Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Shadow You Cast

Traveling by plane, as I recently did, is always fun for me. If you keep your head up and take in the sights, oh, it’s a smorgasbord of visual candy.

You see things like this guy, dressed like peanut butter fudge:

And this woman, 

wearing the same sweater I have at home:

There’s always this guy:

who can plop down and fall asleep, anywhere, in front of anyone.

And then there’s this guy, the loud talker:

Sometimes you’re seated next to him on the plane or in a restaurant. Other times, as was the case for me, you’re just seated within a close enough proximity that you hear every single word he says while you’re just trying to relax and read your book. 

First, he made a phone call and screamed into the phone for a few minutes. It wasn’t an angry scream. Just an elevated volume. The call ended and I thought, “OK, now I can read.” but he had other plans. Then he started talking to the lady, who I assume is his wife. Despite my best efforts, I could not block him out. Seeking alternative seating proved futile, so I just sat there and took it in. Since there was no tuning him out, I decided to at least concentrate on his words. After just a few seconds, I realized he was just talking to be talking and wasn’t really talking to his wife, or anyone for that matter, about anything. He was simply talking. It was stream of consciousness, saying whatever came into his mind. And the interesting thing was his wife never responded, never bat an eye, never really even looked up. He had an entire conversation all by himself.

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."Psalm 91:1

Monday, April 11, 2016

National Only Child Day

Just as I blame greeting card companies for holidays such as “Grandparents Day” and “Administrative Professionals Day,” I think we can blame Facebook for yesterday’s “National Sibling Day” and the response to that, today’s “National Only Child Day.” But in recognition of today, enjoy this post from an only child whose mother and daughter are onlies, as well. That’s right…my daughter is a proud, third-generation only.

Growing up an only was, simply put, fantastic. You know that saying “friends are the family you choose?” I’ve seen it on a plaque somewhere. Well, as I watched my friends and classmates struggle with their siblings, this concept was foreign to me. Friends and neighbors and cousins drifted in and out of my home and my life like people you share a plane ride with. We were thrown together for a little bit, but just when I thought “I could stab you in the neck with this ballpoint pen,” the ride was over and they went back to their own homes and I could get on with my life.

I was taught to share but the entire notion seemed utterly overrated. In social situations where sharing was the word of the day, I learned a life skill early on that has both saved and haunted me:  move on.  If there was a toy someone else wanted to play with, I’d just go play with another. If there was a project in school and someone else wanted to cover my chosen topic and the teacher suggested a group effort, I’d simply slide into another subject matter. As I transitioned to adult life and corporate America, I thought, naively, that sharing was behind me. Ha. That was until I was thrown, completely unsuspecting, into my first committee. There were bigger words being used and people were smiling weirdly and nodding but I saw what was happening here and I didn’t like it:  we were being forced to share something worse than a slinky. We were expected to share ideas and assignments and workload. Son of a biscuit.

The upsides of being an only are as countless as the stars in the sky. Christmas and Easter mornings were all about me. And Jesus, but He wasn’t getting any gifts. I had my own bathroom, but, of course, I shared my parents’ because, as I’ve found now that I’m a parent, that’s what kids do. There was no fighting over whose turn it was with the TV remote. When I was very young, I was the remote. When the clicker finally came around, Daddy got to hold the little, magic box, end of discussion. When staying in a hotel, the parents got one bed and I got the other. I don’t recall any “he’s touching me” or “it’s her turn to do the dishes” complaints.

The flip side of this, of course, is that there is very little room for error. If a lamp gets knocked off and broken, there aren’t many directions in which to point a finger. In fact, there’s little room for deflection at all. Being an only means you get the attention all of the time, good or bad.

People have asked me throughout my life, “weren’t you ever lonely?” Yes, of course I was, but the benefits a sibling would have offered wouldn’t have outweighed the cons. Having someone to see-saw with for five minutes wouldn’t have made up for a childhood of having the entire backseat to myself on car trips. Getting to play board games, most of which require a minimum of two players, wouldn’t have fostered my creative side and nurtured the part of me that wanted to write.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m fascinated by how many of my only child’s friends are onlies, too. It’s a good percentage. And among us parents, there’s a sense of camaraderie, of accomplishment, a feeling that we got it right, we hit the bullseye. We see other parents struggling to get their kids to different sports practices and to be at parent meetings and clothe and feed the masses and we smile to ourselves knowing we’ve got it pretty darn good. A couple of times I’ve been asked,”do you have just the one?” Just the one. As if I’m somehow not worthy of the title of “Mother” unless I look harried and utterly worn down. Trust me, with “just one” I sometimes feel like screaming and pulling my hair out and driving across the border never to be heard from again. I give props to Moms of multiples.The fact is, we have a tough job, whether we have one or seven.

I lucked out as far as parents. And I’m not just saying that. They did it well and made it look easy, even when it wasn’t. They did a terrific job of teaching me independence and giving me my space. They allowed me to make mistakes. I look at some of my child’s only child friends and I see them in some of the pitfalls of only-dom. They have a “glommy” or “smother” — a mother who just refuses to cut the apron strings. They’ve had so much sunshine pumped up their little bottoms that they can’t fathom when they don’t win the race, when they don’t get the blue ribbon, and when the world’s attention isn’t focused solely on them. It’s sad to watch the unraveling of a 10-year-old who’s been told their entire life “you’re the best” when they find out, as they eventually will, that they’re not. My husband and I have tried so hard to avoid this for our own only child, that I fear we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. We rarely miss an opportunity to tell her how she’s mired in mediocrity. “That’s a nice painting of a unicorn, sweetie, but that horn is terribly out of proportion.”


FDR - President Roosevelt apparently had a “glommy.” But, by golly, her baby boy became leader of the free world, even if it was a gloomy period of time.

Lance Armstrong - Mama was said to have said on more than one occasion, “Lance, honey, why don’t you go outside and ride your bike?” Unfortunately, she didn’t tell him to avoid performance-enhancing drugs while he did it.

Harry Potter (and Daniel Radcliffe) - You are a wizard, Harry. And an only child. Go play with your wand.

Drew Barrymore - Well, it’s difficult to compare celebrities to us mere mortals. Drew knew how to make a perfect martini and roll a joint by first grade. Over-achiever.


10. You have all the best qualities of being both an extrovert and an introvert.
  9.  You know how to share (because people insisted you learn) but you never have to.
  8.  Family vacations are awesome. The only downside is deciding which parent to ride the roller coaster with. Coin toss!
  7.  Responsibility is your middle name. Or “Ann,” because that seemed popular.
  6.  All of your clothes are yours and yours alone. And new. No hand-me-downs. (Downside: no one to point the finger at over a horrible outfit.)
  5.  Your birthday is a national event. At least at your house.
  4.  Super close relationship with your parents.
  3.  There’s one baby book, it’s completely filled out, and it’s all about you.
  2.  Independence wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was a matter of survival.
  1.  You learn early on all of the perks of solitude. Ahh, the sound of silence.


10.  See-saws suck.
  9.  Having no one to blame when you screw up.
  8.  You throw like a boss, but never learned to catch.
  7.  You think the dog is a good listener. (I debated which list this should go on.)
  6.  Playing “Hide & Seek” blows.
  5.  Imaginary friends aren’t a childhood phase. They’re real. Hold on for a minute. Stella, I’m writing a blog post right now. I’ll chat with you when I’m finished, OK?
  4.  The noise out there in the world! Oh my goodness. Noisy things in my house growing up included Daddy watching televised golf, Mom emptying the dishwasher, and the dog clicking across the linoleum when his nails were in need of a trim. I got my bottom (and my ear drums) handed to me when I went off to college and learned first-hand, from three roommates, what real noise was. 
  3.  There are times you daydream about being part of a larger family. If you haven’t watched the Steve Carrel movie “Dan in Real Life,” look it up on Netflix. It’s a great little movie and he’s at the top of his game. At the center of the movie is his large and larger-than-life family and seeing vignettes like this make me long, quite temporarily, for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger.
  2.  My definition and your definition of “personal space” are infinitely different. Infinitely. In fact, go ahead and take a couple steps back while you’re reading this.

  1.  Being an only makes you who you are. For better or worse. (I debated which list this should go on.)

Wouldn't trade it - or them - for the world.