Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Is One-derful

Several things have been said to me over the last few days on the subject of only children that I finally gave in to writing a post about it. I’ve thought about writing about this subject before and I’ve always backed away because even though I love sharing about the minutiae of my life, I am always reluctant to speak too freely about certain personal subjects. But this subject is very important to me, so I feel compelled to talk about it.

Growing up, I never questioned that I would be the mother to several children. I never really felt I had any special skills or gifts. What I was good at was mothering. I received compliments all the time from grownups (one of the best things a kid like me could have ever asked for!) about how caring I was, how I would be such a good mom when I grew up. I am the oldest of four. My youngest sibling is almost 14 years younger than me, so I got some definite hands-on experience when it comes to babies, diapers, temper tantrums, and being barfed on. I’m bossy, organized, neat, and a control-freak. Perfect mom material! The Army Man is the second of five boys. Large families run in the family, so to speak. I really did come to believe that my purpose here on earth was to raise several well-adjusted children, each of whom went on to be productive members of society.

And then I had Laura. This has nothing to do with her; it has everything to do with me.

I realized almost instantaneously that being a mother was harder than I could have ever predicted. I wanted to fall in humble worship at the feet of my mother, my grandmothers, and the Army Man’s mother. I knew, probably when Laura was just a few days old, that my desire for 3 or 4 kids (was I mad?) had fallen to just two. But still I knew that I HAD to have two children. You don’t just have one kid. It’s just not done. Those kids are spoiled, bratty, and unfit for society, right? And mothers who can only handle one child aren’t really mothers. And I wanted to be a real mother-as opposed to the kind of fake mothers that give birth to a child and raise that child, but never get full “mother” status since they have only one child.

I don’t want to go into all the details about why or when I finally started to think that not having any more children was a good idea. We certainly thought about having another (because it was the right thing to do), and tried for a while. Nothing came of it, and it became known between the Army Man and I that we were done. Our families were quietly supportive, although I always knew that another child was hoped for on our behalves by many loving people. The decision was a personal one between the Army Man and I, and it is one that has proven to be the best thing for our family. I suppose if anyone is to blame, it’s me, but I also feel that it is me who has suffered the most at the hands of this decision. I wrestled for a very long time with deep feelings of failure and guilt over not fulfilling what I believed to be my destiny. If I couldn’t do the one thing I thought I was here to do, then what am I here for? What good am I to the world? Why is having a child so much harder for me than other women? Are they truly better moms, better women than me? Sometimes I feel like I still don’t know the answers to those questions.

Having an only child is an interesting life. I feel like I am constantly expecting more of Laura, because I know that there are plenty of people who already have opinions about her because of her lack of siblings. When she had temper tantrums as a 2 year old, the day care workers told me it was because she didn’t have siblings. I'd say it was because she was 2, and has inherited my temper. And if she had had a sibling at that point, I’m sure the sibling would have been an infant and would not have been teaching Laura any of the things that siblings are magically supposed to teach you. We occasionally get questions from strangers and acquaintances. They all want to know when we’re having another baby. When I say that we’re not, the looks and comments are surprising and sometimes hurtful. Think of what you’re doing to Laura, they tell me. I want to know what exactly I’m doing to her, other than loving her and raising her the best I can. I’ve often been told that I HAVE to have another child. Why, because some stranger tells me to? That’s a great reason if I’ve ever heard one.

It saddens me that so many people feel so negatively towards only children. Do they not realize that those mean things they're saying are being said about my daughter, my sweet little girl? And sometimes within earshot of her? Why is it acceptable to repeat negative stereotypes about a certain class of people? When will comments about only children be considered just as rude and un-PC as comments about people’s race or religion? Would the mother of three find it okay if I started spouting off about how the youngest kid in a family is just a spoiled brat who has everything handed to them? I think not. So forgive me for my attitude when people start bashing only children-that's my daughter you're talking about, and I won't stand for it.

Even more interesting to me, which I think most people don't stop to ponder: it's not Laura who requested to be an only child. My family planning is not up to my 5 year old, so why should she be punished for it? If people want to tell me about what a horrible parent I am, and how I'm so cruel to my daughter, that's one thing. I'm an adult and I can take it. But it's not fair and not acceptable to tell me things that are wrong with Laura since she's an only child. It has nothing to do with her. And if she does grow up to be a spoiled brat who can't share, it will be because I raised her that way, not simply because she has no siblings. The most current research shows over and over again that most only children are very similar to the first-born child in families with multiple children. Speaking as a first-born child, I say that's just fine with me.

When strangers fawn over Laura, talking about how cute and sweet and well-mannered she is, the inevitable question always is-do I have other children? Once I answer no, some become appalled and demand that I MUST have another. And I wonder; does Laura suddenly seem less cute and less sweet and less well-mannered now that they know I don’t have 2 other kids at home?

Someone recently told me that Laura wouldn’t be able to be empathetic if she didn’t have siblings. You mean my daughter who cries when I hurt myself? My daughter who worries about her friends if they have a bad day at school? My sweet little girl who spent one entire day last week giving pep talks to the trouble-maker in her class? And the whole stereotype of only children not being able to share and play nicely with other children? That theory has been dashed to the ground over and over again by Laura. A recent playtime with some of her friends gave me this gem, straight from her mouth: “Why don’t we all share the doll house so everyone gets to play?” That stopped the squabbling of her guests (who are older than her, and siblings to boot!)

Having siblings is wonderful. I have some and they’re all lovely. Sometimes I’m so ridiculously sad that Laura doesn’t have that in her life, but siblings are no guarantee of happiness. Siblings are no guarantee of anything. Siblings are not the be all, end all, in a child’s life. I refuse to have another child simply to give Laura a sibling. I would only have another child if that is what the Army Man and I decided was right for us, the ones who would be raising and caring for that child.

And to reference the title of my post, there are so many wonderful things about having an only child. I don’t want to start listing them all here, because I might make people with multiple kids jealous! Suffice it to say, we are a happy family, and Laura is a happy and well-adjusted little girl. Isn’t that all any parent wants for their child?

(And of course I have to add the caveat that this isn’t to say that I might not have another baby someday. Who knows? I’m only 29 and thus far my life has been the exact opposite of how I planned it. But whether I end up the mother of one child, or ten, I will always say that only children are wonderful.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Modern Women Of Sewing

Oh, how I wished closer to New York and could attend this Modern Women Of Sewing event. I suppose I am somewhat modern, and I do sew after all. Those three presenters? Well, they're awesome and hip and downright famous in the modern sewing world. And they'll be speaking, for free, at a library! Even though I can't attend, I'm pretty tickled to see that these busy women are participating in such a great event. I wonder how likely it is that they will come to North Carolina next.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ring Of Fire

It's been a while since Laura has serenaded the blogosphere. Luckily for each of you, I caught her on video last night singing along with one of her favorite songs. I'm not very good at filming her all stealth-like, and she figured out pretty quickly what I was doing. So be sure to imagine her belting it out much more enthusiastically than she is here, since she felt "shy" once I started filming. Without further ado, Laura chaneling Johnny Cash.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Beautiful North Carolina

It's been almost 5 years that I've lived here in North Carolina. Falling in love with North Carolina isn't hard. It's beautiful. The Army Man and I often talk about how much we love it here. It's been a wonderful place to start our lives as a family. It feels like home. That's not to say that we don't miss California. Because of course we do. We miss our families, first and foremost. We want to live close to them and see them on every holiday and birthday. We want Laura to know them better than just through phone calls and the occasional visit. Sometimes I want that life so badly that it brings me to tears.

But one thing I've learned is that the quickest way to an unhappy life is to focus on the negatives. When I start complaining about how much I miss California and our families, it makes it a lot harder to love living in North Carolina. And that's not fair, because it's wonderful here. Nature in North Carolina is fantastic: the seasons change and we even get leaves falling to the ground, along with the occasional snow day. The "liberal Californian" in me can't help but chuckle when the marquee at the Shell station reminds me to pray daily. The Army Man and I have had the opportunity to buy a home, something that probably never would have happened back in the land of half-million dollar starter homes. And like California, we have it all-the beach and mountains. We're close to so many things and since we've lived here we've had the chance to visit Florida, South Carolina, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and New York. We've even talked about retiring in North Carolina. It's been a wonderful 5 years here, and I look forward to at least a few more, if the Army is willing.

The local lake just about two miles from our home.