One and Only

When you're the only pea in the pod, your parents are likely to get you confused with the Hope Diamond.~  Russell Baker, journalist, and author of Growing Up

We were joking around about only children at work the other day.  My boss' husband is an only child, as is her six year old grandson.  "We all know only children have their quirks!" my boss said affectionately.

Indeed.  I certainly know about the quirkiness of only children.  As you probably know, I'm an only, who has the interesting distinction of being the daughter, the wife, and mother of an only.

A bunch of solitary peas in the pod, this little family of mine.

I loved Russell Baker's statement, and I think he hits the nail on the head.  As only children, we are the priceless gem in the setting of our parent's universe.  How can it not be so?  Only children are often born to older parents who have waited a long time to have them, so they naturally become the intense focus of those parent's existence.  Much loved, much anticipated, the expectations of the entire family get laid upon their shoulders.

It can be a burden sometimes.

I've taken Baker's quote a bit out of context.  His family of origin includes two siblings, but also more aunts, uncles, and cousins than he can possible count.   In a family that large, individual children do not garner a great deal of notice.  "When the grown ups in a family as big as our said that children were born to be seen and not heard, they weren't just exercising the grown-up right to engage in picturesque speech and tired old maxims.  For them, holding down the uproar was a question of survival."  So, Baker continues, "you might as well learn to listen, because they're not going to give you much of a chance to talk."

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, circa 1960, in a neighborhood freshly built for baby boomer families.  On my half of the block lived five Catholic families, who were raising anywhere from five to seven children in the cookie cutter style three bedroom brick ranch houses that lined the street.  As an only child, I was not only an anomaly, but the envy of all those other kids.  I had an entire room to myself, plus I had the undivided attention of my parents.  (It wasn't until adolescence that we all realized what a mixed blessing that focused attention really was.)

But when I talked, my parents listened, with bated breath.  Every word out of my mouth seemed to be pure gold.  Looking back, I wasn't much different with my own son.  I admit, I found him fascinating.  He was so bright, and creative, and unusual, why wouldn't I be smitten with everything he had  to say?

There is definitely a flip side to all this attention.  When you're in that kind of spotlight, you feel constantly on display, you feel a tremendous responsibility  to maintain not only that level of fascination,  but also your good reputation.  God forbid you should mess up in front of this captive audience who hangs so breathlessly on your every word and deed.

But we all mess up.  Fumble a line, forget an entrance, show up late to the party.  When you're all alone on that stage, it's harder to hide those inevitable faux pas.  Nor do you have anyone to foist blame upon.  ( I recall trying to blame our dog Ginger several times, but it didn't work out.)

Luckily, the parents of only children are only too willing to forgive.

After all, we don't have any "spares" in the offspring department, so we have to do whatever we can to keep that one precious diamond firmly ensconced in the ring.