Growing up as a single child was an ambivalent experience. The contradictory emotions were almost simultaneous. While one minute I would brood the absence of a sibling, a partner-in-crime who could help me with the giant jigsaw puzzle that I got for my birthday because I loved puzzles, the next instance I would be delighted with all the attention I got from my parents, because this meant I got the last slice of the delicious chocolate cake that my mother had baked. My parents had grown up with siblings; I see them cherish the relationship greatly. My mother, even at 50 has a gleeful almost giddy look on her face when she talks to her elder sister on the phone. I was neither subjected to any special treatment nor any discrimination because of my status of being an only child. But growing up made me comprehend certain facts about my position as a single child, some good, while others not so much.
I was brought up on a very strict routine. There was complete division of labor and I absolutely had to do my bed, dishes, pack my bags for trips, something that some of my friends have confided in me that their mothers still do for them, even though they are well in their 20s. If I forgot to pack something, my mother would just shrug her shoulders and let me know that my punishment for being careless was to go without that particular item. As a kid I was a fussy eater, but my father soon found a way to cure me of that. If I cried over my broccoli, he made sure that I was given broccoli the next one week. So, no, all single kids are not spoilt rotten!
I grew up believing that I could do it all by myself. I had to stand up for myself to the school bullies, unlike some of my friends, whose older siblings stood up for them. There was no ‘co’ anyone in my life in regard to my relationship with my parents. If I got into trouble for getting home late from a party, I bore the brunt of the situation all by myself. When it was my parents’ anniversary, it was just me in the kitchen, making them a special breakfast. The independence that I experienced as a single child taught me a lot things; it taught me to be responsible and to rely on my own prowess. But it also made it difficult for me to ask for help. While initially this did not start out as a pride thing when I was growing up, but it absolutely is a pride thing now. I ask for help only when I have exhausted myself with the dubious task. So yes, the good, the bad and the ugly, I navigated everything by myself.
In retrospect, I realized that being the center of attention comes at a cost. As an only child all the hopes and desires were pinned only on me; I knew that there was no back up. I could not fail, I could not disappoint, I was IT. I was expected to do it all – be the valedictorian, be the best debater, pick a sport and be the best in it, go to an Ivy League college, graduate at the top of my class, get a high paying job, bring home the best guy, and the list went on. I had to be the best daughter in the world, literally! Failures were not expected and anything less than the best was just not acceptable.
As the only kid in the house, I learned early on the value of personal time; it allowed me to appreciate and value my alone time. My parents were busy people, so I grew up surrounded by books, notebooks, crayons, pencils, my imaginary friends whom I created painstakingly with my lively imagination and kept myself actively occupied. I confess as a result of my imaginary friends and the make-belief world that I often cocooned myself in, I have become a little detached from the ‘real’ world. But if I sit down and introspect, I think all the alone time I had spent growing up, made me a mature person; it gave me time for reflection. I can agreeably gauge the perspective of the other person in a conversation, or an argument. But it did come at a price; I also overthink things, even simple and minor things and end up complicating them. That is the downside of having too much alone time.
I grew up mostly among adults. One thing that I learned early on was that I was not allowed to speak when adults were talking. They loved to hear themselves talk; they obliged their opinions on me as their lawful duty. I grew up to be the introvert Virgo; I am the patient listener, the observer. I like taking in everything that goes on around me – be it on a bus, at a restaurant, at a party hosted by an acquaintance. I would stand out because I would be the one at the corner, sipping my drink slowly and listening intently to a conversation while speaking the least.
I was exposed to both the perks and the drawbacks of being an only child, and I am grateful for it. Whatever my faults and abilities are, I now cheerfully surmise to the world – it is because I am an only child. I am who I am today, because of it and in spite of it.