When you’re an only child, you grow up with the thinnest skin imaginable, because there’s nobody bullying you or telling you you have chunky legs or embarrassing you in front of a prospective boyfriend. This is the downside: we’re very sensitive. The upside is that you grow up being best friends with your parents, if you’ve got good parents, because they spent rainy days taking on the role of siblings, smashing their adult frames into pillow forts and listening patiently as you tell them a forty-five minute long story about third grade social dynamics. They indulge you. It isn’t always easy. You grow into the kind of kid who doesn’t like to sit at the short dinner table designated for youth to keep them out of the way — you’re exactly like that girl who’s always telling the boys she’s dancing with at the grade school mixer how fucking dope your mom or dad is. You sidle up to the big table and pull on your mom’s cuff and ask if she’d be interested in hunting for frogs or something. They can’t say, “Go bother Steve,” because they are the only people to bother. Depending on the persistence or stubbornness of your kid, you’re going to end up leaving the table to go to the backyard — visible from the dining table, a big wall of windows in front of your grown-up friends and colleagues — and hunt for frogs while inside they have wine and fun and throw around the f-word. And for a long time, your kid will neglect to thank you, because your kid doesn’t know how little you care about frogs. Your kid thinks you have the same interests, because you’re your kid’s best friend.
Later, of course, your kid will find other friends. Maybe your kid’s kind of a weirdo and this isn’t the smoothest transition; maybe your kid would like kid-friends but the options are just like, this asshole over here who carved his seventh-grade girlfriend’s name into his ankle and then colored it in with a Sharpie, or that young lady who tells everyone else in the fifth grade that you stuff your bra. Compared to your parents, who have proven themselves to be patient and fun and funny and smart friends, these kids will make you feel like you are not ten, but forty-six, and that you’d much rather have two forty-six year old friends who got you than a hundred ten year old friends who suck proverbial dick. During this transition, you may forget that your parents are your friends and assume, chubby and awkward and stuttering in a car outside a Burger King at 6 PM after another horrible JV soccer practice, that like Kip Drordry you have zero friends.
It’s horrible to have zero friends.
And so you tell your mom in the car, mayonnaise all over your hideous face, that you have no friends and will never have any friends. You’re crying because you’re a loser who sucks at sports and will never, ever in her life be on a varsity team for anything, who will never get algebra and who will FOREVER — meaning the next few years, FOREVER — be the person who stays up all night at the slumber party feeling left out, thinking that she was invited because the dean liked to tamper with people’s social lives and forced her invitation. And your mom will tell you that she would be your friend, that she would think you were cool, that she has known you for your whole life and has a better clue about how cool you are than a bunch of fucking bitches (and you’re like, did my mom just call these girls fucking bitches? Did she just say “fucking” and then “bitches” between bites of the new battered Burger King french fries?). And in one minute you go from zero friends to two wonderful friends, again.
You’ll forget. You’ll become a teenager and you will not want to be around your parents because you don’t trust the words that will come out of their mouths. All you want to do is pretend you have no parents and move into the Whiskey A Go Go. You make smart, fun, funny friends of your own who don’t tell you to do your homework. You treat your parents, as is required by law, like strangers who make your life 50% less exciting and fulfilling than it would be if you lived at the Whiskey A Go Go. You have literally no recollection of the night outside the Burger King or the frogs at the dinner party or the trips to the emergency room. And you move away and go to college and there feels as though there are more than two people in the world who get you.
But later, I’m not sure when, the memories of college and high school and everything are less clear than the night outside the Burger King. It’s as though all you’ve ever known were those two friends you’d always had, because suddenly you know that if you’d found yourself at a dinner party with your parents, three adults who hadn’t known each other for twenty-seven years, you would want to be their best friend. You would think how cool and smart and funny and fun they were, and even if your genetic codes were polar opposites and you didn’t see your own face in their two faces, you would find everything you’d ever needed in them, a friend a brother a sister a grandmother an aunt a kind bagger at the grocery on a day when you felt like shit.
There’s something to be said for parents who are willing to do this for their lonely, strange children who have been spared being spit on by their siblings on long car rides: they are always their age, but they’re also always your age. You have no choice but to tell them everything, and if they’re good listeners, they understand as though they were ten or twelve or fifteen or nineteen or twenty-eight. It’s the same as it’s always been so you forget to thank them, at least a lot of the time. But there are times when you think, “Nobody will ever know me like those two,” and then you think of people who nobody knows as well as they know you, and how lonely that would be, to spread yourself thinner over more people and to lose this concentrated relationship that is so poignant and particular and deep.
You can’t really thank your parents for being more than parents without crying and making everyone uncomfortable. You have to tell them that you ran out of Benadryl and you’re congested but that if you were to think of your most beautiful memory, it might be thirty seconds outside a Burger King in 1994. And for a second they don’t know what you mean, but then they know what you mean, like they always have.
oh boy this hits home. goes right through my thin only child skin. honestly i never really contributed my sensitivity to not fighting and carrying on with siblings, but its so true. i have always known that i am more sensitive then most people. i have always known that i am very different from most of my friends for many reasons and it has often gone back to the fact that i have no brothers or sisters. i’m always fearful of the lack of love i have. i mean i don’t know how to love a sibling and i often think that if i knew that kind of love i would be a better person, if i was able to love someone else that was close to my age when i was tee tiny, maybe i would know how to love everyone better, be a better friend, better wife. i often feel that empty ocean around me like a loss of something i never even had. there is no word in the english language to describe this feeling. and i don’t think its every only child that feels this way. but always have.
i have always dreamed of a long lost twin sister out there. oh a sister. to have a sister would be the one thing i would love to wish for but i can’t because its not possible. as close as i may ever be to my sister-in-law. she knows nothing of my youth. i did not meet her until i was 25.
i grew up with my parents. they were about 28 when i was born in 1981 and you would think for a man that fought in vietnam, who served 2 tours on the front lines, and a woman who was already married and divorced, they both were adults in the physical sense and you would think having both lived whole lives before meeting each other they would have been more mature. however much i love my parents and its not something i could ever even try to measure because it is just too great, no matter the amount i love them, they were not prepared to raise a child.
they didn’t know each other long before decided to bust into this world but they did what they were supposed to and married, they eventually bought a house and did the best that they could in raising me. we did a lot of things together, there were countless times of happiness but unfortunately there were many darker times too. my mother had deep depression, my father PTSD that feed on his alcohol abuse. through it all i never questioned that they loved me more then their hearts could handle. honestly i often did and still do blame myself, because i think the depth of their love for me sparked an overwhelming feeling in them neither of them were equipt to cope with. and its true i compared myself to them. in the way a child strives to out do his or her brothers and sisters. i had no one to compare myself to, i had no one to blame a broken door knob or a spilt glass of juice on, they were my peers. my aunt tells the story of when i was 4 years old and my mother in coma like state of depression in grandmother’s bedroom i sat on the couch in the living room crying (i knew something was really very wrong) and my aunt asks me why are you crying and I tell her “i wish that I could help her” and from then on that was my purpose to help my parents cope with the lives they chose. to ever be the mediator between them. i did and i tried and sometimes i just wasn’t old enough to help or understand. luckily i was able to count on my mother’s sister who was always just a phone call away to help me out of the house to just calm the storm that was rumbling in it.
nothing gets me more then the people who say IMMEDITATELY after hearing i have no brothers or sisters “oh so you were/are spoiled”…honestly how freaking rude could you be. i will never agree to this. spoiled? huh i don’t know a single soul who does for their parents what i am there to do for mine. and will they continue to call me spoiled when it is me alone caring for my aging parents who are now divorced and both alone so please try set into my shoes on a holiday (spilt it between them? the live too far from me and each other to do that (though it has been done and just leads to a day of me in a car driving all over NJ) oh wait no lets do every other holiday, that works, no? yes it does but the guilt of knowing the other parent is sitting home alone on that special day, it shutters me now with the holidays just months away i can’t even stomach it, put them together and you will need a case of tums and a iron shields to protect yourself, oh wait throw in the in-laws now too!) i have no brother or sister to say “you spend this year with mommy and i’ll take daddy” or better yet “why don’t we all have thanksgiving together having you there will ease their blows, because…you understand” there is NO ONE in the world that understands. no one that i can look at and say “remember when daddy used to get so drunk and pass out on the livingroom floor in his underwear choking on his own vomit and mommy would run around literally ripping her hair out of her head? ” because it was just me and my American Girl doll Molly and she didn’t speak up then so i know she has nothing to say 20+ years later. oh yeah that’s it I had American Girl dolls growing up so I was spoiled. I will remember that in the coming years when I am either wiping my parent’s asses alone or placing them in separate nursing homes (but hopefully that’s farther off then i can imagine).
my mom bless her heart, she’s got baggage and chemical imbalances but still she told me recently about my bitchy attitude as an adolescent “i always told your aunts oh its okay let her go on with me like that, she doesn’t have anyone else to get that release from” meaning maybe i gave my parents a hard time sometimes about somethings but she didn’t mind because she had 3 sisters growing up and knew my life was one of solitude and she would rather me take something out on her then hold in it like i normally did. hearing her tell me that changed my life. i have always felt guilty for talking back to my parents and honestly i didn’t as much as other kids because my parents were for the most part my peers too.
and despite all of the dysfunction growing up i wouldn’t change it for the world. may parents were and still are good hard working people who always did what they did for me. and maybe there weren’t always the best decisions but they made each one hoping to give me a better and brighter future. i will never doubt that or their love for me. and as much as i still want a sister i would never go back and change the fact that i am an only child because all of this has made who i am today. and i am proud of myself. and also i think i am the most well adjusted adult i know : )