An Only Child

by Marinka on October 11, 2010

I am an only child, although I did go through a period in my late teens when I told people that I’d had a twin, Natasha, who died at birth. Fortunately, this psychotic period lasted only one day, and the people that I told was one random person I met and would never see again. Eh, he wasn’t too heartbroken about it, so no harm done.

But my only child status shaped me. My parents were both embarrassingly Teen Mom young when I was born, so they were sadly full of energy to do things with me. They traveled with me, skied with me and generally kept me on a short leash. I quickly realized that if I’d had siblings, they’d be hobbled and lobbied for them to reproduce.

“Everyone else has a brother or a sister!” I protested, once we immigrated from the Soviet Union to New York and I realized that I’d been deprived in many ways. “It’s not fair!”

My parents took pity on me and few months later I had Baby Alive, the doll that would shit out the pre-packaged food I fed her. It was a good compromise but despite being distracted with my new found motherhood duties, I still yearned for siblings.

Especially when I became a teenager and my parents went insane.

“We understand you want to go to the Manhattan by yourself,” mama told me in response to my request to take the half hour bus ride into the city. “But is danger. You could get murdered and papa and I will be sad.”

I looked to papa for reason.

“Your mother has point,” papa nodded. “We only have one child and if you decide to get killed, we will have exactly zero. Sad and zero children.”

God, I’d wished I had a sibling to hear that shit. Because when I told my friends about it the next day, they thought that I was exaggerating. Because no one’s parents were that weird.

Needless to say, I was fascinated by the friends’ families, by their siblings, by the family dynamics.

It seemed to me that they were always in a middle of a party, although not necessarily a particularly merry one. My friends fought with their brothers and sisters, yelled at them, snitched on them and sold them out to their parents. They traded favors against each other, conspired with them and against them, kept track of minor injustices and wished them dead. It was like theater and I envied their drama.

The envy is not rational. Because I was an only child my parents could afford to drag me on European vacations and they could afford to torture me with the best private school education. I had mad privileges growing up, but I still fetishzed siblings.

I thought of it recently when I read a memoir by Diana, Liz, Amanda and Dan Welch, The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir
(No, it’s not one of those four people inside one body memoirs. It’s a memoir written in alternating sections by four siblings.)

Their story is heartbreaking. In rapid succession their father dies in a car accident and their mother dies a horrible death from cancer; and yet, what I see is that they have each other. Most of them are teenagers by the time that their mother dies, so some of them angst-hate each other and it is a testament to my center of the universe only child syndrome that I envy their bond. Because despite the loss, they are still family, they are still not alone and I feel the pull that I felt in high school towards them. Even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, they have grounding, they have a tribe.

And they have memories. The memoir is written in intertwining chapters, so that Liz’s chapter ends with a jock that she’d had a crush on going past second base with her and lowering his face towards her underwear and her brother’s begins with “Curtis told me that Paul ate Liz out.” It is impossible for me to imagine that kind of a relationship with a sibling. And it’s shocking to read them correct each others’ memories.

The grass is always greener, I know. Certainly there are siblings who wish desperately that they were only children. And yet, I can’t resist looking at families overflowing with children. And marveling at the siblings.

This post is part of the From Left to Write book discussion book. I was provided with a copy of The Kids Are Alright without charge.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Neil
Twitter:
October 11, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Another only child here. And you know what…. the minute I met you, I knew you were one too. I can’t explain it. Unless it is that “not getting along with anyone else” thing.

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Joie October 12, 2010 at 6:42 pm

HA! Totally!

Only here as well. It’s why I ended up with so many animals growing up – I asked for a baby brother or sister, and a dog would suddenly show up.

When I found my half sister again a few months ago, I desperately wanted that sisterly connection.

But that didn’t really happen – you know, cause we had only met once in our whole lives.

I always wanted a brother or sister, even though I know I got a lot more attention and material things as an only.

But having a connection with someone really would have been awesome.

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christy October 12, 2010 at 7:29 am

Oh this tore at my heart! And it makes me want to read that book. And write one with my sibling! Though I there will no references to below the clothes action, so maybe it would be too boring!

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A Mom on Spin October 12, 2010 at 7:56 am

I was one of seven.

I would have gladly sold a couple of them to you had you asked. . .

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awesome dude October 12, 2010 at 8:43 am

I start to doubt my paternity, because a have a very strong anti sibling gene.

First of all I do not remember any other fetuses in the uterus and even in my own amniotic sac.

Second as a young child I never missed anybody within my own family, actually I ceased almost all contacts with my parents at the age 12-13.

I loved them both very much, but we were always in the different plane of thought.

My mother managed to transplant an idea into my mind ….that of being a psychiatrist as a way of protecting yourself in the abusive and totalitarian society; and I dutifully lived that dream for 10-15 years.

Isaak my father used to say about himself:

It is all my own fault…if I were a smart man I would have had 4 sons…you would be an ungrateful idiot, but 3 others would be my joy and pleasure as well as soul mates. But now, since I only have you, I just have to love you.

I do not want to tell you how often we fought and what about.

So, a parental advice: Get it out of your head.

Also you still can count on me.

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Stacey
Twitter:
October 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

I’m an only child as well. We moved no less than every four years when I was growing up. Part of that was because my father was in the army, but even after he got out of active duty, it was ingrained in him to never stay too long in one place. For an only child, that meant making new friends every few years. I too longed for a sibling. A built-in friend during all of those moves.

Now that I’m an adult there are times I’m glad I was an only child and still times I wish I had a sibling. When my father died a sibling would have been nice. My son is an only child, and while I swore I’d never have an only child life happened and it’s just ended up that way.

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kimberly October 12, 2010 at 10:19 am

Mama and Papa are not too old to adopt. I’d start working on that.

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cat fur to make kitten britches October 12, 2010 at 10:33 am

I have one half-sister, two half-brothers and a step-sister. I am not close with any of them, and while it would be nice if that weren’t the case, it is what it is. My point is only that, having siblings doesn’t necessarily ensure having a feeling of community or connection. You can have lots of them, and still feel very much alone.

Interesting concept for a memoir. I’m curious to read it now.

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kiki October 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

my son is an only child. we always planned for one boy and that is what we got. my son wishes he had siblings. he complains about being bored and lonely. we have him involved in sports and he plays with neighborhood children, but i know he longs for someone to talk to at night, have sleepovers with, or watch Spongebob together. that breaks my heart. someday, he might end up hating us for what we’ve chosen, or maybe he’ll thank us. i worry about that. my sister has her 4th one on the way. i am envious that the kids will have each other after their parents are gone. i’m envious of the fun and love they share as a large family unit, but i don’t envy their debt, their stresses, etc. the average cost to raise a child in America to age 18 is close to $300k. i can’t even begin to imagine what we are spending it on if the amount doesn’t include college. scary. my father and my in-laws are all only children. my grandfather was also an only child. my mother has 6 siblings and her mother had 12. i think family is what you make of it, whether it’s 19 like the Duggars, or 3 like my family. i will definitely check out that memoir. thanks for sharing and take care.

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Issa
Twitter:
October 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I love your parents. Sad and zero children. Hahahahaha.

I think we all want what we don’t have. I wanted to be an only child for years and then as an adult, I’ve longed for a sister. I have friends who adore their sisters…then again, I have others who can’t stand their sisters. My mom has four sisters and is only close to one of them.

We all think others have it easier. I’d of loved your single child status as a kid. I wanted nice things and vacations and sleepovers without two brothers tripping over themselves to see what my friends were doing. Then again, I have a brother (the other choose drugs over family years ago) who understands the crazy that I grew up in. He and I have jokes and stories that no one else has. He’s a keeper.

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the mama bird diaries
Twitter:
October 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm

ok ok, you can stop hinting around. I’ll be your adoptive sibling.

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annie October 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

My oldest asked for a sister, we gave her 1 within 2 years. She says we got a little carried away. I am thankful though because then when I die that “horrible death from cancer”, they’ll have each other….their own little tribe and my husband will have plenty to keep him occupied. Morbid thought I know but what do ya do?

I have one sister but she was a bit older and I feel like we kind of grew up seperately….I’m glad she’s there though. Kids need someone they can bitch to about their parents and know they’ll understand.

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Marinka October 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Shut up about the “horrible death from cancer.” Didn’t we already decide that your positive attitude will keep the cancer away?
love you. Smiles & hugs!

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annie October 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Alright, now you’ve done it! I told you the next person to tell me stay positive will get their ass kicked. I’m checking flights now.

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Diana Welch October 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Dear Marinka,

This post made me laugh out loud more than once – especially the recollection of that conversation with your parents. You’re hilarious! And I see where you get it — you’re father sounds pretty hilarious himself.

I also went through a psychotic dead twin phase. I remember riding the Amtrak train back from visiting Liz up in NYC when I was 14 or so. Armed with my bags and a framed pencil drawing of myself that Liz’s foster family had commissioned, I went to go sit in the smoking car, as I was pretty sure that people who smoked were more interesting than people who didn’t.

A handsome Englishmen sat next to me, and it didn’t take long for him to ask about the drawing in my lap. Instead of telling him the truth, I decided to tell him that it was my twin sister who had recently died of a drug overdose. This spun into some tale so his own – I don’t recall them all, but I do remember him saying at one point that one day he did a couple lines at a fancy party in Manhattan and three days later found himself in the bathroom stall of a truck stop in the middle of nowhere with the waitress from the adjacent diner and a mirror. The whole thing was weird.

thanks for reading The Kids are All Right!

xDiana Welch

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Heather, Queen of Shake Shake October 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I’ve grown an anti-sibling gene and yet I have a sister. Tell you anything?

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ShallowGal October 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

When my kids complain about each other, I always tell them they’ll be glad when their father’s dead and I’m insane that they have each other to complain about. That cheers them right up.

xo, A

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Grace October 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Sht I’ll give you my siblings now if you want them. I’ll GIVE them to you. You don;t even hve to say thank you, just take them.

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Emily October 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Your post was very thought-provoking, especially because my son will remain an only child. I had only one brother and I too wanted a bigger family. I wonder if this is why my son wants a doll? Oh, and Baby Alive rocked!

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Keyona
Twitter:
October 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I have to admit my little brother is my best friend. He is part of the reason I decided to give Lael a sibling.

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Deborah October 12, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I relate on soooo many levels.

My daughters are 14 years apart in age. We did teen parent and then I missed elderly gravida by 2 months. Thanks for pointing that out Dr Notverydiplomatic.
We raised 2 only children…until they gang up on us, then it’s sisters unite!
The older one waited till I was 7 months pregnant and then said, “I quite liked being an only child you know.” Way to guilt trip.
….and even now the 15 year old texts from our Aussie lounge room to the 29 year old in London, “You left me here with the old people!”
To which the reply is, “They weren’t old when I had them. You must be wearing them out.”
Yes indeed.

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Yuliya
Twitter:
October 13, 2010 at 12:51 am

Only child=crazy, only child of immigrant parents=bat shit crazy.

I feel your pain and I too wish I had someone that could back me up on some of the insanity, ie my childhood, like did I make that shit up or did it really happen?

By the way I was out of town when the internet went crazy (ie Scary Mommy’s guest poster) but I did want to say that your response rocked my world.

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alexandra
Twitter:
October 13, 2010 at 3:08 am

I know what you mean.

I have 3 sisters, and I love them dearly.

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Nicole
Twitter:
October 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm

For sure the grass is often greener…I remember my mom telling me that if I didn’t have my brother and sister I too could have two bedrooms and a fancy stereo like my good friend. Did not help the cause. I never appreciated my siblings really and we even got to bring friends on vacations. Funny I too envied the Welch’s relationship with each other, and some of that forced freedom, although of course not all that other stuff.

My best friend understood early on and really appreciated having a sister, could not understand why I wanted to be an only child 🙂 Think my kids feel that way too – and thanks for your comment over on my post.

And you and your dad – awesome!

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GrandeMocha
Twitter:
October 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I’m an only with an only. The only time I wanted a sibling was when something went wrong. Because when you are the only one, if something got broken or lost, it was your fault, even when you didn’t do it.

I have always loved stories of multiples, like John & Kate. Never wanted to live it, just enjoy watching it on tv.

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Ester Jean December 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Now I must read “The Kids Are Alright.” I have 6 siblings, and am the middle of 3 girls. My younger sister and brother have been my closest friends over the years, and I LOVE when our family is all together and reminisce.

On a semi-related note, my oldest brother is in prison, and I have helped him create a blog, which i am not linking to because it has recently offended me and he is continuing with help from someone who is not me. ANYway, a couple weeks ago he wrote a post about family memories and claimed that he had hit our little brother on accident when he was riding a bike with no brakes. But that was MY story – I was the one who hit my brother on accident, riding my older brother’s bike, which didn’t have brakes. My older brother was high, and didn’t try any better details than that he hit the baby with his bike. Whereas I remember my mother holding the baby in her arms, sobbing, and saying she couldn’t look at me, and so my other older brother took me to see “Sgt. Bilko” at the theater and began a tradition of taking me to the movies once a year. We were never close, but he took me to the movies once a year ever-after.

So – holy shit – who needed that story? I did, I guess.

Anyway, I am pregnant right now and fear over-populating the world, but this post made me think I have to give a sibling to my baby, I just MUST. In case one goes to fucking Manhattan and decides to get themselves killed.

(Yeah I know “themselves” is bad grammar for talking about one person, but I… I’m too dumb at the moment to figure out better English. Frig).

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