Our back yard, Sunday morning. I weed the garden. Randy, the perfekt husband, cuts the grass and trims the bushes in the side yard.
Julia (6 at the time and our only child) appears from inside the house where she has been playing patiently for 2 hours while waiting for her parents to finish their yard work so she can play ball with them in the backyard as promised. She carries a ball.
JULIA: I’m ready to play now. I’ve been waiting a long time.
ME: I’m sorry, sweetie. I should be done soon.
Randy appears from the side yard.
JULIA: Daddy, can we play now?
RANDY: In a while, Jules. I still have some gardening to do.
Randy disappears into the garage. Julia bounces the ball, frustrated.
JULIA: This is why I have imaginary friends.
I have repeated this story to friends and they find it hysterical. I found it hysterical too. Initially. Until the gut-wrenching guilt kicked in. Guilt over the fact that she’s an only child.
It’s come up before. Julia has brought it up MANY TIMES over the years. Most recently she came home and told me that she was talking to a new girl in class. And since whether they had been for or against Prop 8 (the proposition banning same sex marriage) was beyond their grasp, they talked about, you guessed it…brothers and sisters. As in, HOW MANY DO YOU HAVE? Julia said “none” and her little friend was shocked. Julia came home very upset and said she was the only kid she knew who didn’t have a brother or sister.
“That’s not true!” I said and started to give her examples of other kids that she knew who were only children. But crap! I couldn’t. In our neck of the burbs 2.5 kids are the norm and single children are, well frankly, a FREAKISH ANOMOLY! It’s true. When you tell people you only have one kid, they give you a “well aren’t you a selfish jerk” look. And don’t tell me there’s no such look because I’ve seen it…whenever I tell someone I only have one kid.
Anyhow, out of desperation I settled for “Jake’s mom told me about a friend she has who has a friend who has only one child.” Julia gave me the “what are you an idiot?” look (yes, that’s a look too and anyone who has a kid has seen it). Even to me it sounded like one of those suburban legends.
Julia has flat out asked me, in not-so-subtle accusatory tones, why she doesn’t have any siblings. And I have honestly answered her. “Because I can’t have more kids. Some people can have lots of kids. Some people can’t have any. Some can only have one.” “And some kids,” she said, “have two mommies or two daddies, right?” (Hmmm. Maybe they had that Prop 8 discussion after all). “Uh, that’s a different post on my blog,” I said and redirected her back to my guilt because after all, that’s what we’re talking about here.
And guilt was what I felt when I learned I couldn’t give her a sibling. A tsunami of guilt! Horrible concerns consumed me. If Randy and I died in fiery metal-twisting car crash on the 405 she’d be alone in the world. Or worse, as we aged, it would be all on her to hear us discuss our ailments, our medication schedules and the affect of roughage on our digestive systems.
And then there was my brother John. We’d grown up in a fairly bad home. The kind of place that a kid either learns to survive or turns to drugs as a result of. Because of John, of our tight bond, I survived. AND the only drug I abuse is ibuprofen once a month. I actually cried knowing that Julia would never have that. (The sibling support, not the monthly reliance on ibuprofen).
Ah, but what the hell. As I, and every parent of an only child, or any parent who feels they’ve failed their kids in some way (and admit that’s all of you) know, we can’t change things. You have to embrace what you have and be grateful for it. And I am. I look at Julia and am so grateful to have her in my life. The joy she brings me is amazing and I couldn’t imagine life without her. So, she’s an only child. She’ll deal with it. Oprah did and she’s crying all the way to the bank located down the hill from her $58 million dollar Montecito mansion. You can deal with it too.
And you put down the gardening tools and pick up the ball, which is EXACTLY what I did.