Only Child

Only Child

I grew up an only child, best friends with my parents. Boisterous and precocious, my vocabulary often made grownups chuckle. I didn't always get it right, but when I called my Mom a "hypocrip" for staying up later than she allowed me, I understood I had hit gold. I was seldom left with a sitter, instead I accompanied my parents to friends' houses and got to try that new restaurant no eight year olds were talking about. 

I grew up an only child, part of no biological army. Painfully shy at times, I still remember my first grade teacher telling me I wasn't "outgoing enough" to have a role in the Christmas play. I remember crying underneath the play structure in the Ikea ball pit, unable to find a friendly face who wasn't already connected to someone else in that small, fluorescent room.

I'm also an older sister. At ten years old, I vividly remember awaiting My Brother's arrival. I remember nights watching Mad About You, of all things, because the main characters were about to welcome a baby. Dark at 4:30pm, my Mom would nod off on the couch (I now understand how exhausted she was finally exiting her first trimester!) while I could barely contain my excitement when a baby entered the screen.

And when he came, we were thrilled. And when he smiled, we were thrilled. My brother was never exactly my brother, but my pride and joy. I remember being out and clutching a photo of his angry, crying face, wanting nothing more than to get back to wherever he was.

I've always understood the absolute, overflowing joy that a child can bring. So I didn't worry when I didn't "feel" like I'd ever want to have a child throughout my 20's. I saw a kid in my future, but at the moment my boyfriend Liam and I were convinced we'd obviously never tire of clubbing.

Then one day at the end of a decade that begins with novelty, you look up from the beer you and your husband Liam got on a random Tuesday because, honestly, you were both just a little bit bored, and you agree that, Yeah, we're ready.

I knew I wanted my life to start again. I wanted a family. I needed my daughter.

So why don't I feel that way about having another child? When my darling daughter needs a break from her 'keeping me up at night' duties, this dreadful worry creeps in and tags her out.

There. Yup. I just felt that. The weight of your hand pressing down on my shoulder as you say, Come on, relax. But I'm more of a five-year-plan kind of woman, so it kills me not to know what I want.

I'm standing in a cafe holding Row as she screams and contorts, back arching. I just need to find a seat, something discreet, so I can feed my poor, hungry babe. 

"Don't worry, it get's better," a woman says. She clears her dishes, then snorts and adds, "Well, by then you'll have another."

Because what kind of monster wouldn't?

I've had many conversations with friends about the judgement they feel about not wanting kids. I never really understood this because it seemed to me a very reasonable decision, certainly not one I would ever dream of negatively judging. But now I understand, because it turns out one child is the same - if not worse! - to many people.

So Selfish. Why bother? What kind of parent?

But it goes beyond external insecurity. I often truly wonder if one child is the right decision for our family. Because when it's good, I can see it so clearly.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon Liam and I took Row to Bâtard on Fraser and shared an absurd array of breakfast and dinner items because we couldn't choose. Taking turns trying the artichoke soup and pan au chocolate, we passed the baby back and forth like such seasoned pro's that a woman remarked on what a team we make.

The rain poured down as I pushed the heavy stroller up the hill, Liam held the dog, and we both looked at each other in silence, containing our laughter because the baby would cry anytime we'd dare speak. I've never been happier. We could do this again.

But then there are the days you leave the house when it's quite warm. By the time the sun goes down, you find yourself in a grocery store with a baby that is far too cold, and also their diaper has exploded and you have no extra clothes. Feeling like a failure of a mother you cry at the change table station, and a woman offers you a pair her three year old's tights so you can at least get home.

There are two such clear paths, neither imminent. 

I can see my son. At all of four months, Row is my headstrong, independent child. My son needs more assurance. Where Row tries to wiggle out of my arms, my son wants confirmation that it's okay to be on his own at the Mount Pleasant Library story time.

And I can see Row's pudgy toddler arm affectionately, though too rough in execution, pat her new baby sister. I see them whisper together under sheets, steal each others' clothes, and one day, bury their parents.

But I also see Liam, Row and I as the three musketeers. Every night after dinner we walk around Science World and check out the beavers in Olympic Village. Not only can Row keep up, she runs ahead, calling for us to hurry. Liam coaches her soccer team and I give her my undivided attention as we work through fractions (mmmhmm, that's right). On the weekend we take her for Spanish tapas in Gastown, and the summer she turns nine, we travel through Europe.

I honestly have no idea which life is mine. All I know is that I don't want to have another kid because I feel guilty; I don't want my child to be brought into this world with a "job" to do. If there is one thing parenting has taught me, well, I'd like to say it's patience. But it's probably something more like "whether or not you have patience, you have to wait."

So I'll wait.

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