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.