Friday, June 29, 2007

Only

With the way my life has gone the past few months, I needed a book that would make me feel better about being me, about how I came to be the person I am. I needed to know that I am not alone in the way I think, feel, hope and act.

Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo provided just the ticket.

Growing up, whenever I was asked if I had siblings, I always replied, "No, but I have cousins," as though that would make up for being the only child of very loving parents. Of course, I only spent large chunks of time with those cousins in the summers during an eight year period. Both before and after that time, I was very much an only child, with no younger kids to watch, no olders to envy.

Several of the writers, especially Deborah Siegel and Lynn Harris, speak directly to my heart. They speak of being the anchor of a strongly founded triangular family. They speak of not exactly being spoiled, but never having to want for anything, either. The talk about wanting an older brother. That's what I always wanted. And they speak, too, of hoping that maybe, just maybe, their father had some tryst that resulted in a child who would come to live with this triangular family, making it a more balanced square. Of course they, like me, had respectable fathers who loved their mothers and didn't have relationships that resulted in unclaimed children. But fantasizing about an older brother is safe, because it cannot really threaten the status quo. An older brother is simply not going to materialize.

I wanted an older brother to protect me from bullies. To be just enough older than me to have friends I could date, when the time came. It never occurred to me that my imaginary older brother would be a bully target, or, like my own father was to his sisters, a bully himself. We would have a strong, stable, respectful relationship.

I was always proud to be grouped in the "You don't seem like an only child" group. In the past five years, or so, that statement has grated on my nerves, as though I should feel especially proud that I know how to share my Barbies and don't pitch a tantrum if I am asked to eat brussel sprouts.

Unlike some of the writers, I rarely had friends who were onlies. As a matter of fact, encountering one was like running across a unicorn, "I've heard that you existed, but I didn't really know there were others like me." Of course, this could have to do with the fact that I grew up going to Catholic school, and, yes, folks, the stereotype is true, "them Catholics like to make babies." More times than I care to count, even as a six year old (or younger!), I was asked, why I had no siblings. I always knew the truth, that I was a special beloved miracle. And I would generally say something along those lines.

What I would like to say, though, is this, "I was the only one strong enough to claw my way through enough months to survive outside the womb."

Because, there were two before me. There were babies miscarried early on, in the months before I came into the world as a miraculous little butterfly. One of the authors writes about dodging the "bullet" of an adopted sibling, as her parents were considering adoption when she was conceived. They were next in line, and could have said yes to a second child. One of those two other babies, hopefully not one conceived too close to my own conception, might have made it. Then, my entire world would be different. Or I wouldn't exist at all.

Still, there's a part of me that misses them, in some phantom way. At some point in time, before me, two other little lives, blended from my mother and my father, existed. They didn't exist long enough to live in the world, but they were here, on this planet. And I never got to know them.

Maybe that's why I've never gravitated towards the onlies in the world. I was never meant to be one. My parents wanted more children, and tried, repeatedly, to have them. They tried adoption, prayer, anything and everything, before realizing, with finality, when I was about 14, that I was it, and I was plenty.

I kept up hope, all those years, that there would be more of me. I never felt unloved, and I was honored to be a part of the waiting. I practiced being a sibling by bossing around advising my younger cousins. I was patiently waiting, along with my parents, for an addition to our home. As though, if we were all good enough, an angel, or a stork, or Tinkerbell, would reward us with a little wrapped bundle in blue.

And I graciously accepted the compliment about my never seeming like an only, because, you see, I never intended to stay one.

2 comments:

brookem said...

so much of your story rings true for me as well. it's almost a bit unreal really, the similarities! i will definitely have to check out this book.
and might i add, coming to your site makes me crave a bowl of sugary cereal!

Bre said...

I'm the oldest of three and was always miserable not to have an older brother. I didn't like being the oldest and having to take all the heat! Luckily my cousins were older and were my built-in defenders.