The other day, my boyfriend was relating a story about how he and his sister would purposely flood the sidewalk in front of their house so they could create a puddle to drift their Big Wheel across, and I said, “Oh man. Sometimes I wish I had a brother or sister so I had stories like that.”
I had cousins, sure (lots of them, actually), and because our families were close, I spent a lot of time with them. But it’s not quite the same. I love the memories I have with them, when you’re an only child, you’re the only non-adult living in your house, and as much as mom and dad love you, they don’t want to spend hours watching you construct complicated Lego cities or elaborate scenarios involving Mr. Potato head. They also don’t want to see you blow up your plastic Death Star (that they paid a LOT of money for), or watch Han Solo punch Ken in the face so he can take out not 1, but 3, different Barbies for the evening.
Was I spoiled? Sure. As an only kid, I definitely reaped the benefits of getting pretty much everything I wanted—within reason. My dad refused to buy me Guess jeans, Nike shoes, and other designer clothes because I didn’t need them. (He was right, I totally didn’t.) But as far as toys went, the only thing I remember being denied was the Millennium Falcon because it was just a little too much money for a hunk of plastic that I would probably destroy by slamming it over and over into the sliding glass door.
Don’t get me wrong; I had a lot of stuff. The Star Wars loot alone was kind of insane: the aforementioned Death Star, the robot factory, Yoda’s house, an X-wing fighter, the Han Solo & Princess Leah 12” dolls, Luke’s landspeeder, a Dewback, and so many action figures I can’t even remember them all. (In related news, OH MY GOD why did my stupid teenage self get rid of all of that??!?!?!)
I am well aware that my parents spoiled me when I was little, and that they still do. Money gifts have been the trend since they split when I was 13, so I’m used to being showered with dollar bills and a pile of expensive stuff every birthday and Christmas. This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate it. I ABSOLUTELY appreciate it. And I also know that if I ever needed money to pay bills or buy food, or help with a place to live, my parents would help me. They are amazingly supportive in all sorts of ways, and I love them both so much for it.
But even with no one else to split my parent’s attention with, I spent the majority of my time alone. One, because there just weren’t that many kids in my neighborhood, two, because I was sick ALL THE TIME. I seriously got strep throat at least 4 times a year, missing so much school it was kind of ridiculous, and I still remember the trauma of all those ice baths to get my fever down, and exactly what that supposedly bubble gum-flavored antibiotic tastes like.
Eventually the doctor figured out that I was allergic to pretty much everything and those allergies were ruining my immune system, so I had to undergo the scariest allergy test ever: a giant board with 100s of needles that they press onto your back, and then monitor the pin pricks for reactions. Weeks, months, and years of shots later, I got a little better, and my mom let me play outside a lot more. All that sickness when I was little means mom is STILL more overprotective of me than I would like. Even at 37-years-old, I wasn’t allowed to wander the streets of Rome by myself because I might get kidnapped. (My response, “Mom. Have you SEEN what Italian women look like? Please. No one is going to kidnap me. Seriously.”)
Being alone meant I put on Muppet shows for the dog and cat. I dressed up in my Wonder Woman Underoos and lassoed chairs so they would tell me the truth. I caught all manner of creatures in the backyard and stuffed them into my dad’s metal lockers to keep them safe from the neighborhood kitties (and let me tell you, when dad opened one full of garter snakes expecting to find tools instead, he wasn’t that happy about it). I scooped up tadpole eggs in a bucket and brought them home to watch them hatch. And I watched hours and hours of channel 11 bad movies on rainy days.
Sometimes I took a mirror into the hallway and pretended I was walking on the ceiling, avoiding the lamps and stuff up above. And once, I took the dog for a walk while I was wearing roller skates. Downhill. Just ONCE. Because, as you can imagine, there was much pain that day, my friends. But I had to pick my own damn self up and struggle up the hill bleeding and scraped, because I didn’t have a sibling to help me out.
I am the only one who had to wear the MATCHING outfits my mom made us for Christmas every year. Every. Year. For real.
It’s all really, really weird, because there’s no one to share that weirdness with you. No one is interested in hearing you talk about all the stuff you did all day by yourself, and there’s no one to bounce ideas off of and figure out what to do next. But most importantly: there is NO ONE ELSE TO BLAME when you do something bad. You’re just auto-busted because you’re the only kid who could have broken something/peeked in the closet at your Christmas presents/ate all the marshmallow fluff in one sitting/let the dog drink one of your dad’s beers.
This is why I take such delight in the fact that my boyfriend now is willing to listen to all my crazy only child stories. I found someone who will listen to me! And laugh about the stuff I did as a kid! Amazing! What.
The other thing (that’s not so great) about being an only child is that I’m also the only one they worry about, which can be overwhelming crushing. When I got divorced, I could barely look at my dad because the concern in his eyes reduced me to gut-wrenching sobs. I’m also the only one who can disappoint them, and the only one who understands why they sometimes drive me crazy, and the only who will be there for them as they get older and need to lean on me.
There’s nothing I can do about any of it—and I know there are other only children out there, and that some of them feel just as weird as me. There’s no point in wishing for a sibling I never had, duh. But that doesn’t mean I’m not envious when people talk about their brothers and sisters, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t wonder how it would have changed me to have one. And it most definitely doesn’t stop me from feeling weird.
What-ifs are useless, of course. But sometimes it’s nice to get all those thoughts out there to clear the cobwebs from your brain.
Who else do I know that’s an only child? Did it make you feel weird when you were a kid? Do you feel weird now? Do you agree with the “spoiled, self-centered, doesn’t know how to share” only child stereotype?