Friday, December 16, 2016

A Middle Child and the Tin Man Walk into a Bar...

The scariest movie ever made was the Wizard of Oz. Between the horrors of the Munchkins, the flying monkeys, talking trees that throw apples, the green faced witch and a deadly tornado there is little evidence to support claims that this is a children's movie. Because of this I will turn to the less terrifying version of the story and refer to The Wiz as the movie from which one of the most beloved characters serves as both a hero and a coward to me: the Tin Man.

The proverbial "middle child" plays two roles: "The Fixer" and "The Helper." When someone is both a fixer and a helper they find themselves caring too much. Now one would venture to say that it's impossible for a person to care too much and that it's a trait that's honorable. But on the other hand it complicates your life on levels you didn't know existed until you find yourself face to face with them. The middle child feels compelled to over-achieve, to push themselves past the line drawn in the sand, and to continuously prove to others their ability to "fix" situations that are actually out of their control. They're the mediator. They're the caregiver. They're the introverted extrovert. They're the first to say, "What's wrong?" and the one to immediately say, "What can I do?" All the while they ignore the caution signs and emergency cones set up to protect them from impending danger because their focus has blinders. In an effort to fix and help the middle child is blind to the destruction they cause in their path or the toll they take on their own heart. I guess it should come as no surprise that the one who desperately wanted a heart, the Tin Man, out of the three characters Dorothy ran into on that yellow brick road, was the middle one.

Growing up, the middle child tries to out perform their siblings in an effort to stand out. This doesn't change with age it just takes on a different form within different relationships. As an adult the middle child will be in relationships where they do their best to be everything their partner's exes were not thereby standing out against the others. Within their family the middle child will try to play interference between new sister in laws and siblings or between parents and children. The middle child feels obligated to defuse situations. They fear they're burdens and will outstay their welcome yet they see no limit in what they can give to others and have an open door policy. The middle child is fearful of loneliness yet terrified of commitment.

When the middle child falls in love with someone who is broken on the inside they do everything in their power to fix them. They put their own emotions and needs on hold to dedicate that energy to the one that they love. As any overachiever does: they overdo everything. They love too much. They overthink. They hold too tightly. They blur the line between helping the person they love and losing the person they are. And when that relationship inevitably ends the middle child stands there dazed and confused. They don't see that in their effort to mend a wounded person they applied too much pressure to the wound, wrapped the bandage too tightly, and gave too much of themselves to heal someone that couldn't be healed. There's not enough glue or love to fix that broken soul. But the middle child doesn't see that until it's too late. And even then, standing in the wake of their own fractured heart, the middle child will look at the person they love- the person who hurt them- and say, "Are you ok?"

The middle child will look at all their friends, their parents, and their siblings and constantly wonder how they can help or fix or love them through something. With their own broken wing needing attention they ignore their wound and give of themselves until there is little else to give. And when things fail or fall apart the middle child can't help but take responsibility. When siblings stop communicating, when parents divorce, when friends lose contact, and when boyfriends end things- the middle child won't look at the other person and say, "This is what role you played in this ending." The middle child will look in the mirror and say, "You failed."

So you can't hold it against a middle child when she starts to think the Tin Man had it made before Dorothy came along and ruined everything for him. He is covered in protective armor and he's completely unaware of the heart that's inside of him. Because he doesn't use it he doesn't know what it feels like to have it broken. He doesn't know disappointment. He doesn't know loneliness. And he doesn't know empathy. He just protects himself within a metal shell and lives his life without scars or wounds or tears. And a middle child can't help but envy him... To find comfort in his defensive exterior and his hardened interior. The Tin Man never cried himself to sleep. The Tin Man never felt the air physically escape him when he heard the words "I met someone else." The Tin Man never once would have to worry about spending holidays alone or letting someone they love down. The Tin Man doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve... he protects it. This imaginary character that exists only in a fairy tale is everything a middle child wishes they could be... And everything they are thankful they are not.

Despite the damage that it causes, the wounds that never mend, and the nights spent alone I don't think I could ever go without having a heart. I don't think I would give up those moments where loving too much or holding too tightly meant I was happy even if for a brief moment. Without a heart I wouldn't have the job I have dedicated my life to. I can't imagine the Tin Man out there in a red vest at one o'clock in the morning wrapping someone in a blanket outside of their burning home. I can't imagine the Tin Man getting paid to ask the question, "How can I help you?" I've made a career out of the one thing I was told was my biggest weakness: Caring too much. Yet I wouldn't change that for all the unbroken hearts in the world. My life is filled with loved ones, life long friends, and a best friend for whom my heart knows no limits.

But my heart is tired. It is covered in bruises and band-aids and scars that time just doesn't want to heal. Yet I can't justify not using it or not having one because there is no shame in loving someone even if they don't love you the same way back. There is no shame in giving your all when that amount given can never be adequately reciprocated. There is no shame in being a fixer and a helper. There is no shame in setting yourself up for disappointment. There is only shame in giving up and not giving your all. And that is something the middle child doesn't know how to do. There is always more to give. There is always more to share. There is always more to love. So the middle child will take the time to rest their heart and prepare it for another round. The middle child knows... I know... the potential consequences of my actions but that will never stop me. I'm bound to be hurt again but I'm not truly living my life unless I'm giving my all.

The Tin Man wanted a heart and he got it. But I truly hope it came with a warning label and he read the fine print. Because once you use that thing it's inevitably going to break. And you can't return it once you've opened to someone else. 

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