If, in the course of “get to know you” questions, I tell you I’m an only child – which is what I usually say – and you subsequently go on to get to know me better, you will probably be thrown for a loop when I refer to my late brother and sister in casual conversation.
The thing is that “both my siblings are dead” is kind of small talk poison, a cocktail party conversation killer. So I don’t typically bring it up.
The other thing is that I am in many ways legitimately an only child – I am my mother’s only child, and my siblings were 20+ years older. We were never raised together, and although I loved both my brother and my sister and miss them, they weren’t my peers or my friends in any significant way.
I don’t want to say my childhood was lonely without siblings because it wasn’t particularly. I had friends in my neighborhood, and we did the typical childhood things: biking back and forth between houses, playing video games, climbing fences, watching TV, spraying each other with cheap sampler perfume at K&B, roller-skating through the mausoleum where the floors were smoother than the broken sidewalks. I was also very close to my mom – she and I watched movies and went to plays and scoured yard sales for weird stuff and took random road trips to nowhere and cooked and read books to each other.
Sure, Christmas Day could be kind of depressing when it would just be me and my mom and I’d get a new game that required four players, but overall, I didn’t hate being an only child.
I still don’t. I do sometimes long for a big, sprawling family, for nieces and nephews, for family reunions with matching T-shirts and enthusiastic games of Frisbee – but as much as I hate the phrase “it is what it is,” some things just are what they are, and this is one of them.
Siblings remain a mystery to me, though, and I have trouble understanding how my daughters can be screaming at each other one minute and snuggling up together the literal next minute.
“I gave you a playmate!” I yell at them sometimes. “I made an entire other human for you to love! You’re lucky to have each other! GET ALONG!”
It doesn’t work. Georgia worships Ruby but also resents her for being older. Ruby is protective of Georgia from everyone else in the world – but treats her like crap herself half the time. They don’t fight physically, but the bickering is so intense I almost wonder if boys would be better: just clobber each other and move on. But then I’ll come upon them cuddling and whispering and giggling, and I feel like maybe they’ll be OK.
“It’s just sibling rivalry,” I overheard Ruby whispering tearfully to Georgia Sunday night after a particularly long day of feuding. “I never mean to be mean to you; I love you so much. It’s just that I’m the big sister, so it’s my job to make you do stuff for me.”
And Georgia handed her a tissue, waited while she blew her nose, and then threw it away for her.
Then they hugged and then Ruby read her a story and made them both hot chocolate.
My life wasn’t lonely as an only child. But I think – I hope; I pray – theirs will be so much richer.