This week, I announced on my Facebook page that I’m taking blog topic requests. I’ll take a moment now to extend the same invitation to readers who may not necessarily be Facebook friends: if there’s anything you’d like me to write about in the next ten days (03.26.11-04.02.11), please email me. At any rate, the entry below is in response to my first query: Do you have siblings?
I was raised alone. Neither of my parents have any other biological children. I’ve come close to having siblings. I’ve had step-siblings, but ultimately, I was raised alone.
This was starting to freak me out, by my late 20s. Three years ago this month, my grandmother succumbed to an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s. My father, my aunt, my uncle and I arrived at her bedside within a half-hour of her last breath. My grandmother had siblings–all older brothers; she was the last survivor. And as we sat in her room, in the assisted living home where she’d lived out her last years, I envied my father his siblings and my aunt, her husband. Within hours, a few of my first cousins–a brother and sister, four and five years younger than I–would arrive, but I shared none of the intimacy with them that they had with each other.
There’s something about the cusp of your thirties that makes you realize your mortality. If you’re fortunate, up to then, you haven’t experienced a great deal of close loss. Your grandparents are still alive, as are your parents. No one’s been ripped from you by untimely or arbitrary means.
But by 29, you will likely have known grief, perhaps even profound loss. You’re old enough to fully comprehend death’s permanence. Confronting the passing of others forces you to accept that, one day, you will be someone else’s loss. Someday, it’ll be you, drawing the last air this earth will offer you. And for me, the only child, this was becoming a pretty chilling thought.
I wasn’t raised to fear death. “Rejoicing” in someone’s “absence from the body” is a pretty common Christian tenet. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, after all. We call our funerals “home-goings.” Sometimes, we play dissonant, uptempo music; it’s a very… communal, very organic experience. We grieve, to be sure. But we take a great, great deal of solace in everyone who remains on this side of glory–particularly our closest family. But what of the only child? When a repast ends and parents are off with their own siblings and peers, with whom can we process a loss, back at home?
Now, I wasn’t raised to lament being an only child, either. Growing up, birth (or… the absence of birth?), like death, was often considered the will of God. So that I didn’t have siblings seemed to have been a divine intention. Of course, I had no knowledge of such philosophical ends as a little girl. I didn’t know why I didn’t have a brother or sister. But I wasn’t the kind of kid who expendeda lot of energy wanting one, either. I don’t recall praying or asking for one. I didn’t spend much time in the presence of peers who had siblings. (I was home alone a lot, after the third grade. I wasn’t allowed outside until my mom was home from work and by then, it was often too dark to play. I also didn’t belong to any consistent play group. In the ’80s and early ’90s, playdate culture was still in its infancy.)
Until I was about 12, my closest friends were other only children*. We didn’t see much wrong with how we lived. We didn’t have to contend with the insecurity of constant comparison. No worries over whether or not our parents preferred one of us over the other. No inferiority complexes after our little brother proved himself to be a chess prodigy. No birth order psychology to overcome.
But it also meant a lot of time alone.
Ironically, my most isolated times were not during school years in Baltimore, where none of expended family lived. They were in Michigan where I had no fewer than four close-aged cousins on either side of my family. Grown-up family would facilitate extended sleepovers, and for a few nights a year, I’d catch a glimpse into the world of multi-child households.
By the time their parents returned to whisk them back to that world, I was so full of gossip, giggling, Truth-or-Dare, secrets, tiffs and reconciliations, that my eyes would well, my chest would clinch, and I’d mope for days following their departures.
Back at home, I had no such emotional outbursts. Like most only children, I re-acclimated to being alone rather quickly. I did it through imaginative play, reading chapter books, writing wild unicorn stories, and watching an inordinate amount of cable television.
Unless I marry and conceive in the next five years, my daughter will be an only child, as well. Having gone through it myself, I’m hoping to provide her with many opportunities to circumvent the loneliness.
* In kindergarten, my best friend was a middle child. But her brother was too little and her sister too old for me to find either relationship appealing.