“He is all alone in the world,” my mother said, gently holding a photograph of my son at about two years-old, standing beside a lake and granite mountains capped with snow rising above him.
“What are you talking about,” I snapped, feeling defensive, “I’m just a few feet away. John’s there too, what do you mean he’s all alone?”
I looked at the sweet photo, not seeing a child in solitude, but a toddler exploring new terrain, throwing rocks in the water and asking, “What’s that?” But, I knew what my mom was getting at. Shawn was two, I wasn’t pregnant with the second child and I was nearing forty-years old. The prospect of a second baby was growing slimmer and slimmer.
When Shawn turned three a year later, both sets of grandparents realized a second child was never happening. Our decision to have one and be done also closed all prospects for any more grandchildren for them, ever.
My husband and I went into our marriage planning for two kids. But neither of us had a clue what it meant to be parents, certainly not 37 year old first time parents. Maybe if we were ten years younger we’d have a different perspective, but the birth of Shawn was like someone shaking you awake from a very deep sleep, rattling your head into a permanent dizzy spell.
I never experienced Earth Mother moments like Solei Moon Frye, Molly Sims or Alyssa Milano who have created cottage industries from their mommy expertise from crafts to designer baby outfits to advocating the benefits of breast milk on “The Talk”. Believe me, I spent plenty of time pumping breast milk and I’d still be pumping if only for its miraculous ability to keep weight off. However, motherhood was surreal, a Pablo Picasso perception of the world, everything I knew was broken up and reassembled into an abstract world of lactate nurses, car seat lugging, Genie diapers, and Go, Go Diego. I was a mule, lugging this little, squeezable loaf from one place to the next hoping I wasn’t maiming him along the way.
For me, there was something cruel about bringing life into the world, because as soon as Shawn was born he suffered. In the span of his first eighteen months he had three surgeries, endless nights of rocking and nebulizer time, Aquafore massages to curb eczema, and too many allergy appointments hoping the next blood test declared the peanut allergy gone.
Sometimes kissing the boo boo away isn’t enough and to witness a child in pain and multiplying that by two seemed heart-wrenching to me.
Shawn is a healthy, effervescent, athletic, handsome, third grader and an only child. He has no siblings, no one to vent to when mom and dad are being annoying or unreasonable, no one to tease or play with on long rides. Shawn doesn’t even have a dog to pull into a furry hug for comfort. Some may see that as lonely, isolating, and sheltered, but from what I can see, Shawn is living the dream.
I was rarely alone growing up. Three sisters brought a lot of chatter and energy into the household and three easy friends. The dinner table was a buzz with conversation every night, mostly from my two older sisters. Their lives were always more interesting than the goings on with me and my youngest sister. They were the first to do everything and it was exciting. By the time I was old enough to experience what they had talked about years earlier it was passé and not that big of a deal.
I have lots of memories driving in the backseat of the station wagon, going from one sister’s activity to the next, waiting for my turn to bore my sisters with my band and orchestra concerts.
Despite loving my shared history with my sisters and knowing this great club of ladies, I want my parents’ undivided attention. My favorite moments are with my mom and dad, talking or being together, no sibling distractions.
Shawn came home one day from school to say, “how come there are kids at school who say I am lucky to not have any brothers and sisters?”
I have to admit I smiled, feeling a little vindicated that maybe our choice in having one child was the right one. There had been plenty of times where our choice for an only child was questioned. We were being selfish; Shawn will not be socially adjusted or he’ll be spoiled and you aren’t a family until you have a second child. Even Shawn questioned why he didn’t have a brother.
“Kids with brothers and sisters have to share their toys, their rooms and they have to share their parents. You never have to wait your turn, you don’t have to share your room or share mom and dad. Sometimes siblings can be bossy, mean or tattle tale. You never have to deal with that,” I explained.
My father-in-law sent us a great article written by Lauren Sanders that debunks the 120 year old myth that only children are odd and socially inept misfits:
Granville Stanley completed the 1896 study “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children” citing that only children were a “disease.”
More current research reveals that only children parents “have more time, energy and money to invest in their kid, who gets all the dance classes, piano lessons and prep courses, as well as all their parents’ attention when it comes to helping work out an algebra problem. That attention, researchers have noticed, leads to not just higher SAT scores but also higher self-esteem.
As I write this, Shawn is at a baseball clinic with a group of boys he does not know. Without hesitation he joined the group, smiled, and engaged in the activities. No nervousness or hesitation, no clinging to my leg pleading to stay with me. Later this year, Shawn will be heading to sleep-away camp, another parental decision that has received some raised eyebrows. However, this only child will learn to live with seven other eight year old boys in a cabin, doing activities together and learning to be a team or dare I say surrogate family.
My husband and I were meant to be and we were meant to make Shawn and we can’t imagine anyone else in our little family. Shawn knows he is loved and adored by us and that we are there for him no matter what. He has lots of friends, cousins, fun and happiness in his life. Isn’t it our job as parents to raise confident, good, kind, independent people who can function in society and make healthy, responsible choices? That’s a tall order this day and age and I think that can be obtained with and without siblings.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was spot on when he said, “… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Listen to this podcast conversation: One and Done the Second Baby with Regan Love Campbell for more on the only child discussion.