Lonely Onlies? Part Three

This is the third and final post in a series discussing the ideas found in Lauren Sandler’s book One and Only: The Freedom of Being an Only Child and the Joy of Having One. For the other two posts in the series, see here and here.

Sandler makes it clear that one of the reasons why she is an only child and why her daughter is an only child is that both she and her mother wanted to preserve their identities outside of motherhood. They wanted and needed time for themselves, for a career, for self-care, for other interests. Sandler argues that this is particularly common with writers, and gives as an example, “Someone once asked Alice Walker if women (well, women artists) should have children. She replied, ‘They should have children – assuming this is of interest to them – but only one?’ Why? ‘Because with one you can move,’ she said. ‘With more than one, you’re a sitting duck’” (8).

Sandler has come under some criticism for this section of her argument, but it struck a chord with me.

I am a very strong introvert.

I only realized just how strong an introvert I was when I became a mother. I can remember when E. was little, after he’d (finally) gone to bed at night our cats would appear from the corners of the house where they’d been hiding, and they would be desperate to sit on my lap and have some attention. And while I felt bad for them, it made me want to scream. I just wanted to be left alone.

Now that E. is so much older, I don’t have the same issues with physical overload, and my cats spend quite a lot of time perched on me (the ultra clingy one is glued to my legs as I type this on the couch).

But I still find E. exhausting. I’m still utterly worn out after a full day with him (which is most days this year given I’m without a job).

It’s not that I don’t like being at home with him. I do. We’re having a lot of fun together. He is, quite honestly, delightful. But at the end of the day, my inner introvert wants nothing more than to just sit quietly on a couch somewhere with a good book. E. has a quiet time most days that we’re home together where he plays in his room by himself for an hour. I’m the one who needs it. He could hang out with me all day.

It is hard to take care of myself when my most important element of self-care (time alone) is very hard to come by when I’m a SAHM. I even miss the commute to the university, especially the twenty minute walk to the station from our house through our neighbourhood. Getting up early three mornings a week to run is helping, but it’s not enough.

I will be honest- I look at the prospect of another baby with a great deal of anxiety and some genuine horror. I worry about how I would carve out time for myself, time that I need in order to be a good mother, but time that will be harder to come by if I have two who need me.

I know my faults. I am not good with chaos. I am not good with mess. I am not good (so very not good) with running late. I sense that having two children would make all of things happen more often.

There is a flip side to this, of course. Two children means someone for E. to play with, someone who can capture his attention who isn’t me. E. isn’t bad at playing by himself, but I can see how I might actually sneak more time if he had a playmate. But it will be a long time before any sibling of his is a playmate, if ever. The age gap between them will keep them at different stages in their development for years. The wider family isn’t much help either. E. has three cousins at the moment, but geography means he’s unlikely to see them more than once every couple of years. There will be no raucous Sunday gatherings, no cousins chasing each other around the backyard. I am hopeful, oh so hopeful, that my sister, who is trying so hard, will get to be a mother soon, but her baby will be more than four years behind E. My youngest sister is nowhere near the stage in her life where she’d be thinking about children.

When we were at the cottage this summer there were numerous entries in the guestbook from families who had been there many years in a row. Most of them had two children (or more). There was one family with an only child. When their son was younger, they went to the cottage with their friends who had kids the same age. As their son grew up, they started going to to the cottage and bringing one of his friends along. I can see us doing that. I would rather be at the cottage with my two children, but if that’s not going to work out, I would love for E. to have a best friend whose parents trusted us and let us borrow him (or her) occasionally.

When I take the long view, when I imagine my dining room table in ten years, then two children always wins out. But when I look at the next few years, I can see where only having one would be easier. If we are done, then our child is in full-time school as of next September and I have more time available to carve out a niche for myself in the world of work. If we are done, then we are under less financial pressure and it will be easier for us to rationalize my having a job that allows for school pick ups and drop offs and therefore is not full-time. I need to work- for Q., so he doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about being the only provider, for E., so his mother has something to focus on that isn’t him, and for myself, so I can be happy and fulfilled.

Whatever work I end up doing, I think it will be easier to do with only one child.

And yet, I know it, and I believe it, and I cannot reconcile myself to it. And this is, most of all, where I felt Sandler’s book let me down. She writes, “It follows that only children are likely to repeat their parents’ choices, especially when it comes to family size. In 1981 Denise Polit published a paper on the life choices of adult singletons. Their fertility intentions, she found, tended towards having only children themselves” (176).

I don’t know if this research still holds true, but I found there was almost no discussion in Sandler’s book of parents who found themselves with only one child NOT by choice. She glosses over it at points, but I couldn’t escape feeling that it was easy for her to accept her life with her only child because she herself was an only child. She had very little in her book that was helpful for those of us who have ended up in a situation that we so desperately tried to avoid. As I said in my first post, she does do a good job of highlighting the research that shows that those of us with unintentional onlies haven’t fucked them up royally as a result, but that’s small consolation when you’re trying to revise the image of the family you always thought you were going to have.

I wish she had spoken to more of us. I wish she had included more information about how parents processed their grief. I wish she had written more about how you come to terms with a small, quiet family when you grew up with loud and silly.

I know E. will be all right if he is an only child.

I know we, as a family, will be awesome.

But it’s not what I want.

And it is hard, really really hard, to accept that I might end up with it anyway.

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Filed under Family, Lonely Onlies?, Second Thoughts, Siblings

Lonely Onlies? Part Two

This is the second post in a series unpacking the ideas found in Lauren Sandler’s One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One. For the first post, see here.

In my first post I wrote about how Sandler explodes the myth that only children end up lonelyselfishmaladjusted. Turns out the research shows that most only children are just fine. More than fine. And one reason for this could well be the fact that only children have one huge advantage over their counterparts in larger families: there is no dilution of parental resources. As Sandler puts it, “Such resources can be time, money, attention – everything from money available for college to the number of words spoken directly from a parent to a child. Only children receive at least fifty percent more active care time than kids in two-child families” (74).

I can see this already with E. When he wants to tell me an incredibly long story about the adventures he and his stuffed dog went on during quiet time, there is no one else demanding my attention. When it is his bedtime, I’m not struggling to also get a baby brother or sister to sleep. When E. wants to build an elaborate train track that takes up the entire living room floor, there is no one who will knock it over, or eat the pieces, or pull them apart (although one of our cats does like to roll around on the track, which drives E. crazy). When we’re doing something with E., whether that’s baking, or reading stories, or going for a walk, he has our full attention.

We will be able to fly down under more often if we only have to buy three seats rather than four.

E. will come out of his undergraduate degree (if he choose to go to university) debt free if he’s the only recipient of the RESP we’ve set up.

Many, many years down the road (I hope), E.’s own children (if he has them) will end up with a much stronger financial position if he is the sole beneficiary of Q.’s and my estate.

I am not, for a moment, trying to suggest that having more money beats having a sibling. I’m just setting out the cold truth: if E. is an only, all of our resources go to him.

I know that there are lots of things having a sibling would teach E., like sharing and compromise and listening to other people’s feelings, but I think many of them he’ll learn from his classmates at school. Q. and I are in agreement that if E. stays an only, he needs to go to a school that doesn’t boast about its tiny class sizes. He’s the centre of our world at home. He’ll need to be somewhere where that isn’t the case to provide some balance and a healthy dose of reality. Life isn’t kind to children who grow up to be adults who believe they are special precious snowflakes.

All well and good. But a monopoly on parental resources is a double edged sword.  Only children do enjoy all the benefits that come from having undivided parental attention. But they also have no one to hide behind.

Sandler writes that only children “are the sole recipient of the parental gaze, which, as we all know, can be a withering one” (88).  She quotes Nicole Campion-Barr, of the University of Missouri’s Family Relationships & Adolescent Development Lab: “Parental authority is especially inescapable for only children. Parents will always win. There’s no one else to appeal to. It’s that simple” (46).  Carl Pickhardt: “Only children are scrutinized all the time…What makes it hard is the pressure parents feel because it’s their first and last chance to do it right…That conveys to the child, who then carries it forward” (88).  Sandler herself adds, “In the incubator of a small, intense family, parents expect their only child to be like themselves, whether they admit it or not” (88), and quotes what John Hodgman (who has an essay in Only Child: Writers on the Singular joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing up Solo) said to his unborn second child, “You will be freer to fail” (194).

This is what scares the shit out of me.

Q. and I are both capable of intense concentration. You don’t get through a PhD (and, in Q.’s case, become a tenured academic) without this. We are train to analyze and criticize, to see what is written between the lines. We embody focus. I have been prone, ever since I was a child, to bouts of obsession, where I pick up a new interest and devour it, living and breathing it until I have thoroughly worn it out. I can recognize every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first thirty seconds and quote entire Monty Python sketches verbatim because of two such obsessions during high school. Q. has an ability to just sit down and get on with things that I’ve never seen anyone else match. His focus can be ferocious.

Our twin parental gaze could be paralyzing.

We could so easily be Basilisks.

E., our sensitive, introverted son, would wither beneath our glare.

I am conscious that my son cannot become my latest obsession.

I try not to overthink my parenting. I failed at this (miserably) during his first year of life when (as this blog shows) I fretted and worried and obsessed over pretty much every aspect of motherhood. But I’m getting better.

I worry though. I worry about what will happen when school starts, when the big issues start to arise. I worry that I will worry too much, think too much about his life, try too hard and crush him under the weight of my love. I worry that Q. and I together will set standards impossible to meet, or that we will be seen to do so by our son, even if we think we are being fair and equitable and only expecting him to try his best. I worry that our house, with its two PhDs and its twelve overloaded bookshelves, will be suffocating.

I worry that E. will believe he is a disappointment if he does not wander down the same road filled with books and schooling that lured his parents.

Having a second child would not change any of this. I know that. But it would dilute the gaze.

It would make the Basilisks blink occasionally.

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Filed under Family, Lonely Onlies?, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, Siblings

Lonely Onlies? Part One

Back in the winter, after we lost the baby, I read Lauren Sandler’s One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.

In the spring, I ordered it for E’s nursery school (I was the parent librarian) and then read it again. I wrote down a page of quotations that stuck with me, intending to blog about it at some point after the dissertation dust had settled.

If you haven’t read it, Sandler is an only child raising an only child. She set out to explore (and explode) the mythology surrounding only children. She’s done the research. Her book isn’t judgmental- she doesn’t suggest that everyone should have only one child. Instead she sets out the realities of life for onlies (and their parents). She leaves it up to the reader to decide what family is right for him/her, but she wants her readers to make that decision empowered by knowledge, not driven by fear.

Not surprising, this book had a significant impact on me. Enough that I want to unpack a few of her ideas in a series of posts.

I’ll start today with this: this book made me feel better about the prospect of E. being an only child.

Sandler knows the myth of the only child.  As she writes on page 3, the only child is always described using the same three adjectives: lonely, selfish, maladjusted. She adds that these adjectives are used so frequently they almost seem to run together lonelyselfishmaladjusted.

When she went and actually looked at the research on onlies, here’s her summary from unpacking the myth (11-12): “On loneliness: as kids, we’re usually fine. As adolescents, we’re often disempowered and isolated. As adults, we face the logistical and existential nightmare of our parents’ aging and death alone. But the good news is we develop our biggest primary relationship with ourselves. On selfishness: as long as we go to school, we’re plenty socialized to play well with others. On maladjustment, we’re fine. Overall, we’re pretty fantastic.”

E. will not be screwed up long-term if it turns out we can’t give him a sibling.

I needed this reassurance. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of my anxiety and fear about E. being an only child is related to my own understanding of “family”. I’ve written on here before that my two sisters are my best friends. They are my support system, my fashion advisors, my keepers of in-jokes and family lore. They know me better than any one else in the world, even Q. They are the first people I think to tell something (after Q.), and when we are separated by great swathes of geography their absence gnaws away at me like a physical ache.

I cannot imagine a world without them.

And yet, as I keep reminding myself, E.’s relationship with any sibling he might have will not be the same.

He’s not a girl. He’s not going to be the eldest of three girls. He’s not going to have a sister a little bit more than three years younger and another one not quite five years younger. IF he has a sibling, sister or brother, there will be an age gap of more than four years.

It makes me sad when I think about how E. will not get to have the same type of relationship with his sibling that I have with my sisters.

But then again, maybe he won’t need that type of relationship.

E. doesn’t have a father in the military. He won’t move every year of his life for his first ten years. E. still lives in the house where we brought him home from the hospital three hours after he was born. By the time I was his age I’d already moved three times. Sandler does caution about raising an only child in an isolated rural area, much like where I grew up. Q.’s position as a tenured academic in a very large Canadian city means that’s simply not going to happen. There will always be children in the neighbourhood to play with.

E.’s parents didn’t marry when they were much too young. There are no guarantees, of course, but I think it much less likely that E.’s parents will split up when he is ten. I’m one of those children of divorce who end up with a fanatical devotion to the idea of a lifelong marriage, and I also recognize that I would never, EVER, find someone better for me than Q. And I think Q. still thinks I’m a keeper.

E. will never be shuttled back and forth between two households on every major holiday.

I am extremely close to my sisters in no small part because of our upbringing. When you move every year of your life right up until your parents divorce, you very quickly learn that the ONLY people who never go away are your siblings.

I’m not saying our relationship was perfect when we were younger. I bossed them around terribly and we all had our angsty teenage moments. But in our hearts I think we all knew that the only people we could trust were each other.

Before I read Sandler’s book, before I lost the baby, I was reading (because Ask Moxie loves it and I love her) Siblings Without Rivalry. It was an eye-opener. The authors had advice and support for parents dealing with sibling issues that I couldn’t even imagine. It made me realize that lots of people have terrible relationships with their siblings.

There are no guarantees in life. Even if we give E. a sibling that doesn’t mean they’ll end up best friends, or even like each other.

But at least he wouldn’t be alone.

This was one aspect where I felt Sandler’s book skirted around an issue. E. has never asked for a sibling, never wondered about having a brother or another baby in the house. He has, mercifully, forgotten about the baby we lost (or at least he never mentions it any more). He does not know what he is missing. And, to be fair, a new sibling now would probably come as a terrible shock to his sheltered orderly life.

But I’m worried about the endgame. And while Sandler acknowledges throughout her book that the real terror for onlies and parents of onlies is that there will be no support system for the child when the parents age, sicken, die, I felt that she never really came to grips with it. Sandler points out that “A number of studies have found that eldercare tends to be mainly shouldered by one child. No matter how many siblings one might have, the nearest-residing daughter is most likely to do it all alone” (52). This is something I’ve seen in my own family. My mother has three siblings, but because she is the one who lives twenty-five minutes away a disproportionate amount of the care my grandmother now needs has fallen on her, including the miserable job of being the enforcer when Grannie is irrational (as she now frequently is) about just how well she is managing living independently (answer: not).

Still, when we do eventually lose my grandmother, my mother will not be alone. When an only child’s last parent dies, it’s the end of their family.

Q.’s father was an only child. Both of Q’s paternal grandparents died before I met him. His father died in 2003, less than a year after Q. and I started dating. When we travel down under, we see Q.’s maternal aunts and uncles, his cousins, his siblings.

We never see anyone from his father’s side of the family. There’s no one left to visit.

 

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The proof is in the paper

Microblog_Mondays

I picked up something on Saturday, all bound up and ready for the examiners.

IMGP0270

It does feel kind of nice to see it like that. Tangible proof that I did it, that these past four years (six if you include the coursework and comprehensive exam years) weren’t all for naught.

Onwards to the defense.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. For the other participants this week, see here.

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Filed under Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays, PhD

The best laid plans of a mother and an auntie…

Back in the summer, I made a promise to E.

When he was using the potty, I would buy him truck underwear.

It didn’t, at the time, seem like a particularly rash promise. E., after all, is a three year old boy. He is not the only three year old boy who loves trucks. Surely companies who manufacture underwear have realized this.

Time passed and before too long it became clear to me that I was going to need to hold up my end of the bargain. So I started looking.

There was no underwear with trucks on it.

I checked all my usual haunts and then started branching further out, all with no success. If I wanted robots, or dinosaurs, or vehicles related to a particular Disney franchise, I had all the choice in the world.

No trucks.

In August we were in a Wal.mart and, as I always did by that point, I checked the toddler boys underwear section. They had a three pack of briefs with cement mixers and diggers on them.

YES!

No dice. The undies came in two sizes. E., being ridiculously skinny a little on the slim side needed the smaller size. They had piles upon piles of robots in the smaller size but the cement mixers were only in the larger.

We came home. I set my mother on the case. She checked two or three Wal.marts in her area. No joy.

I posted about the undies on my birth club. In early September there was a Canada-wide search in Wal.marts for the undies.

No joy.

Then, at last, I found them. A five pack of boxer briefs with dump trucks and fire trucks and trains available online through Kmart.

They were perfect. Absolutely perfect.

I tried to order them. I wanted two packs. Ten pairs of truck undies for E.!

They wouldn’t ship to Canada.

I got my sister to order them since she was in the U.S. and could also qualify for free shipping using her U.S. credit card.

The undies arrived. She put them on the “mail to Turia” pile and forgot about them for a while.

My mother and stepfather arrived to visit. My sister opened up the undies to check them before my mother took them home with her. (Yes, I am not above getting my parents to carry around my son’s underwear on their vacation in order to save shipping costs.)

THEY WERE ZOO ANIMALS.

My sister called Kmart. They refunded her the money without her having to return the undies. My mother took the undies home with her, and I’ll get them when I see her at the end of the month. I’ll give a couple of pairs to E. (because he doesn’t need ten pairs of zoo animals) and will send some to his friends.

The undies were still showing as in stock online.

My sister ordered the truck undies again. The Kmart person put a note on the order to make sure the right undies were sent.

The undies were sent.

They arrived on Wednesday.

My sister opened the package.

ZOO ANIMALS. AGAIN.

My poor, long-suffering sister, who has now had twenty pairs of unwanted zoo animals undies shipped to her apartment, spoke again with someone at Kmart, who suggested that if she wanted to make sure she got the right ones, “she should buy them in the store”. (Side note: Kmart, this is not great customer service. Do not put a product on your website if you are incapable of actually providing said product. If I were on twitter I would tweet you and be annoyed.)

My mother and stepfather, on a previous trip in the U.S., had already checked a number of stores and had failed to find these undies.

We gave up.

And I cried.

I wasn’t really crying about the undies. I have enough self awareness to know that I was really crying about being back at the clinic and the uncertainty of what was coming and about my lack of a job and lack of an identity outside of mother and about finishing the PhD but was there a point to it given my lack of job, and how I don’t really have any control over my life no matter how much I try to pretend I do, etc. etc.

But still. They were the perfect undies. And so I sat there in my living room and wept big fat tears about my total inability to keep what should have been the simplest of promises to my son.

Lessons learned from this:

1. Do not make promises to your son unless you already have the thing that will allow you to keep the promise in your possession.

2. Don’t buy anything from Kmart online.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the fourth year, Life after the PhD

Giving thanks

Microblog_MondaysIt is Thanksgiving here.

For the first time since we moved back to a country which celebrates Thanksgiving, we haven’t left the city.

Yesterday Q., E. and I sat on the couch together and watched Finding Nemo, and E. got all the way through it, even if he spent much of the movie with his stuffed Puppy on his head, ready to drop in front of his eyes if he became too frightened.

Then we sat at the table together and ate roast beef and roasted potatoes and carrots and bumbleberry pie with homemade ice cream for dessert (because Q. really is that amazing) and E. talked non-stop about the movie, about French vocabulary, about how the digestive system works, about why Pluto isn’t considered a planet anymore, and about all the chilis we harvested from our garden. He paused only occasionally to look into his bowl to see if some small portion of pie or ice cream had escaped his spoon.

Then he went to bed, and Q. and I lounged around on the couches reading books, and I read for fun and felt no guilt because all four of my committee members have given the green light to my dissertation and it’s out of my hands now until I defend. We went to bed and I stopped in at E’s room, as I do every night, to adjust his covers and give him a kiss.

This morning I woke up early and ran through the streets, ran long enough and far enough that my mind stopped churning and I could just breathe and be.

I am healthy and happy. I love and I am loved.

And I am grateful.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. For the other participants, click here.

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Filed under Joy, Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays, PhD, Running

One last kick at the can…

Last Saturday I went back into the clinic before going to the library to work on the dissertation.

I still feel like I’m going to have an anxiety attack when I get on the elevator in my clinic’s building. This surely is not conducive to reproductive success.

It was eerily quiet there. It turns out they changed the hours for cycle monitoring just for that day because my doctor had to leave early. Luckily I still got there before he had left.

He sat down across from me. HUGE SMILE. “Hi! How are you!”

“I’m great,” I said.

He took a cursory look at my chart. Scanning, scanning, “You recently had a baby! Your second!”

DAMN IT.

“No,” I said evenly. “I lost that baby.”

His face fell. He looked at the chart again and actually read it. I could see he remembered.

“Is that why it’s been so long since you were here,” he asked. “That was really hard?”

Yes. Yes it was.

“Well,” I said, my voice only catching a little, “We were going away to visit Q’s family and we didn’t want to disrupt the trip at that point, and I had to get my dissertation finished.”

He didn’t have any answers. The lab at the hospital couldn’t find fetal tissue so they refused to run the tests. He said this had been happening to him so often he’d given up. Now they ran the tests in house.

“They’re being lazy,” he told me. “You can find tissue if you know where to look. It makes me so angry.”

We might have learned why the baby died, if it had died later.

We’ll never know now.

We made plans.

One last embryo.

One final FET.

He had me get my blood drawn again (about a billion vials’ worth as we had to update all my bloods) then sent me off with estrace and baby aspirin and prednisone. No metformin this time around. Apparently he doesn’t use it with FETs anymore.

He’s away for six days in the middle of the month. We decided to transfer after he was back, right before Q. and E. and I are off to visit grandparents. A point where I can relax. A point far enough away from the stress of finishing the dissertation that I’m not still living on adrenaline, but not so close to the defense that I’m freaking out about it.

Back in on Monday for a lining check, and then I guess there will be an intralipid at some point. Transfer is set for the 26th.

I’m not going to lie- I really feel like we’re just going through the motions.

He is optimistic (“the technology we use in freezing the embryos is so much better than it was a couple of years ago”), but he always is.

I mainly just want an answer. We can’t keep living in limbo.  That embryo deserves its chance.

So even though I feel like we’re about to flush a couple thousand dollars down the toilet, we’ll do it.

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Filed under 2.0 FET #3, Anxiety Overload, Second Thoughts