Yes, Indeedy

One is not Necessarily the Loneliest Number.

Marissa Lingen has written a lovely post about what it is like to be an only child for her. It fits with a lot of the things I experienced - a distrust of the sibling experience as the perfect recipe for upbringing, the reality of being the future caretaker for parents, the leeriness of many of the rough-and-tumble childhood sibling interactions. She is also quite eloquent on the subject of only kids as "spoiled:"

Being an only is like being one of thirteen kids in that perfect strangers will feel justified in criticizing your parents' family planning choices to you from the time you're about five years old. They will inquire after your parents' fertility, your parents' sanity, your parents' moral fiber; they will assume -- and tell you they are assuming -- that you must be really spoiled. Under what other circumstances would you inform someone who was behaving reasonably that she must be really spoiled? This is just rude. But should a kid learn that adults are sometimes rude and unpleasant, and how to deal with it without being rude and unpleasant? Yep. And is a kid going to have to learn to deal with it on one topic or another? Again: yep.

Oh, dear. I am afraid that on the cusp of adolescence I handled the rudeness of an adult on this topic in a similarly rude manner. I had heard the nonsensical equation, 1 child + 0 siblings = spoiled, pretty much all of my life. I had finally learned to question it when some woman I had just met (who had been perfectly nice to me up until the moment I had confessed to my un-sibbed state) snapped at me, "Oh, well you're a spoiled brat then."

Spoiled I could take. I had been taking it all of my life. But I drew the line at "brat." In one of those golden moments where you actually say the thing you usually only think of a week later after stewing over the incident nonstop, I replied, "Well, you're rude. What's your excuse?" and waited for the ground to open up and swallow me for being so smart-mouthed. The ground didn't open up, but the rude lady's mouth certainly did. And nothing came out. And she didn't tell my mother, and I wasn't slung into jail for all of eternity, and, well - pretty much nothing happened except for the fact that I felt I had fought back in some small way and felt both ashamed that I had been rude and proud that I hadn't been cowed by her adult status into taking something that patently wasn't fair.

That wasn't the end of people opining that only children are somehow deficient or dangerous. In adulthood, a friend's mother actually told me to my face that she thought that only children were mentally unbalanced. This was from a mother of five who had had a nervous breakdown and who had some pretty severe problems with a couple of her kids and a couple of the grandkids (none of them onlies) as well, so I didn't take it too much to heart.

What I really love about Marissa's post, though, is she puts her finger on the point I have been circling around for years but never quite landed on. When people wish siblings upon you, these siblings are purely imaginary. Just as siblings have to wish real people out of existence in order to imagine themselves as onlies, an only has to wish nonexistent people into reality to try to imagine the sibling experience. Genetics and environment being the chaos factors that they are, there is no possible way to account for the impact this imaginary person might have had on your life. Yes, I might have a sister who was as much into Yoga as I, or a brother with whom I could sing two-part harmony. I also might have a sister who was into pink hearts and crystal cat figurines and believed in angels. I might have had a NASCAR-obsessed brother who held the opinion that women should stay out of the workforce. Would it have been pleasant to have the former? Might it have done me good to be yoked throughout childhood to the latter? Who is to say? What of some of my friends? Might they have turned out "better" if they had been only children? It is pointless to speculate.

The fact is, you play the hand you are dealt the best way you know how. Any fantasizing about how things would have been better if there had been more or fewer siblings, more or less money, or different parents is veering perilously close to pedestal-placing. And we all know how I feel about that subject.

Posted: Friday - March 25, 2005 at 07:18 AM         | |