My son is an only child. The bog standard national average family of 2.2 kids means that our little family is a bit different from most. Our family tree looks like someone took to it with a chainsaw, and my husband and I constantly field questions of why we only have one child. People really don’t want to hear the honest answer – because his four potential siblings were miscarried – so instead we have a collection of glib responses that make us look shallow and selfish whilst the people rude enough to ask such personal questions congratulate themselves on their clever and selfless repopulation of the nation.
I can’t accurately compare having an only child to anything, as obviously it’s my only experience as a parent. But having grown up with siblings, I know that our boy is leading a charmed life. He’ll never have to endure the car trip torture one of my brothers specialised in, which involved hovering a single finger millimetres from my face whilst I screamed blue murder and our mother told him to keep his hands to himself. His response to this was always ‘but I’m not touching her’ which would result in my mother telling me to stop whingeing, at which point the whole thing would go rapidly downhill into actual fisticuffs, interspersed with random swipes from my mother as she leaned over the bench seat of the Falcon to try to stop us fighting. We weren’t worried about Mum’s ineffectual slaps, but were definitely fearful of hot ash falling from the tip of her ever-present cigarette, so the fight would usually end at that point. Until 35 seconds later when my brother’s hand would again start hovering.
Our boy will also never develop the speed-eating ability displayed by my husband, the fourth of five kids who grew up knowing that when it comes to leftovers at mealtimes, it is the quick and the dead. Instead, his meal times are calm, quiet affairs where he hums to himself whilst slowly working his way through his freshly made chicken schnitzel (the mother of any only has lots of time for crumbing), knowing that the leftovers remain warm and safe in the oven. A charmed life indeed.
Of course there are downsides to being an only child – and most of them are experienced by me as the Star Wars ignorant, craft-despising mother of a singleton. The sound of ‘Mum, can you play with me?’ sends chills down my spine, and I am immediately motivated to undertake any number of housework tasks that I have up until then been happy to overlook. Oh darling, I would love to be Darth Maul to your Anakin Skywalker in a re-enactment of the battle for the Death Star, but these pillowcases are hardly going to iron themselves. One day he is going to be old enough to totally call me on the fact that I don’t iron his clothes, let alone bed linen, but until then I’m using housework as my inhumane shield.
My boy is quite aware that other children have siblings, and so has decided that our two dogs and cat are his brothers and sisters. The school project about family history came home accompanied by a drawing of the six of us frolicking in the park, which was both cute and unlikely, given the fact that our 16 year old cat is fairly low on frolic these days. But he loves the pets dearly and treats them like family members, which is why it was most disconcerting when the other night, whilst watching a cooking segment on The Living Room, he asked me if, when the pets died, we would cook them and eat them. Let me assure you that chef Manuel was not demonstrating the best marinades for barbecued cat, so I cannot blame the idea on the evil influences of television (thank goodness, because really, television is the only child’s dear, dear friend). I checked his eyes to make sure they weren’t glowing red in some sort of demonic possession scenario, but when probed he noted that we eat all sorts of other animals, so it would make sense to eat the pets too. I ended the conversation there, made a mental note to reduce the quality of the pet food so they looked less tasty, and felt thankful that at least we weren’t having a conversation about making a Sunday roast out of an annoying younger brother.