With only a few remnants of my daughter’s childhood remaining in her Barbie-pink bedroom, it’s hard for me to find the right words to express my feelings on this night before she literally moves into adulthood. It’s so unlike me to get all teary-eyed at the thought of Lanie growing up and moving out, but here I am with tears on my cheeks. Every mother, at one time or another, worries that she hasn’t given her child all the tools needed to lead a happy, successful life, away from her protection. My cross to bear is buried a little deeper in the regret that I never gave her a sibling.
My mom always warned me that if I was going to have children, I had to make sure I had at least two. She was an only child herself, and she hated it. Whenever my sister and I would fight, Mom would step in and remind us how lucky we were to have each other. My mom was right; I don’t know what I’d do without my sister today.
At two years old, Lanie came running into the room to demand, “I want a baby sister, and I want one now!” My hubby and I laughed at the time, but deep down, I was anxious that she’d hate me forever if I didn’t comply.
I had planned to have more children but, as it so often does, life got in the way. Troubles in my marriage, a financial hardship, and a serious injury thrown in for good measure pushed that dream out of reach. Instead of a sibling, I’ve spent most of her life trying to mold her into a strong, independent woman who is as comfortable being alone as she is in a crowd.
It was tough when she was young. Even though she had a lot of friends, there were days when there was “no one to play with.” I’d remind her that she was lucky to choose her friends rather than be stuck with a younger brother or sister she was constantly fighting with, but she wasn’t buying it. She was sad and lonely, and I was pretty sure she thought it was all my fault.
I’ll admit to overcompensating by spoiling her a little. What would it hurt if we bought her that video game, just because? Who was harmed if we took her on expensive vacations to Disney, just because? I often reminded her that we couldn’t have done any of those things if she had siblings – we just wouldn’t have been able to afford it. As I think back, I’m pretty sure I was trying to convince myself that being an only child was good for her.
Lanie begged for a dog for years, but as a full-time working mom, I really didn’t want the extra burden of caring for an animal. Besides, she wanted a BIG dog. I did concede to getting an aquarium filled with beautifully colored tropical fish. Looking back, the dog might have been easier, as we killed off more than 34 fish before learning how to keep their environment healthy. As Lanie and I struggled to keep her fish “siblings” alive, we both learned a valuable lesson: Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it, so you do the best you can with what you’ve been given.
The middle school years improved a little. Lanie had a close-knit group of friends that would take turns going on family vacations with us. Those six girls were inseparable, and after a while even started to dress and look alike. These friends helped Lanie feel a little less lonely, and my girl quickly emerged as the leader of the pack.
By high school, Lanie had all but forgotten that she was “different” because she was an only child. In fact, she became the “lucky” one. While all her friends had to share everything with their brothers and sisters, “Lucky Lanie” had her own room complete with TV, laptop, iPod, Playstation, cell phone, and a wardrobe to die for. She also had what most teenage girls always wished for but rarely got – her mom’s undivided attention, and privacy. There were no little brothers sneaking in to read her diary or little sisters to pester her while she was on the phone with her boyfriend. There were no siblings vying for attention for help with homework, rides to football practice, or a shoulder to cry on. She took piano, guitar, and clarinet lessons. She was in band and on the swim team. While she may have insisted it didn’t matter if I missed a concert or swim meet, I knew she was always happy to see my face. Lanie was the center of my world, and she loved it.
I think the definitive sign, for all of us, that being an only child brought great rewards occurred three years ago. Lanie was in her last year of college and on her way to becoming a nurse. Her boyfriend was living an hour away in a rural community. With limited job opportunities and no real options in sight, we invited him to move into our home. While that may have been unconventional, Lanie got it; and I think I finally did too. I had been brought up in a strict household where unmarried couples did not move in together and missing an 11 p.m. curfew was unacceptable. I’m certain my parents would have preferred that I followed their child-rearing methods instead of looking at the bigger picture. I think if we had other children in our home, I might have caved to tradition and upbringing and never extended the invitation. But because we were able to open our home to someone my daughter cared so much about, we were able to make a positive impact in both of their lives.
Lanie is now moving into her own home and creating her own family. Ironically, she’s a nurse at a fertility clinic where patients struggle to have even one child. We’ve had many conversations now that she’s an adult, and I believe she recognizes the benefits of being an only child -like getting all the attention, all the presents, all the money, and all the love.
As for me, I think I’ll always wonder what it would have been like to have more kids, but I’ll never regret having just one very special one.
Do you have any only child? Were you one yourself? Are you closer to your child or parents because of it? I’d love to hear your perspective.
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