By Lisa Sugarman
I was an only child. And despite my parent’s desire to have a bigger family, it just wasn’t meant to be. Don’t feel bad for me, though. This is a happy column. And I’m going to spend the next eight hundred words explaining why.
Now look, if I’m being straight up here, then I have to admit that there were definitely times over the years when I wished I had a brother or a sister. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. But all things being equal, I was generally pretty content as an only.
I mean, you don’t really miss what you never had, right? And it’s probably because my parents were both famous for always rolling up their sleeves, grabbing an army of Barbie dolls, and hitting the shag carpet with me, that I almost never felt like I was missing anything.
I mean, looking back, I definitely do remember a subtle twang in my heart whenever my friends talked about things they did with their sisters and brothers. You know, like playing together or sharing clothes or having secrets. Because the truth is, even though you can have amazingly hands-on parents, there are just some things that you miss out on by not having another kid living in the house.
Ironic that if you asked my two high-school-age daughters how they feel about having a sister, they’d both probably roll their eyes and rattle off a detailed list of why they wish they were only children. Lists filled with words like annoying, selfish, rude, or obnoxious. But at the end of the day, when both of them let their guard down, they have nothing but love for each other. It’s weird how they can go so quickly from one extreme to the other. And that’s something I wish I had.
Yeah, sure, there were definitely times when it came in handy that I was an only child. Like when it came to my parent’s attention and affection. There was zero competition. And I always appreciated that.
There was also the freedom of having unlimited time in the bathroom without someone pounding on the door, stealing your makeup, using all the hot water, or taking the last tampon.
Those things aside, though, it would’ve been nice to have a sister or a brother around to break up the monotony of only having myself to play with. (Ok, that didn’t come out right, but you know what I meant.)
When I look back, through the eyes of my adult self, now a mother of two, I realize that not having a sibling gave me a unique appreciation for forging close friendships. After all, friends are the family we get to choose. And you become acutely aware of that as an only. Which is why I always tried to choose wisely.
That’s why my friends always felt more like the brothers and sisters I never had. At least until I married Dave. Because when that happened, I inherited the closest thing I had ever had to a real brother or sister—I acquired in-laws. And while those of us who are married know that gaining in-laws is like playing Russian roulette, I got lucky. Not only did I get a great guy, but I got a full second set of parents who I adore and two spanking new siblings—ones I actually liked. Truth is, I legitimately love them. And while I could just as easily have gotten a clown car full of whack jobs, I came out ahead with a couple of winners.
Unfortunately, my brother-in-law has always lived out of state, so we don’t get much time together. But my sister-in-law has almost always lived close. So we’ve spent most of the last twenty-plus years together.
Now granted, in the more than two decades that we’ve been family, we’ve never braided each other’s hair or painted each other’s toes or backhanded the other in the head for stealing eyebrow gel; but we’ve done plenty of other sisterly-type stuff. We’ve confided in each other, laughed and cried together, traveled and shopped, counseled and consoled each other. And although I’ve still never deliberately locked her out of the bathroom and licked her toothbrush, I feel like we couldn’t be much closer. The bottom line being that I couldn’t imagine loving a biological sister any more than I love her.
So even though I started out alone, I’ve certainly compensated for my lack of siblings during the past four decades with friends and extended family and now two kids of my own. And what I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter how you start out, because life has a funny way of filling in its own divots. I may not have had a sibling’s toothbrush to lick, but I can sure as hell live vicariously through my kids secretly licking each others.