Being an only child is weird, sometimes

Lite-Brite, hell yeah!

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. 

My treasured Miss Piggy puppet, and one of the matching outfits mom made for Christmastime photos. (why yes, that is blue velvet.)

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.

Electric race track! Easily in the list of Top 5 Best Presents Ever.

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.

Ballet lessons + gear (and a tiara, of course). Perhaps not the best gift for a girl who is better at falling down than being graceful.

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?


11 responses to “Being an only child is weird, sometimes

  • abbytron

    I have a brother who’s two years older than me, so I definitely have a lot of sibling experiences, but I still spent a lot of time reading and playing alone. I used to do that thing with the mirror all the time! Until I was doing it at my grandma’s house once and fell down a flight of stairs.

  • Denise

    I can remember us playing Barbies on the pool table at your house and spending Hours climbing around in the trees just a bit down the street from your house. I don’t remember you being sick so much, but maybe that’s why we spent so much time at your house and not mine. That or my little brother. Who knows. 🙂

    • Amie

      Yeah! The pool table was a hot spot for Barbie action. 🙂 good times.

      I actually went through all the allergy shot business prior to moving to May’s Pond, so I was mostly done with the sick stuff by then. But honestly, your brother may have also been a factor! ha.

  • Jen

    This is excellent, Amie. I am an only child–I’m actually an island in my family–15 years separate me from the next oldest, 12 from the next youngest. When I was younger it didn’t seem so weird until my friends started pointing out how awesome it was that I didn’t have to share anything or get anything ruined by vengeful siblings and then I started to worry I was different in the way that wasn’t cool. At one of the elementary schools I went to, they used to hand out parent info to “Oldest and Only.” Our teacher would sometimes mention I was the only Only in the class (insert animated gif of third grade me shrinking in chair here).

    So much of my childhood was spent alone. I didn’t spend my time as creatively as you, though I did generate a lot of Star Wars fan fiction and played school with the Cabbage Patch Kids and stuffed animals almost every day. But for a long time I didn’t know how to relate to kids my own age. I felt far more comfortable around adults, because I was too scared and too shy to make friends. I could talk to myself and my toys for hours but didn’t feel comfortable speaking to anyone that wasn’t a parent or teacher.

    I did get some flack over the years for being spoiled and selfish, was certainly guilty of it at times, and remain highly conscious of ever appearing that way as a result. I’ve really only seen that stereotype in movies. My friends who are also only kids are amazingly warm and generous people.

    When my parents got divorced, I wished I had a sibling to go through all that with. Like you mention, I too worry about disappointing my parents and that I won’t be able to take care of them as the years go by. And I also wish there was someone else to share history with, someone who also knows all the stories from your life that you share with people who could remember it from a different perspective and keep just that much more record of the past.

    Thank you for sharing this, Amie.

    PS: I had that Miss Piggy puppet too! Around 11 I cut her hair and colored it with markers so she’d be more punk. 🙂

    • Amie

      Wow. Yeah, I was actually thinking about how kids that are either way older or younger than their siblings might also feel that alone/weirdness. That’s really interesting.

      I used to get called out for being “stuck up.” Mostly in junior high/high school, but I could never explain that if I wasn’t talking to you, it was because I was terrified to approach you. And it’s especially hard to explain because some days I would be just fine and talk to people with no problems. It’s like a switch flips, and I move from being scared/shy/only-child-weird to feeling okay and being able to talk to people. Man, that’s probably another post, huh? 🙂

      And oh – I would have been in SO MUCH TROUBLE if I did anything to my Miss Piggy doll! So much trouble.

  • sugarcombsalon

    You know, it is weird, but I can relate to a lot of what you wrote even though I had a bevy of brothers. Being the only girl, I often longed for a partner in crime and also found myself playing alone a lot. I always looked at people with sisters and envied how close they were and wished I had a sister and wondered if I had any female in my life if it would have made me better at being a girl, and way less awkward, because that seemed so foreign to me. (I guess having a mom involved would have helped too) That coupled with growing up in the back woods of AK with no kids to play with, yeah, it is all very easy to relate too. xo Michelle

  • amyduchene

    Oh, Amie. The hits just keep on coming! I love, love, love your writing and the way you make your personal stories come alive and affect us all!

    I am an odd “only child with many sisters” kid – only child of my biological parents, though I have half sisters who were in highschool when I was born (ie, age gap) and also inherited stepsisters when I was in HS and my mom remarried.

    Despite all of that estrogen, I really did spend a lot of time alone, too. Never lived with my half sisters and only had a few years (on weekends and summers) with the stepsisters. So many hours reading and writing and drawing and concocting weird stories and (most importantly?) using MTV and sitcoms as my babysitter. It explains why I sometimes just need quiet to get anything done (ie, working from home is a brilliant option for me). And yet it also compelled me to cling tightly to friends – who became extensions of my “family” – and then be let down when they weren’t as loyal as I had envisioned.

    Whew. Maybe a therapy session is in order here!

    Whatever the case, I feel blessed to have had the childhood I did – it wasn’t always easy and it definitely wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. And it’s cool to hear about other people’s solo-childhood upbringings too. We may have been alone out there – but we experienced much of the same things, which brings us closer together now!

    • Amie

      Yes! Thank you for sharing, Amy. It definitely does make me feel less alone and weird when other people tell me they felt the same way.

      Also, totally blushing from the compliments! THANK YOU SO MUCH, pretty lady. ❤

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