As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve been branching out in different play groups, trying to get a few hours of adult interaction each week so I don’t rip my own head off. I usually tell myself that these play groups and individual play dates are vital to Sofia’s development and growth. That this will help her learn to share and discover empathy, making her a human being that people actually want to be around when she grows up, and not a self-centered schmuck in her adult years. While all of that is true, I’d be lying if I said that these play times don’t benefit me, also. They do – tremendously. They’ve helped me make lasting friendships and keep my sanity in check from all the frustrations parenthood can occasionally bring us.
The Monday play group Sofie and I go to is actually getting fairly large, and it seems as if the more kids that go, the more fun Sof has. I always catch myself watching her at these events, seeing how happy she is and how high-pitched her screams are (high-pitched screams = “I’m having so much fun I could vomit right now.” Low-pitched screams = “Take me home immediately”). And although I see how much fun she is having and how much she is enjoying herself, I also notice how much of a jungle play time is. There are toys literally everywhere you look and there is usually at least one child crying at all times. Toddlers are stealing toys from other toddlers, or snatching up another kid’s snack right out of their tiny pint-sized mitts. It’s utter chaos. As my husband and I are currently talking about the prospects of having another baby, it seems as if these play dates give me a reality check of epic proportions. And yes, I am well aware that if we had another baby, it wouldn’t be as overwhelming as this. Sofia would just have one other person to play and share with, two if my husband and I were feeling frisky (and naïvely brave). She wouldn’t have to worry about life with twenty other kids. It’s just difficult for me to process the possible future of Sofia-Plus-One. Life with two incredibly cute babies. I never had that. I was the only baby my parents ever had, and I’m oftentimes forgetful that that isn’t how most of the world grew up.
For the first time at our regular Monday group, another mom asked me if I enjoyed growing up as an only child. A question I have been asked a million and one times in my life. She tells me that she is thinking of keeping her daughter Hazel as an only child and wants to know how I felt about being one. I tell her the same three sentences I tell everyone – “I loved it. Very much. I was happy I was an only child.” And I did. Growing up without any siblings had innumerable benefits. I was lovingly spoiled, always getting the latest toy or game, making me Queen of Recess on several occasions. I was able to have a stronger connection with my parents than my peers were. A connection that made me able to lean on them and confide in them in areas where most of my friends leaned on their siblings or other friends. It made me able to consider my parents as two of my best friends. The question “did you enjoy it?” was one I was asked frequently, but why was it leaving such a bad taste in my mouth this time? And why could I not stop thinking about it? After letting it fester and stew in my mind all day long, it finally hit me as I was cooking dinner – I did enjoy it. Being an only child was fantastic, blissful even. It’s being an only adult that blows.
I started thinking back to a couple years ago when my grandfather was diagnosed with colon cancer. It came as a surprise to almost everyone in the family when the news broke, and it left me feeling like I was some sort of letdown for not being able to be with him and the rest of the family during all of this (my husband, daughter, and I were living in Germany at the time). I cried over the phone to my parents, and then in bed with my husband. I wanted to reach out to a sibling to talk to, someone who had the same familiarities with my grandpa that I had. Like someone reaching for a phantom limb, there was nothing there. I watched my dad go through bouts of relentlessly worrying about his dad’s health while trying to comfort his mother and be there for her. I felt awful for him, but I was pleased that he didn’t have to feel the burden illness brings on his own. He had four other siblings to carry the weight with him. Four other siblings to discuss the future with, share stories with, reminisce with. And he had four other siblings to celebrate with when my grandpa received a clean bill of health, nearly a year-and-a-half later.
Thinking back on my grandpa’s illness made me selfishly think about myself. What in the hell was I going to do when one of my parents got sick? As we get older, our health depreciates, and eventually we die. It’s a natural process that happens to every single one of us, but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier when it happens to someone we know and love. But what would happen if one of my parents became unwell? If they got to a point where they needed full time care, and I wasn’t able to take care of them on my own? All of these future decisions that I may have to make, they all collapse on me. Dealing with them getting older and weaker and eventually passing away, it is my journey that I will one day have to face alone. The encumbrance and weight of these issues will not be shared between me and a few other people as my father, mother, husband, cousins, and friends all have. The heaviness will rest on my shoulders entirely.
I loved the life I had growing up. I love the relationship and the closeness I have with my parents because of it. And as much as I love my parents and wish I had them with me always, one day the only family I will have left will be the one that I have created. That’s why my husband and I will try to give Sofie the gift of siblings. She may not enjoy it when she has to share the last piece of cake or when her little brother or sister hides her favorite toy just to watch her freak out. But one day, she will.
“Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot!”
– Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!
Thanks for keeping it real at an alarmingly young age, Doc.