Being an only child was wonderful. I had a blissful childhood. I grew up feeling secure and wanted, if a tad nagged at times. Although I don’t feel I was spoilt, well not excessively, there were definite advantages to being an only child. I wasn’t given everything I wanted, Christmas and Birthday presents weren’t hugely extravagant; if I had, say, a bike for my Birthday then my Christmas present would be something much smaller. However, from the age of six, I did spend two weeks each year somewhere hot and sunny, holidays that have given me a love of travelling and so many happy memories. In my teenage years I did have both a bedroom and a living room of my own, we lived in a three bedroomed house, so the ‘spare’ room became my living room, complete with sofabed for any friend sleeping over. Most importantly I had my parents’ time and love, some of my happiest childhood memories are of Saturday mornings out and about with my Dad, whether we were eating toasted teacakes in town or walking in the Mendip Hills.
I was brought up strictly but fairly. There was a lot of routine, meals in particular were at very set times, and any rules set by my parents had to be adhered to. I lived at home until I was twenty, when I married for the first time. Even in the adult years I still had to follow the rules, for instance if I was going out I had to specify what time I would be back, it didn’t matter if that was ten o’clock at night or three o’clock in the morning, but whatever time I had said was when I had to be home and not a moment later. I never saw this as a problem though, it was a respect thing as much as anything, and meant that my parents didn’t spend unnecessary hours worrying about me.
I was about sixteen when I was told that my mother had been, briefly, pregnant, a few years earlier, when I had been about eight or nine. They had made a joint decision for her to terminate the pregnancy. They felt that we were a perfect little family of three. That they were comfortable financially and able to do the things they wanted to be able to do, such as our annual holidays and Dad’s habit of changing his car on a very regular basis. I do remember Mum spending a couple of days in hospital at that time, I obviously had no idea why, but I don’t recall being worried about her at all, so at the time they must’ve handled it well. I remember it being quite a novelty for Dad to be looking after me and cooking, I remember him cooking tinned meatballs and rice and taking a photo of the meal, he was so proud of his catering achievement. I also remember Mum telling him off when she saw the photos, for serving our drinks in mugs rather than cups and saucers. At sixteen I wasn’t at all bothered that they had decided not to give me a little brother or sister those few years earlier. I had friends with siblings, and generally they seemed to be quite a pain. I didn’t have to share a room, I had two rooms. I didn’t have to babysit. I didn’t have to share. It was cool.
My Mother has a sister, three years younger than herself, and a brother, he was born when she was eighteen and is only seven years older than I am. Her sister, my evil Aunty Yvonne has one daughter, my cousin Tracee. My Father has a brother, he has one daughter, my cousin Karen. So three cousins, all of us ‘only’ children. We were fairly close growing up, the whole family was close, most special occasions I can remember were family events. Interestingly none of us have chosen to have ‘only’ children ourselves, Tracee and I have three children each, Karen has two. I know that Karen in particular resented being an only child.
As I grew up I rebelled slightly against the routine of my home life and against the close family background. Both men I married came from very different backgrounds to mine. My first husband, Kelvyn, was brought up mainly by his Father, his parents having divorced when he was young. By the time I met him he had only rare contact with his Mum and hadn’t spoken to his Dad for over ten years. He was reconciled, somewhat, with both of them, but his Mum died before we got married. We met his Dad a few times and he, and his second wife, did come to our wedding and met our daughter when she was born a few years later, but he died when she was still a baby. He had quite a strained relationship with most of his family, only talking to one brother, and then only very rarely, and if we ever saw his aunt or uncle it was only because we’d bumped into them somewhere. However he was quite happy to spend time with my family, and joined in willingly with our family events and parties. My second husband, JK, was brought up in foster care. He had spent some time with his real mother as a child, but it was a very on and off sort of thing, she would take him back for periods of time, but then send him back to his foster family again. He had chosen to have no further contact with her when he was twenty-one. He’d never known his father. JK’s childhood left him with real issues with family, and he definitely wasn’t happy to join in with the life I was used to. Some family events I attended alone, and we always spent Christmas Day apart, (me visiting my family, whilst he went to the pub or sulked at home),but gradually I drifted away from the life I’d known, remaining close to my parents and grandparents but rarely seeing the rest of my family. The difference in background was not the primary cause of the failure of either marriage, but was definitely part of it both times. I didn’t consciously choose men from different backgrounds to my own, the same as I didn’t consciously choose to marry two alcoholics. Just coincidence though, or some kind of unconscious decision?
The whole regimented meal thing stopped as soon as I left home, no longer was it a case of tea time at six, an apple at seven, a cup of coffee at eight, sandwiches at ten, (two slices of bread cut into four squares), and a final drink at quarter past ten. I ate what I wanted when I wanted it. My weight problems started at around this time strangely enough. When I had my own children I was determined not to return to the rigid timetables of my youth. My children are allowed to help themselves to certain foods, particularly fruit, whenever they want it, and as they’ve got older I’ve made sure they can all cook basic meals, so if they want something and I’m not around at that precise moment they can make it themselves.
I can’t remember when I first started to think that actually, as an adult, it would be quite nice to have a brother or sister, but over the years I have gradually started to think that whilst being an only child was fab, being an only adult sucks.
Since my Father died, four years ago, my Mother has regularly played the grieving widow act whenever she wants her own way. I sound so heartless when I say that. As an example, I haven’t been able to have a holiday without her in those four years, because she doesn’t have a husband to go away with now, so she comes with me, her only child. However, within a few months of becoming a widow, she went on a trip to Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Somewhere Else; she’s also been on an amazing tour of Peru and the Amazon and in a few weeks will be travelling to China, none of these trips have involved me. If I am planning a holiday she tells me to choose what I want, and if she fancies it she will come too, then bombards me with emails with suggested links to places and hotels she likes the look of until I give in and go with one of her choices. I am planning to rebel against this very soon, with my first solo holiday planned for early next year, I just haven’t actually broken the news to her yet.
Twice each week she visits me in the late afternoon, one of those afternoons is when I am normally at work, she knows I don’t like her coming in, she does it anyway. If I am particularly busy I will email or text her, or sometimes speak to her a day earlier, and ask her not to come in, explaining what it is I am doing and why it is better if I am not interrupted. She comes anyway, walking in and saying, ‘I know you said not to come today, but……’, usually the ‘but’ will be something unimportant, or something that could wait, or something that she could’ve told me in an email. Luckily my boss is sympathetic and understanding and if I’m particularly busy she will suggest that Mum goes in to the studio to watch a class, just to get her out of my hair. The second visit is on a Friday afternoon, when the kids and I are always tired at the end of the week and in our worst moods, she says she has to come because she misses time spent as a family, I’ve suggested sending the kids to her house each week, but apparently that’s not the same. Her normal routine on a Friday is to stay just long enough to wind us all up until we’re arguing and then she’ll trot off home quite happily. Some weeks she turns up more often, at one time it was every Sunday afternoon too, but I eventually told her quite firmly, (and then felt very guilty), that I needed Sunday to myself, especially if I have studying to do. Last week I saw her six days out of seven. I can’t help thinking that if I had a brother or sister the visits would be shared out between us.
The future worries me. My last remaining Grandparent, my Mother’s Father, my beloved, but eccentric, hero, is now ninety-three. He lives on his own and copes very well, either Mum or I visit most days, I take him shopping once a week, and his other children, Mum’s brother and sister come down to visit from time to time, most weeks he’ll get a visit from one or other of them. A couple of years ago he was very ill, we were warned that we would probably lose him. He spent six weeks in hospital, but turned a corner to recovery and was sent home. For the next two months he needed twenty-four hour care, and I took my turn alongside his three children. Three days a week I would leave home at eight in the morning, walk to his house and stay there with him until half past two, when Mum would arrive, I would then go to work until seven-thirty or eight. I was out of the house for twelve hours each of those days, despite having three children to look after. I didn’t begrudge doing it at all, I love my Grandad and I enjoyed spending lots of extra time with him, I can sit and listen to his stories for hours. However, it did make me think, Mum will be sixty-nine this October, she is fit and healthy but has definitely slowed down in the last few years. She isn’t always going to be able to do all that she does now, and when she needs more help, possibly twenty-four hour care, there’s only me. How am I going to cope?
This is a blog that’s been whirling away in my head for a while, it hasn’t been easy to write, I haven’t been able to explain exactly how I feel, and I know it doesn’t show me in a good light, it shows me as rather a selfish person. I may try to write it again one day. Perhaps it was something better left unwritten. I would be very interested to hear how other ‘only adults’ feel and whether it is normal to fear your parents’ old age.