Only child syndrome
Earlier today, as part of our usual Sunday Funday, my son and I went to the park. There are three parks within comparable driving distance, but we prefer ours because it is small, clean, and not wedged between a high school and a skate park. It takes us five minutes to get there and along the way I agonize over the impossible dream of owning one of the multi-million dollar homes that look like (properly insulated) fairy-tale castles from 16-century Ireland. One day I shall join the hill people, peering out of my exquisite, earthquake-stupid mansion that doesn’t get any cellular service. One day.
At the park, Dante immediately greeted his best friends — the ground leaves and dead sticks. He will usually spend ten minutes trying to find a way to sneak nature down his throat before I intervene and suggest we check out the playground. We spent a few minutes in the swing, which is relaxing, but provides none of the intellectual stimulation towards which he gravitates. No simple pleasures for me, thanks. I’ve got some serious problem solving to do, says my precocious 14-month old.
After the swing, we trekked around in the bark, went down the slide (no reaction to this, ever), and investigated the isolated baby structure, which was unfairly positioned right in the sun. Eventually, we made our way back to the sprawling grass and crunchy leaves, where Dante could watch older kids play soccer/tag/creepy prison make believe. He then ran up to someone else’s dad with an embarrassing amount of gusto, and demanded to know his agenda and purpose in life. He babbled this unintelligibly, but it was clear he was probing this stranger-dad with some very philosophical questions.
“He’s very sociable,” sad polite stranger-dad.
Because it was warm and we are both very pale, unable to stay too long. After harassing several birthday parties with typical Dante inquisitiveness, my son and I negotiated our terms for leaving the park.
“I’ll trade you one tantrum-free park exit for the prolonged enjoyment of this stick, at home.” No cigar.
As we left, my compromise flagrantly rejected, I saw the stranger-dad and his two daughters heading to their car. The girls were about four and eight years old, and wearing princess dresses just because. They whispered sister secrets to one another, the little one trying to flip her hair like the older one. Dante stopped his carrying on briefly enough to point at the sisters and ask “eh?”
Growing up as an only child, I always knew that I wanted to have more than one child of my own. Two, minimum, six, maximum (I have since parsed the maximum down to four, and even that is pushing it). I was steadfast in my resolve to not burden my prospective first child with the single-childhood I experienced.
Because both of my parents worked long hours, I was placed in a nanny or day care situation of some sort from only a few months of age to twelve years old. When I was nine years old or so, our family went through an exhausting schedule: school was followed by after school daycare at my friend’s house, where many of the other kids were unfamiliar. When my dad came to pick me up, I was taken to his restaurant where I would spend the evening hours in a lonely room that smelled of parsley and sweat, the only bonus being granted any culinary request I could come up with. I recall the bread pudding being religiously palatable.
All of this was socially detrimental to an already shy and awkward girl with oversized glasses who was subjected to the stigma of being in the “gifted program.” I became unnaturally invested in the lives of my imaginary friends. To this day, I remember many of their names, personalities, and species (some of which were invented). On occasion, I will have a little catch-up chat with one of them (although at my age this is referred to as “schizophrenia”).
I had a very tight-knit group of friends, and yet something was always lacking. Growing up without siblings prevented me from developing optimal conflict resolution skills and I still have massive trouble when it comes to sharing my dessert.
The only true benefit of my sibling-less upbringing: Christmas presents. I recall several years where I was given anywhere from twenty to thirty presents. If you think this is ridiculous and excessive, that is because it is. However, my toys — like my imaginary ponies and aliens — were a bit of a substitute for my non-existent brothers and sisters.
There are many goals to accomplish before I am comfortable with the idea of having another baby. I want to finish graduate school, publish some books, win a Nobel Prize in Physiology and set up a functional chicken coop. More pertinent, however, is my recent singlehood that has left me embittered to the notion of marriage in the future.
Dante will never have any full-blooded siblings. In this way, he will always be an only child. While I hope to have other kids of my own, there is no guarantee that this will ever happen, unless I choose to adopt a child. The best I can do is arm myself with engaging games and outings, stock up on playmates and enroll him in expensive toddler classes that encourage noise and injury. With any luck, I will raise a well-adjusted and sociable boy who has no problem navigating the terrain of isolation encountered by every only child.
Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante.