Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Being Singular- the fun of being a grammatical number

My uncle and aunt were visiting my parents recently.

My aunt began knitting a sweater. Sanah made it a point to visit every day to watch the knitting in progress. She was mesmerised, had many questions, and watched as if the most engaging story was unfolding in front of her through the two weeks that it took for the sweater to be completed.

My uncle was a civil engineer. He had carried the dimensions and technical details of the new sea link in mumbai. He was fascinated and excited, he passed on that excitement to Sanah. They discussed the sea link, and many many nonsense rhymes that my uncle would invent to prove to Sanah that actually he knew nothing about anything.

They were thrilled and touched that Sanah included them in her daily routine. Sanah did this with zero prodding from me or my parents.

A day before they were leaving we all sat around in the evening chatting and raking up old family anecdotes about how ludicrous we all are. Sanah had wanted to leave her friends in the park early because she did not want to miss out on this madness. She flitted from one adult to the next- she has her own equation with each. And then she sat aside making drawings for each of her six cousins who my uncle and aunt were going back home to.

My uncle watched her totally engrossed and said, "Poor thing, she must be so lonely, back home the six kids are so engrossed in each other that i dont think i have had to have an individual conversation ever" I was blown away with this comment. I had thought they would comment on how lovingly she was making drawings for her cousins, but they saw this as a mark of how lonely and miserable she was..

I went back to my childhood when these same adults had all fascinated me and nurtured me in their own special way.

I had always treasured those moments, yet all they seemed to remember was some sort of pity that I was an only child who "gasp" actually enjoyed the adult company as much as I did the mad times I spent with my cousins. What they never realised is that they always told their own children to go play with each other and not disturb the adults. I think I have far more significant memories of them, my cousins remember the prodding to study, the pushing to eat, and the pointed command that the siblings should play together and leave the adults alone. I have stories of bridges and crumbling ancestral houses, instructions on complicated recipes and knitting patterns, and folk lore on which spices keep which ghosts away. I got these in my alone times - my one on one time with the many uncles and aunts. I really had no idea what they meant when they pinched my cheeks and said, "Poor thing must be so lonely."

I was a single child, a choice my parents had made.

I was always given stories of pure sibling love to assert that I was missing out on something. I had three thoughts ( i was always too polite to say it out loud)

one: so am I supposed to doubt the love I feel and receive from cousins, friends, and significant adults other than my parents ? Is that love somehow of lesser vintage than that of immediate flesh and blood?

two: most of my friends and cousins whom I was close to were either indifferent to their siblings or in horrid competition with them. I had seen very few instances of pure sibling love.

three: i never did see my parents or me extoll the value of a single child to those with the hum do hamare do slogan emblazoned on their chest - i wondered why we did not, because between the three of us we were quite clear we loved the way we were and why we were the way we were. It seemed rude, and a bit pointless to say, poor things you have to fight for your parents attention, you have to forever be compared to your sibling etc etc. It was the parallel of uncles and aunts holding up beautiful images of sublime filial love. I was always moved by those touching images, but somehow never felt deprived much to everyone's chagrin. "Dont you want a sibling? "they would urge." No? You are so happy being the centre of attention?"
Arrey! Just because I am not countering your idyllic image with my idyllic image. I actually allow myself to feel moved by your idyllic picture,but you must castigate me from being pretty darned happy with who I am.

As an adult I was asked by various friends what it was to be an only child. They all said they enjoyed the first child so much,and felt so complete that they were not sure about the second, but.... since that is not the normal, ideal family their questions began - How come you were not spoilt? Did you always crave for attention since you were used to being the centre of attention at home? Were you lonely? Did you have problems socialising when you went to school? etc etc. It was all well meaning so I gave the best answer i could - How relaxed you are with yourself depends on the parents, not on how many siblings you have.

I am a parent of a single child. By choice.

My child is social, gets along with most kinds of children- next door neighbours, her school friends, friends' kids, cousins etc. I seldom worry if her day is not filled with play time with other children. I find that the time she spends with us, or our adult friends has an equal value. She is able to engage with a certain calmness that she picks up from an adult vibe, as opposed to the excitement and clamour of children. I believe that both are important.

A bunch of us had gone to the edge of mud flats in Mumbai to see the pink flamingos. Friends had joined us along with their kids. It was fun,we saw the flamingos at a distance, the kids were excitable and enthusiastic. And they were happily distracted by each other. It was a good outing. I came back and decided we must do it again, this time just us and her, maybe with a friend who has knowledge about birds. The quiet excitement with which a bird watcher will gaze at the landscape, look out for details, and the mine of stories he or she would have about what it means to wait for and watch a bird - that rhythm is what I want her to get a glimpse of. The fun of a unique picnic is great, and so is the quiet wait for birds to wander closer to where you are.

She has been taken to swimming pool since she was 6 months old by her grandmother who is a great swimmer and finds it to be her biggest stress buster. This summer I decided to enroll her with a swimming instructor along with her friends so that her strokes would get better and stronger. She loves goofing off when the instructor is not looking , along with her friends. And equally on other occasions when the instructor is not around, she will leave her friends and practice her strokes, on her own. I have never shouted at her for goofing off in the pool. I dont think its because she wants to get better, faster, or any such thing that she practices deligently. I think its because she has imbibed the pleasure of swimming from her grandmother, a singular activity where you are one with your body and water. Its not a task she has to achieve sooner rather than later. Its the sheer pleasure of learning to get more relaxed and comfortable at something you are doing.

I think one on one adult time is precious. For every child, single or not. Single children just get it more easily.


Choxbox said...

Awesome post.

Guess people are forever doubting the single child status partly from being jealous!

Wish we lived somewhere near you. Right now both my kids are neck deep into winnowing and cleaning of wheat that mom is supervising - we buy 100 kg at one shot and store through the year and get it milled every month. Also bags of dal, haldi, jeera, dhaniya seeds - all being cleaned and stored away. Who needs summer camps?!

Banno said...

Fabulous post, Sur.

dipali said...

Wonderful post. Such profound truths out there.

Space Bar said...

oh yes. truly.

Rohini said...

I love the way you are so content with your choices. :)

Divs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Divs said...

True on my fronts and am glad that you are happy and content with your choices. Myself, I am still not so sure. I feel you were lucky you got the love and attention from so many people in your family. What if a family is so nuclear that there are no cousins in the age group of the single child? Then what love or companionship do you have to offer to that single child other than your neighbors or friends who visit once in a while? So I'd say a single child is great only if you have a joint family or a very closely situated family setup.

Nisha said...

Very nice read. I am also mother of a single child and can say, you've handled the topic beautifully.
Sad, not many people understand such profound truths.

SUR NOTES said...

Divs: I actually grew up in a nuclear family, far away from aunts and uncles and cousins and grand parents. Yet, I was attached to them, and have grown up with a special equation with some of them. But, though we were a nuclear family, ours was an open house, with my parents friends constantly streaming in and out.
But yes, its not a one size fits all formula. What worked for us might not work for anyone else.

Choxbox: All the winnowing and cleaning must be a trip for your girls.

Banno,dipali,spacebar : thanks

Rohini: Its taken me some time to figure why i was so sure about having an only child.

SUR NOTES said...

Nisha: thanks

sonal sundararajan said...

i loved my alone time as a kid, and still do.

sonal sundararajan said...

i loved post

Sue said...

I don't agree with your conclusion Sur, although I do follow your reasons: Rahul for one (I feel) has benefited from having our whole attention in his first years. He will make an excellent older brother one day but these years will hopefully give him the security he seems to crave.

I don't agree that single children get more time or more time more easily with adults than those with siblings. I have an older brother and grew up among many cousins but I have always enjoyed adult company and made sure I got it. I would certainly have been a lonelier child without all these kids in my life.

Speaking as a parent, I hope to have another child one day because I tend to obsess over the one little boy I have. I know I have it in me to be that kind of mother so I would much rather have more than one kid to draw the fire and exhaust me from further efforts, if you know what I mean!

I will also tell you that my relationship with my own brother is pretty lousy but I see how my parents draw strength and sustenance from their siblings (and vice versa) and I totally think where kids are concerned the more the merrier.

I would however never judge you for choosing to have only one kid. I've met Sanah and you know I think you guys are bringing one heck of a kid up in her. If I could have kidnapped her that day, I would have. :)

SUR NOTES said...

Sue: The post was not meant to advocate single children, but was prompted by the assumption that a child who cherishes one on one adult time is necessarily lonely,probably because she is an only child.

I grew up with that, and when i hear similar comments about my child it drives me crazy.

Sue said...

I'll bet... No, Sanah doesn't seem to require any pity whatsoever!

Don't let comments drive you crazy. I aim to be someone like you when I finally get around to growing up and high on my list of desirable attributes is a total unconcern over What Other People Say About Things That Are Not Their Business. ;)

Sanah-girl won't remember me but I remember her and send her my love.

Sue said...

BTW Chox, that stuff sounds like great fun. I was quite envious when Vicky told me of a childhood visit to their family tea estate where they jumped on huge mounds of drying tea.

Choxbox said...

@Sur: Kuch to log kahenge and all that. I get it for not having a son - if I am in the mood I give a long lecture countering the idea, if not I just ignore.

@Sue: We grew up with aunts and randmas making papads and pickles in the summer hols. Funnest times of my life. Am glad my kids are at least able to see the wheat and masalas in wholesale (my maternal side are all old-time Bangalore merchants who are into all kinds of businesses including grains - so we get top quality stuff delivered at home).

mim said...

this is for sue: y (i think the only child: when she is a girl is v. unique.

a boy needs a sibling. a girl doesnt, methinks)

this is for sur, mostly an echo, and partly memories of being the only one:

the only child doesnt know lonely. she doesnt think lonely.
she hears silences.
she is thoughtful in a double helical involved matrixical way.
she has stacks of stories in her mind's eye, that she has heard, seen and watched.
she's not disturbed.
she's much much much older than her chronological age.

love to your sanah:-)

Choxbox said...

this for mim:

'the only child doesnt know lonely. she doesnt think lonely.
she hears silences.
she is thoughtful in a double helical involved matrixical way.
she has stacks of stories in her mind's eye, that she has heard, seen and watched.
she's not disturbed.
she's much much much older than her chronological age.'

all of that is my firstborn even though she has a sibling. in fact the sibling has brought down the no. of ‘much’s in the last sentence - for good or bad!

SUR NOTES said...

Thanks MiM, for a beautifully worded description that evokes many childhood memories. For a change i can read a description that is without the usual sense of lack of sibling company, excess of parental attention, and basically the stereotypical lonely/spoilt grid that one was easily slotted into.
Choxbox, ofcourse MiM's description is not exculsive to the single child. Just that single children are usually singled out as having a somewhat dystopic, deprived existence, its a relief to read a "normal" description.

Choxbox said...

@Sur: I have many friends who have one child. They are perfectly normal - whatever that means though. In the sense - how can a bunch of kids be lumped together as 'normal'? Isn't every one different from the next? My own children are so different from each other - one would be have to be called totally abnormal if the other was the benchmark for normal!

SUR NOTES said...

choxbox: no argument at all on what you are saying. :)

Choxbox said...

and sur, very uncannily my older sis just called and cribbed away about random strangers asking her why she isn't having another child (her son is 12 for christ's sake). i told her to tell them next time that she was waiting for their permission.

dipali said...

Loved the MIM's poetic words on her singularity!
I like the feminism shining through:)
I've known some very nice only male children as well, though!

Sue said...

All these comments just brought home to me that I've never really been hassled by people asking me when I'm going to have the second one.

Most of our friends are content with the single so when they josh me around on this I know they're only teasing (at their pushiest they're only saying they'd like another niece/nevvy) and hell, who's listening to the relatives? Most of my relatives are aware that I consider I've done them a huge favour by having a kid in the first place.

As Dipali can attest, my Sue-centric view of life makes many things simpler. ;)

(For those of you who are groaning by now, the word verification says 'winces'.)

annastales said...

very interesting post. it's something i'm agonizing over a lot nowadays though god knows it's too early. anna will be one in may. whenever i think of a second child i think along the lines that good to have but not very convenient. atleast that's how it seems to me. i doubt i have it in me to go through all that again. but your post raised a new point of only child being a good thing too. i would always think that i must have a second for anna's sake. for myself i feel one is enough. but maybe as you said for anna too one is a good option. if i have a second maybe it should be because i want one more. not as a favour to anna. must think about this more. and oh oh oh the comments annoy me so much. get a little brother for anna in 2-3 years. i usually just give a stupid smile and seethe inside. one day very soon i'll burst.

ps. love your blog :). occasional reader and first time commenter.

B o o. said...

The world will always have a problem with whatever we do. single child, girl child, hyper child, shy child,.... whatever! Like chox said, every child is so unique that no way we can say whats normal and whats not. The husband is an only child and says he never ever missed having a sibling. So MiM - the boy/girl thingy is also not the general rule.

Anonymous said...

What Sue and Chox said (re: her older one) - I was a child who preferred adult company to that of children. BUT - my take is that the one reason to have more than one child, is for support for the children when the parents age/die. This of course, assumes the siblings get along.
I have a brother and get along well with him, and am grateful to have a sibling, now, when the parents are aging, and hard decisions have to be made, it is good to have someone to share that load. I have friends who are single, who, like you, never missed having a sibling until now - we're all of the age when our parents have age-related issues and they have said that in these circumstances, they wished they had siblings...


the mad momma said...

I love the post Sur and I think Sanah is a lovely and blessed little girl. As someone who has met her, this is more than just a response to your posts on her. I dont see how it is anyone else's business how many kids you have

that said, I think we lead from our own childhoods. i grew up with a sibling I think the world of and I couldn't help but want that for my kids. i see plenty of single children go on to have only one child. no one seems particularly deserving of pity.

but i love the way my kids will always have someone who is part of their history and someone who will be blood, long after we are gone. i have a post on this coming up in some days and i'll hope to hear from you on it.

when i watch them together it fills me up with joy because other than the adults that they have individual relationships with, they have this special something that they will never again in their life experience. you can have cousins and you can have friends... but you can't have this with anyone else.

SUR NOTES said...

Annas tales, M : thanks for commenting.
Sue, Boo, TMM : It is all about being comfortable and content with the choices you make. I'd be the last one to tell someone to have one, two or none... My only reason for writing this post was to describe how as a parent of a single child I am able to see what was precious and magical in my childhood. I would not have been able to articulate it earlier.

Sue said...

Come to think of it Sur you promised this post millions of years ago. I'm glad you wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I came to your blog thru Mad Momma's blog, the reason I have to comment on this is that I am a single child and am now raising a single child. I have faced similar situations where I have been asked why I should have been a spoiled brat etc and how my daughter needs a sibling; specially since we live in North America and how a single child can be lonely being raised in North America!!! I somehow can't see the logic behind having another child just because we live away from India. I am really tired of having to justify why we have only one child and your post mirrors my sentiments and thoughts!

Monika said...

beautiful post sur I am a mother of a single child right now (a 3.5 yr old boy) and currently at a stage where I am totally confused about having a second one or not. I always thought I would have only one child but some of the things that people say plus the fact that I have been brought up with two more sisters leave me wondering who will he have when he grows up?

Sigh parenting is a tough job very tough

Nuttie Natters said...

Ummm - fellow single child...if and when i have a child most likely to be a single child...and ummm can i just direct people to your post.

Growing up, i didn't have my cousins around me, hell they are a lot younger than me...but i ahve always had loads of friends and company. I didn't crave adult company. i was more than happy when my parents were out and i was alone and could do "my" thing...and nope i am not (at least i dont think i am) spoilt or selfish. and nope i didn't cling to my parents as a kid either.

Deej said...

I think the last line summed it up beautifully. Superbly written!

Anu Russell said...

Loved the post...gave me some assurance that I am not doing the wrong thing...which everyone around me seems to think. You are a single child raising a single child...but me? I have two older brothers so everyone ask me, if it is fair for me deprive my daughter a relationship similar to what I have with my brothers...

I am always trying to justify my choice and I get thrown into a guilt trip...I feel horrible sometimes and think maybe we should just go ahead and have the second child...then I have to remind myself the reasons we chose to stop at one...they are mine and personal why do everyone harass me?

Thanks for writing it.