We didn’t usually go out this late, but tonight everyone was bustling to the door, throwing on shoes hastily that may or may not have belonged to them, shoving this way and that in an attempt to find room on the steps to tie their laces.
Despite the whirlwind of excitement all around me, I stayed focused. Only one question mattered in that moment.
“But is it a boy or a girl?” I demanded again with increasing persistence.
Finally, my grandmother answered, in a frustrated tone that told me I shouldn’t care about such a trivial thing: “It’s a boy!”
Instantly the world became a dark and disappointing place. As all my siblings enthusiastically ran to the car, I walked like a prisoner sentenced to the guillotine.
After twenty minutes of being squished between two of my younger brothers and enduring the loud squeals of another, we finally arrived at the hospital. Not one adult took any notice of the stiffening scowl on my face. Second born children escape notice with incredible ease.
My older sister elbowed me in the side as we were walking down the long hospital corridors.
“Stop being so grumpy, this is the last one, remember?”
I did remember. I had a very vivid recollection of Mom and Dad sitting us all down to inform us about the oncoming birth. The younger ones were excited, because everything excites them, but we older ones had known better.
“Another? Are we ever going to stop?” my oldest little brother asked despairingly. My sister and I silently agreed with him.
Mom and Dad reassured us that this would be the last one. Our family would be complete with six kids: two girls, three boys, and whatever the last one decided to be.
No one other than me seemed to understand how much the gender of the last child mattered. Not only for the sake of symmetry, to even the score between girls and boys in the family, but also to me personally. Being the youngest girl in the family meant I was always last in some respects. When my sister outgrew clothes they went to me, but when I outgrew clothes they went away. When my sister learned things she always passed them down to me, but the boys were never interested in what I wanted to pass down to them. They were as different from me as they were similar to each other. The past eight years of my life had been an accumulation of brother after brother like clockwork.
This child had been a chance to break the monotony, and I didn’t need my sister to remind me that it was also the last chance.
Full of resentment for the brother I hadn’t met and the parents who were so overjoyed by their repetitious delivery, I walked into the hospital room. Everyone else rushed to the bed to see the sight. I went to the corner of the room and perched on top of the stool that every doctor’s office has. I knew the kind well, pale blue and capable of gliding across the floor and spinning in place. It was a mark of how bad my mood was that I didn’t even try to spin. My perch was grim and solemn.
I didn’t need to walk over to the bed. I could paint the scene with my eyes closed. Mom was sitting up, looking tired but happy. Dad was leaning over, overjoyed and proud. Both were wearing ridiculous hospital scrubs. The baby was in mom’s arms, with a puckered red face, eyes tightly shut, looking vaguely disgruntled with the world, with a light dusting of peach fuzz on its head and wearing a tiny hospital wristband that matched mom’s. And of course wrapped in a blue blanket so there could be no mistake about its disappointing gender. There had been a few surprises in the past, but that was the basic formula. Once when we came in Mom still had an IV in her arm, which had been disturbing, and fostered my fear of needles. Another time we came in and the baby was revealed to have a full head of dark hair, which had been equally disturbing, but we grew to love Asa anyway.
“Sueanna, don’t you want to come see your brother?”
That was the call I had been dreading. I couldn’t disobey, but I could obey in such a way that my utmost loathing for the task could not be called into question. And so with a deep sigh, and a pained grimace, I slowly shuffled over to my new sibling.
He looked exactly as I had predicted, all the way down to the disappointing blanket. I looked up at my mom and asked her with my eyes to somehow make this all okay, to ease my distress.
“We’re going to call him Joshua, okay?” she said kindly, as if asking for my permission. I nodded my approval, grateful for the gesture.
I had been trying to get my parents to stop naming us such difficult names for years. As quite possibly the only Sueanna in the world, I had felt the loneliness of being so named very harshly. As a result, I had fought them on Micah and Asa, but finally on Joshua we had come to an agreement. He would at least live a normal life without having to spell out his name everywhere he went.
“He barely took two minutes to be born. The doctor almost missed it! He’ll be very easy going, for sure,” my mom continued to reassure me. “Hardly any crying either, he’s quiet as a mouse.”
She knew my complaints against my brothers too well, and so, as usual, she knew exactly what to say to coax a grudging approval from me. I had to admit that those did sound like good attributes for a brother to have. I shrugged and gave a grunt of acceptance. Mom knew that was the most she would get out of me, so she let me leave the bedside and give my grandparents enough room to swamp the newborn with undeserved affection.
I retired to my stool but did not resume my bitterness. Joshua was already growing on me. He was one of us now, and so our family was complete.