Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What We Have

It's none of my business, but I always want to ask.

Every time I get to know a parent of a single child, I wonder how it came to be. Did they always intend to have only one? Or did other factors--health, fertility, timing--decide for them? It's not the result, but the decision-making that I find interesting.

I don't think of these families as oddities. I find them familiar. I am an only child, as is my husband and my father. I'm used to quiet houses and small dinner tables.

My mother is one of six children and wanted a big family. My father is an only child who wanted to live alone on a farm and raise dogs. As best as I can tell, I'm the compromise. That's my story.

I have two children, but I didn't necessarily foresee a family of four. I always told my husband I wanted one child with an option on two. We were a family of three for two years before trying for a second, and our family dynamic felt familiar and comfortable to me. It took a leap of faith to disrupt it by calling that option for baby number two.

It was the right decision for us, but it wasn't one we made lightly. I can't imagine having done otherwise, because we wouldn't be us without our daughter. But what about those families that considered the same factors and decided, "No, thanks. We're good?"

I'm interested to understand how others made this deeply personal decision. What factors did they consider? What about their own upbringing influenced the decision? Did they once desire more but fate intervened?

None of my business. Any of it. Yet I'm curious.

*     *     *

I think I'm fascinated because, nearly eight years into being a mother-of-two, I still find much about siblings unfathomable. I don't understand how anyone can want to touch (or be touched by) another person as much as my children do. I don't understand why they constantly are drawn to each other, even when they are driving each other crazy. I don't understand their desire to provoke each other or the intensity of their rage.

It's all unfamiliar territory to this (happily) only child. I don't understand the sibling relationship, so I remain intrigued by only-child families like the one I grew up in.

*     *     *

I still don't understand the "why," but I get the "what." Siblings have a shared formative experience. They have a live-in playmate and possible confidante. They care for each other differently than friends do. On the good days, I watch my children together and see only that they are there for each other.

Saturday was one of the good days. The kids had their first swim meet of the season. My son is now a third-year veteran, but it was my daughter's first meet and she was nervous. She stood behind the starting blocks waiting for her event to be called as her big brother finished his race. Without drying off, he went up to her, wished her good luck, and then stood with her until her race started.

It was the "standing there" that mattered. I know she appreciated the good luck wishes, but my daughter was visibly comforted by the fact that her brother stood with her.

That's what I lacked as an only child--I never had someone to stand with me the way my kids do. They may bicker and provoke and yell, but they stand with each other when they need it.

No family structure is the right one, but that is what's right about the one that we have.

1 comment:

  1. Susie: Take it from the baby girl and 5th sibling of 6 that no matter what, your siblings will all pull together and stand by you when you need it the most. They are there for the good and bad experiences of life. I thank God for the 5 others because I can't imagine being the only one and not having sisters or brothers to share the roller coaster of what life is all about. Six different independent individuals with different personalities uniting together as a whole when the time calls for it. We go our separate ways but I know if need be I'll always be able to depend on them. All the fighting and getting along was worth it. It made me the person I am.