Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

A Blessing and a Curse

It’s an inevitable question.  When you meet new people, when you get closer to people you already know, the question of family or more specifically siblings always arises.  And as an only child, there’s this look that I always get when I give up that information.  It’s a kind of knowing look with a dash of skepticism tossed in on the side.  A look that says something along the lines of, ‘oh, you’re one of those?’  Because there is this stigma associated with only children, that somehow we’re the ones throwing fits on the sidewalk, kicking and screaming into adulthood, unable to do anything without our parents.  And maybe, in a way, that can be true.  I don’t know that I’m necessarily an all about me person (though maybe this email that’s all about me will beg to differ), but I certainly am not someone who can’t see how my behavior effects the people around me.  Being an only child is an odd sort of thing.  On the one hand, I was certainly able to do things that other people weren’t able to do because my parents only had me to support, but there are all these other events that siblings get to be and do together.

The other inevitable question when it has been established that I am an only child is, ‘did you ever want a sibling?’  The answer, not so straightforward, is sometimes.  There were times when I would create siblings in my head, tell my friends at school that I had sisters and brothers (usually they were friends that didn’t go to the same school) and found myself in embarrassing situations when my school friends came over and realized that I did not, in fact, have any siblings.  On the other hand, I liked having to worry only about myself, I liked the fact that I had undivided attention when my parents came home from work, and I still love the fact that my parents were able to pay for college and send me to London and a million other things I’m sure I don’t know about because they weren’t ones to rub their good deeds in, but they also did not have another child to support.

At the same time, in a way, I wasn’t an only child at all.  As one of 13-15 cousins (I’ve lost track of how many there are now), there were always kids around.  Family time, which was often, came with anywhere from 2-???? children running around, shooting nerf guns at each other, playing basketball or Tetris or hearts.  We sometimes fought like siblings, we loved each other like siblings (and still do), we may not have had to live together but to me, they were my siblings.  And what I lacked in cousins, I made up for in only children friends, some of whom (ahem, Jesse) I still consider my family.

But last month, as I attended the funeral of a friend of my grandmother’s I was slapped in the face with a realization about only childness.  I watched as Mrs. Carroll’s children consoled each other and a kind of panic washed over me.  I am an only child.  And as an only child there are a few things that I must weather alone.  Until I saw the warmth that passed through the siblings as they said good-bye to their mother, I had never thought of the burden of the only child.  It’s not just that we must lose our parents alone, that we don’t have brothers or sisters to know our pain so acutely that we don’t even need words to share in the hurt, but we also have to bear the burden of parental pride.  It’s our sole burden, and priviledge, to make our parents proud.  We have to do it because no one else is going to.  We don’t have the option of failure.  We don’t have the luxury of passing our ailing parent’s healthcare to our siblings (not that having siblings means that this is inevitable, but it is an option).  In a few ways, in a few situations, we, as only children, are simply alone.

I’m not saying that I would trade being an only child for anything, I wouldn’t.  I’m not saying that there aren’t friends and family, as I have plenty of both, but in a way, there is a kind of solitude that comes along with being the only child.  Starting from the solitude of an empty house after school and working through the more vexing solitudes that life throws everyone’s way, the only child is not just spoiled or bratty (though we know we all can be both), but is a fully rounded person unworthy of the skeptical looks and knowing eyebrow raises.  And though I, as an only child, am able to straddle the line of both solitude and immense socialization (can’t come from a family of 30+ and not know how to interact with people), I still carry the burden as well.

Peace, Love, and Famiglia,
Julia

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October 19, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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