterious and remarkable and joyful process that happens when a child is brought into this world. No one, in my opinion, has put into words what it’s like to have a front row seat to watching this remarkable process play out better than author Marilynne Robinson in her novel Gilead. Robinson’s Gilead takes place in the last days of John Ames, an aging Iowan pastor who is writing a letter to his young son, a son he never expected to have after all those years of quiet, lonely nights in his study. Ames’s past has left him with a gentle and revelling spirit, a spirit of reflection and contemplation, a spirit that takes great pride and joy in the gift of children. The birth of his son is something he calls, “God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle.” “It’s your existence I love you for, mainly,” Ames tells his son. “Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
The other day, it was the first big snow of the year, and I went over to help put on new snow pants, and open snow markers, and make snow angels with Evelyn and James. I took them by the hand, and we all shuffled through the snow together, slipping and swishing our way through the light and fluffy powder. Children have an amazing wonder that overcomes them when they get in the snow, a kind of pure, electric excitement that delights greatly in something that so many adults have grown to hate, are bitter towards, neglect to view as magical. These tiny little people who delight in snow drifts and swishy pants help me stop and realize how remarkable existence really is, how miracles are swirling all around us, how beauty is magnified through our experience of it with others. Like John Ames, these days I am revelling this miracle that is the remarkability of existence, and not just their existence. My existence, my family’s existence, the existence of snow and gummy bears and storybooks and everything else on this grand planet that we get to call home.
I hope that as time goes on, as Evelyn and James and Peter grow up and so do I, I do not lose sight of how remarkable their existence is, how life is to be celebrated, how beautiful the sound is of little feet running circles around the dining room table, how lucky I am to be the youngest and get the priviledge of seeing my family grow and grow up. I hope I do not forget to revel in the magic of that first snowfall, to bask in the wise words of John Ames who knows how precious the time is we spend with the ones we love, the ones who know our hearts best.
God’s grace to me is that I was born the youngest. I have been stopped in my tracks, proven wrong, shown that the life I have had has been more remarkable than I realized. I get to play with snow markers, eat gummy bears, read stories about trolls, sing a song about a mailman and have my jokes laughed at time and time again. I get the privilege of watching my family become the best people they have ever been. It took me 22 years to realize it, but I like the view from here. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown taller, or maybe it’s just because the scene before me is one I am content to enjoy. I may be the baby of the family, but I (finally) love it.