It can't be easy to be the middle son in a family of three boys. My middle son, Casey, 10, is treated like the Invisible Boy in the company of his brothers, Tim, 7 and Jordy, 2. When I take the boys to the store, strangers will stop to talk to Jordy or tell me how cute and precocious my toddler is. Most of the time, these strangers ignore 5-year-old Casey completely. Friends do it, too. Several months ago, Casey spotted a friend (I'll call him 'Joseph') at the grocery store and called out, 'Hi Joseph!' Joseph turned, looked right past Casey to Tim, and said, 'Hi Tim!' Casey and Joseph weren't 10 feet apart, but Casey was invisible in Tim's presence.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I do it, too. I find myself nodding and saying, 'Uh huh,' as Casey is talking, only to realize that I'm not listening at all. Instead, I'm focused on making Tim's lunch or finding Jordy's pacifier. I feel a twinge of guilt every time my dad calls and asks, 'So, how are the boys?' I always have plenty to say about Tim's exploits on the field and in the classroom. Jordy is at that age where he amazes me every time he opens his mouth; I always have a you-won't-believe-what-Jordy-said story to tell. Then I get to Casey, and I'm left with, 'Casey's fine . . . great. He's great. He's just doing his thing, but . . . he's great.'

Every time we have this conversation, I wonder, 'Why did I dismiss Casey like that when 'great' doesn't even begin to describe him?' Casey is way beyond great (in my humble and unbiased opinion). He is sweet and funny and smart and mischievous. He can tie his shoes; do arm-farts and leg-farts; and run with the super-speed of a burgeoning athlete. He reads at a second-grade level. He makes me laugh every day. He has a big voice and big blue eyes, a big heart and a big imagination. He is a gentle soul, with just enough of a competitive streak to make him dangerous.

With all that to love, how could I possibly talk about Casey like he is just the backdrop to the really important things that are happening in our family?

The answer lies partly in his middle-child status. Tim is older and is involved in more activities; Jordy is younger and needs more attention. It's also the reality of having three kids and a busy schedule; I rush him off to school in the morning and off to bed at night and off to Tim's games on the weekends. He shares a bathtub with Jordy and reading time with Tim. Rarely do I have any time alone with Casey.

Plus, this past year has been a time of 'hurry up and wait' for Casey. With a late-September birthday, he was too young for T-ball, too young for soccer and too young for kindergarten, so his daily routine became just that - routine.

These facts of life might explain the Invisible Boy syndrome, but they don't excuse it and they don't keep me from worrying about Casey. I don't want Casey to feel slighted. I want Casey to feel confident and comfortable in his own skin. I want him to believe with all his heart, like I do, that he is a special person. I worry, though, that he'll struggle in Timothy's shadow, and that he'll never get the attention Jordy gets as the youngest brother. I worry that he will get lost in the middle, and that I won't have the time or the right words or the hug he needs to show him the way.

When Casey was born, I promised him that I would try my best, every day, to do right by him. Thinking about my Invisible Boy made me realize that I have failed him recently. So last week, on the eve of his fifth birthday, I renewed my promise, and I am trying to do better. I'm trying to carve out some reading time every night, just for him. I'm trying to be a better listener - to stop what I'm doing, look him in the eye, and really listen. I'm trying, in little ways, to show him that I appreciate him.

And, because a grand gesture every now and then can't hurt, we threw a big party to celebrate his birthday with 20 of his closest friends. It was an auspicious start to what promises to be a big year for Casey.

I plan to have a camera in my hand and happy tears in my eyes when he steps up to the plate for his first at-bat in T-ball; when he scores his first soccer goal; when he rides his bike without training wheels; and when he takes his seat on the bus for his first day of kindergarten.

Goodbye Invisible Boy.

Casey is stepping out from the background, and 'great' doesn't even begin to describe it.

Lisa Dunne lives and works in West Linn with her husband, John, and their sons, Tim, Casey and Jordan. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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