I am an only child.
The moment I say this to people I notice how their faces react: pursed lips, quizzical furrowed brows. First, they register that people like me exist. Then, if they are a friend or associate, they remember anytime I was selfish or non-conforming and piece the two together and say “oh, yeah, I can tell.”
It irkes my nerves.
My grandmother used to chuckle when I didn’t like things done a certain way. She’d smile and say, in her heavy Alabama drawl, “you sho is spoiled, but least you ain’t rotten.” And this is how I began to interpret my mannerisms.
I do not like to share sometimes. There, I said it. If I have a toffee-doodle cookie and you have an oatmeal raisin, no, I do not want to give you half of my cookie in exchange for half of yours. Keep your cookie. I have my own, you have yours. Let’s just enjoy our own things, separately.
I am far from stingy. Using the same analogy: if I have a toffee-doodle cookie and you have no cookie at all, you get half of mine without even asking. And mama taught me to give you the bigger half. If you are allergic to raisins, then I would give you the toffee-doodle and save you the horror of oatmeal-raisin cookies.
My parents were a mixture of what people assume only-child parents to be.
- We were frugal and so I didn’t get every single thing I begged for and I learned to ask only for what I needed or could not stand to be without. (Usually books). My mother was very proud that I was never the child that cried in public because she told me “no”. I accepted her decree and kept on keeping on.
- They were very democratic. If we went out to brunch on Sunday we’d literally vote on where we went. My vote was equal to theirs. It made me feel empowered, strong and independent.
- But, they were extremely protective. Because of this I spent much of my time alone as a child. Often, people think that made me lonely, but I can’t say I never remember being bored or lonely. I had books, artistic outlets, toys and television. I kept myself busy and it nurtured a spectacular imagination and curiosity, if I do say so myself.
And how did this flesh out in my adult life?
I have just had a mini vacation with two of my girlfriends. It was my first time having to deal with someone who is not my spouse in decision making and living arrangements since Sophomore year in college – and those roommates in college and I did NOT go along well together. It was hard. In those moments where we had to decide who slept where in our Air BnB, who sat where in our rental or on the flight or what we were doing for the afternoon I felt little tinges of annoyance. I wondered things like why my small stature was grounds for making me sit uncomfortably consistently. And this is a self-conscious thing too. I am used to having things my way not because I demand it but because I do so much of my life alone. I voice my opinion because my parents raised me that way but because people look at only children like me as if we are spawns of Napoleon, I am often hesitant to assert myself for fear of fulfilling a stereotype. A stereotype that, honestly, is sometimes very true.
I like to believe that I am compassionate and empathetic. If someone really needs me or something of mine I give and I never seek repayment or appreciation. But I am often in a position to explain to people why I am bubbly and outgoing s, but also severely anti-social and introverted. I enjoy the quiet and though I am sociable enough in the company of others, I never seek their company. Ever. It’s interesting because I taught this article a while back to one of my senior English classes and I noted some very real truths that resonated with me:
Ultimately, an only child’s environment forces him or her to take on both characteristics of introversion and extraversion despite natural inclinations to be one or the other. A naturally introverted child must show extraverted qualities if he or she wishes to make friends; likewise, a naturally extraverted child must learn to show introverted qualities by being content to focus on his or her own thoughts when playmates are unavailable….
…Thus only children are caught in a dilemma. Although environmental influence is not the sole influence in personality development, only children must develop their personalities in unique environmental situations. Their environments force them to act against their natural tendencies in order to function normally. These “only-verts” then must always at times be acting in ways against their natural tendencies.
So, back to my mini vacation. I huff and puff, in my head, when things don’t go the way I want, especially for things I pay for (see parental frugality in section one). But these two women mean the world to me and I would do anything for them. They are amazing and have so many qualities I aspire to attain in my personal growth. I have other friends and family members that I hold to this same esteem. I used to feel like I couldn’t have that duality of thoroughly enjoying being alone but also enjoying laughter with good company, or that it meant I didn’t know what I wanted and that I didn’t fully understand myself. But we’re all walking dualities, aren’t we?
So, let me stop typing this article and finish this last sip of coffee. They are waking up and I don’t want to miss this last morning of our girls trip.