When I meet someone new, one of the first things I like to find out is how many siblings they have and what position are they in the pecking order. This is because I have always been very conscious of my own situation and the effect it had on me growing up.
Between two brothers
I am aware that I may as well have 'middle child syndrome' tattooed on my forehead. I am in between two multi-talented brothers and we are roughly three years apart. When I reveal this most people focus on the fact that I am the only girl of the lot and therefore must have been treated like a princess! Alas, this was not the case.
My mum is in the same boat at me â an only girl between two brothers â although there is more of a gap between her and her younger brother. She didn't grow up sharing clothes, talking about boys or going shopping with anyone in her family and she never placed importance on doing those things with me.
When I wrack my brain for the 'girly' things I missed out, I struggle to think of anything that really upsets me. I went through a stage where I loved going to the mall. But that phase passed and I took up sewing to fill that void, not because anyone made me but because I wanted to be able to make things for myself.
My brothers enjoyed playing dress ups just as much as I did when we were younger. They would often be vampires and I would be a witch because that's what my dream was before the age of 12. I wanted to be a green skinned, cauldron stirring, big nosed, big-time witch. I outgrew my pink princess dress at six and moved on to bigger and better things.
The only real advantage being the only girl ever gave me was the privilege of my own room when we went on holiday. I never felt like my femininity was emphasised by my parents and I hated it when my brothers used it as an excuse to gang up on me or worse, exclude me from anything.
Generally I was the happiest when I was included in things. I hated the idea that I would be left out because I was girl. In my mind there was nothing my brothers could do that I couldn't. I played football like them. I started tennis at the same time and I even took up cricket. I also chose to do highland dancing and jazz dancing â something my brothers left up to me!
Carving my own identity
In my mind I could do anything that they could as well, if not better. It was frustrating when my younger brother grew bigger than me and I could no longer win any physical tussles. I am grateful that my parents encouraged me to do anything that I was passionate about.
When I was 14 I decided to carve my own way in a very dramatic fashion. We moved cities and I decided to go to boarding school â I came up with this scheme entirely on my own and my parents supported me to make it happen. I missed having my family around me but it certainly fostered independence and enabled me to expand my skills and interests.
I missed my family but I am grateful for the competitiveness that being the only girl set me up with. My parents let me believe I could do anything and brothers taught me that although that may be true, I would sometimes have to work that little bit harder to win the battles.
Home and away
My dad is not a church-going man outside of Christmas and the occasional Easter. The last Christmas service he attended he remarked that he felt he had done enough repenting to last him a couple of years, as atonement was very much the theme of the service.
The reason he goes is because he knows it's important to Mum and now to all of us â because that's just what we do. He is no stranger to sacrifice, big or small, and despite his lack of Christian faith he has provided me with one of the best examples of unconditional love in my life.
He was away a lot when I was younger which must have been hard on both him and Mum and also resulted in a childhood punctuated with moving cities. Despite this I have never questioned his love for me or anyone else in my family. He is a reserved man, often slow to answer but he usually says something worth hearing.
I am lucky to have grown up the way I did and now I find myself away again. Away from my home, but I have found family everywhere I have been. I found family in New York, Maryland, Colorado, Finland, London, Hull, Somerset and Nottingham. Some more closely related than others and some not at all.
My parents have taught me what it means to be part of a family and also to make the most out of life. Now I feel it is my job to support others to do anything they like, even if they have to work a little harder to win battles.
Helen McIntosh is a 22 year old trying to create more than she consumes. Writing is a way of banishing any circulating thoughts to make way for the new.
Helen McIntosh's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/helen-mcintosh.html