EDUCATION

The Bottom Rung: What it’s like to be the youngest member of the family

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Colleen and her three older siblings.

Colleen Stimola
Oxford Stories
cmstimol@go.olemiss.edu

My pecking order was determined the day I was born. I am the baby of the family, the last of four children. I will never know what it is like to be at the top of the ladder, to have the most power.

That is parents’ territory. My dad is first, with mom a close second. “It is time to go to bed.” “It is your night to help make dinner.” “You have to be home by 11 pm.”

Then, there’s my sister, the firstborn, who is next in the power line. Yeah, even my older brothers might periodically get the top spot, but no matter how one looks at it, I am stuck on the bottom rung.

Let’s start with chores: a full house and busy family have plenty. “We expect you children to help with daily household tasks.”

In theory, this sounds great. In reality, there has been only one person who is always available. Guess who?

My older siblings had “excuses,” such as too much homework, working at their jobs until late, still being at soccer practice, and so forth. I got stuck doing dish duty with my mother almost nightly. Lucky me.

It’s not my fault that, as the youngest, I didn’t have a job, or that my schoolwork level wasn’t as difficult, or that I finished sports practice. I shouldn’t always have been the one to pick up the slack.

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Colleen with big sister Kristen.

Switching around our assigned nights didn’t seem to work either. It might have looked like it would work when the schedule was determined, but something always came up for my older siblings, which resulted in their getting out of the job for the evening.

I was never successful finding the excuse that always worked, so as a result, I was usually the dish assistant. Oh joy.

Also, it is true that I am an animal lover, but why did that mean I had to be the sole person to feed every animal that we owned? Between the dogs – one of whom was super picky and wouldn’t eat her actual dog food – and the rabbit, whose nasty litter box had to be cleaned as he attacked my hand when it entered his cage, the jobs had their challenges.

Bearing the brunt of the chores for many years helps to develop character, as my father used to say. As I have grown, I have seen how helping out has shaped me, even though I hate to admit it. I have learned that not everything I do in life is enjoyable, but there is always a benefit or reason for it.

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Current photo of Colleen (right) and her big sister Kristen (left)

Although being the baby of the family may have its trials, there are probably more perks than negatives. For my four years in high school, I was basically an only child. I successfully took over my big sister’s bedroom and made it my own: grey and white with accents of hot-pink polka-dots.

I could actually choose to sleep in one of my siblings’ bedrooms, but why would I when I have a perfect suite of my own? When my parents went to a restaurant for dinner or traveled on a little vacation, I went along with them.

One of the most unexpected luxuries: I got the full attention of my parents when I needed it. Oh yes, and unfortunately, even when I didn’t. Plus, I had an added bonus, as compared to an only child. I am just a phone call away from my older siblings. I get to speak with them whenever I want.

Now that I am living on a college campus, it has been easy for my parents and me to adjust. We saw my three older siblings successfully go off to their colleges, so when the time came for me, the transition to Ole Miss was smooth and seamless.

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Entrance into the University of Mississippi. Photographed by Colleen Stimola.

My parents knew what to expect, and so did I. I stay in touch with them daily which keeps the possibility of homesickness at bay, and now that my parents are “empty-nesters,” they are free to come visit me in Oxford anytime, which they have done all the way from Connecticut.

The thing is, I will never be on the top of the ladder in my immediate family – and I initially tried to fight this fact for years. I didn’t seem to pull rank over anyone in my house, except maybe the dogs.

As my siblings grew and left the nest, I was able to enjoy the more peaceful, quiet house that resulted as each one moved out. I became closer to my parents and have an amazing relationship with my mother and father, individually and as a whole.

I am thankful for my childhood, and how hands-on both of my parents were in raising me. I am blessed that my family is so supportive of my goals and aspirations. I have embraced my college years and living in a different part of the country, as well as spending a semester abroad. These experiences have all helped me mature and shape me into young adulthood.

Maybe being on the bottom rung isn’t so bad after all; it just took me 21 years to realize it.

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