The Only Child

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The Only Child

The other day, my son proved particularly exasperating. I say that as if it was his fault…when in reality, this introverted mama was simply tired of hearing an endless stream of consciousness about stuffed animals, airplanes and Angry Birds.

I am tired these days. I’m tired of this weird world situation. I’m mentally exhausted trying to keep track of what day it is, whether my child is kindergarten-ready (and what school will even look like in the fall), what else to cook, which nights to keep my phone on for a storm warning, and whether or not I should actually dare to read the Facebook virtual fistfights these days. I’m hormonally tired depending on the time of the month (special shout-out to the mid-40s — nobody really talks about this weird peri-menopause stage).

And, if I’m being honest, at that very moment, I was probably also a little tired of actually being a mom and my son’s only playmate.

The Sailor has been away captaining a ship with a crew currently stuck at sea (in piracy prone waters, I may add), and while I am often compared to a single mom when he is not home, I feel this is a serious disservice to actual single mothers. I still have a spouse and therefore his support, even if it is many miles away and mostly maintained over a sketchy internet connection. Even before our child came along, some well-meaning friends implied that I’m only really married for half the year, but I digress.

We are used to living life apart and making it work. Nevertheless, him being away for months at a time presents its own set of challenges, particularly during a pandemic. While most people on the planet are complaining about their newfound shared space with their partner, I’m awaiting the return of mine, and occasionally breaking into a sweat if I don’t hear from him at regularly scheduled intervals.

Sweaty or not, I am still responsible for the Peanut’s well-being. Still babbling, the Peanut climbed into my lap and I gave him a big squeeze, which is usually what we both need during times like this. He, like most kids, has been missing everyday normal things like playing with his friends, going to the aquarium and even simply going into the store to get groceries (although can I get an amen for Walmart pickup?!).

Without letting go, I then apologized somewhat shamefully and sarcastically for not giving him any siblings to play with. He’s usually relativity quiet during revelations like this, but this time he whispered, on the verge of tears, ‘But why? I wanted a brother AND a sister.’

And that dear reader, broke me. You see, I hadn’t really talked to him yet about the siblings he almost had.

I was always kind of ambivalent about having kids. Even when the Sailor and I dated, we vacillated between wanting five kids or none at all. I have always been fairly flexible in life — what shall be shall be.

And then the Peanut came along.

My little guy both upended our world and fit right into our unconventional lifestyle. He has traveled like a champ, sometimes whining less than the Sailor and me when flights and road trips don’t go as planned. He’s lived in four different homes in the same city in his short life while his Ouma and Oupa are 10,000 miles away on another continent. He’s accepted a myriad of my friends as his ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ and he’s never asked whether he’s actually related to any of them. He rolls with the fact that his Dadoo works long months at sea and he’s never questioned why he doesn’t have any brothers or sisters.

Until now.

I held him tight and didn’t quite know how to reply. I tried to explain to him that at one point in time, he almost had not one, but two siblings. I didn’t quite get all of the words out before he went back to telling me the specs of his favorite airplane, so I let him go and dashed to the bathroom where I cried and cried and thought about the twins I lost who would have been a whole lot of work, but would have given my little boy instant playmates and lifelong friends.

Never before has my lack of a big family been more evident than in this strange time of staying ‘safer at home.’ Social media is full of memes about being cooped up with lots of kids, more and more people seem to be documenting their lives online and while time marches relentlessly on, families are still continuing to grow and flourish and blossom in more ways than one.

It’s possible for a heart to feel simultaneously full and flat — I know because mine occasionally does whenever I see a surge of pregnancy and birth announcements — or even simply photos of friends with big families. Some days I feel like a fraudulent mother for only having one child.

I see and hear it in the nods, voices and occasional sympathy of strangers — the cashier, the lady in line, the person I met mere minutes ago, ‘You just have the one?’ Emphasize any of the words in that sentence and it will still sound somewhat condescending to the mother of that only child.

YOU just have the one?’

‘You JUST have the one?’

‘You just have the ONE?’

Multiple times a day though, I am thankful that I only have one child. My head spins at the very thought of having multiple children to be responsible for, especially nowadays. Maybe it’s my own defense mechanism. When people tell me ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ in reference to my husband being away so much, I remind those people I do only have one child (emphasis all mine).

With one child, I don’t have to buy as many groceries — there is less squabbling, fewer clothes to purchase, less laundry, fewer plane tickets to plan for, less stuff, fewer school fees. Simply LESS.

And therein lies the problem. I sometimes think my family is less than because we are so small.

But we are not — less than that is. I don’t know what life would have looked like with those extra children — and I try not to speculate too often about it, because, what shall be, shall be. I do know that sometimes the smallest things bring the greatest joy — and one arrived almost six years ago.

I think about my little Peanut, who isn’t so little anymore and who is now quite visibly a miniature version of the Sailor, only with a penchant for flying more than sailing. My heart is pulled in multiple directions these days — my husband at sea, my child with his head in the clouds in more ways than one and me, waiting for us all to be together on terra firma.

I may only have one child, but he is my child, and he made me a mom. He knows he is loved, and every night, just before he drifts off to sleep, he whispers that tomorrow is going to be another great day. And I have to believe that he is right.

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