What the Matthew McConaughey family portrait teaches you about having siblings: A lesson in being a (favoured) middle child
When the McConnaughey family photo-op circulated earlier this week after its namesake patriarch received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, I couldn’t help but notice the strange similarity to nearly every one of the family portraits my two brothers and I were forced into taking growing up.
For comparison’s sake, let’s dissect this Kodak moment of Matthew McConaughey’s clan: there’s Levi McConaughey, 6, wearing the solemn responsibility of being the eldest sibling (the buttoned-up collar is a nice signifying touch, one my older brother Lucas would probably embrace). At the other end of the sibling spectrum, there’s Livingston, who at 23 months, is the youngest and by virtue of that fact, both literally and metaphorically within his mother’s grasp (he represents my younger brother, the baby of our family, Daniel).
Then of course there’s four-year-old Vida, a bright light stifled between two brothers by birth order, while outshining her place in practically every other regard (that’s me). I can’t sum up the experience any better than with this magnificent child, who, with an assertive gaze and demure pop of her Mary Janes, demonstrates her complete disregard for the sibling hierarchy (she just happens to be doing so in Dolce & Gabbana).
That’s the thing about being the only girl lucky enough to have been born between two unsuspecting brothers, and it’s an affront to the very definition of middle child syndrome: as the only female, the resentment, neglect and low self-esteem common among middle children is replaced by the endless attention, adoration and privilege of being a girl. (I used to delight in the horrified reactions of strangers as my father boasted that I was his favourite daughter. They didn’t need to know that it was by default.)
When I showed the now infamous McConaughey family photo to two of my colleagues, both sole female middle children, they nodded with a familiar understanding: that parental coddling temporarily usurped natural sibling pecking order for us. And while it was enough to make us believe ourselves to be special, Darwinian survival instincts inevitably kept our egos in check. Observe.
This is my life perfectly summed up by The Aristocats.
In other words, as keenly our parents worked to inflate our self-perceptions did our brothers just as meticulously tear them back down. That’s family.
For my brothers anyway, these days, their tactics have evolved to more subtle displays of balancing rank. In our most recent family selfie, one that was taken willingly for a change, Lucas relished our momentary sibling love fest with typical enthusiasm, and captioned the photo with the hashtag #Avasadopted.
Some things never change. Keep your foot up, Vida.