Monday, October 26, 2009

"I'm Bored"

Last week SkyNews, a U.K. online news Web site, published an article that made a connection between children being bored and children being an only child. I’m not entire sure how the author got from point A to point B, but he did.

Here’s a sampling of the article, which I found offensive:

“Evidence suggests siblings save kids from 'risky' behaviour. They can provide the sympathetic ear parents sometimes fail to offer. They can prevent bullying, by active intervention, or old-fashioned snitching. They can act in loco parentis. They provide a ready supply of 'playdates' without ever leaving home.” You can read the entire post here.

Perhaps I was feeling overly sensitive after a week of hearing JJ say over and over again, “I’m bored.” We have been on a campaign to turn off the TV more and find other things to do. It seems we have fallen into this bad habit of JJ turning on the TV after school and only turn it off long enough to do homework, which isn’t very long since she is only in second grade.

It has been a painful transition for JJ and for us. Last week every time we shut off the TV, JJ would just sit in the chair in front of the TV and look longingly at the blank screen. I would suggest she find something else to do, I would point out she was wasting time that she could be doing any number of fun things. I would offer to play a game with her. I would offer to read Harry Potter to her.

But all she would say over and over again is “I’m bored.”

And, of course, as an only child myself I would remember being bored. I would remember days in the summer that would feel like there was nothing to do but wait for the day to end.

But, somehow, even after a week of “I’m bored,” we got through the weekend without a single utterance of the phrase.

Friday night after dinner and JJ’s favorite TV show, Endurance, we baked chocolate chip cookies, listened to music and danced around the house.

Saturday afternoon, we went to the library and then to the Air and Space Museum’s Air and Scare event.

Sunday we went to church and then hiked the Billy Goat Trail with friends. And, I was amazed at how JJ scrambled over the rocky trail with absolutely no fear while I hesitated and froze with every step. I think I found what will keep JJ from being bored. I just don’t think I, or my husband, have the physical endurance to go along with her.

Tell me what you do to keep your only child away from the TV. Do you think all only children are bored?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sibling Envy

Last week I drove our neighbor’s daughter home from school. She happily chatted about how her 13-year-old brother was going to watch her until her parents came home, how he would let her watch TV and he make her dinner. Clearly, she was excited to have time alone with her brother.

After I walked her to her front door and she was safely inside, I went back to our car and found a very sad JJ.

When I asked what was wrong, she said, “How come everyone but me has a brother or sister.”

This is an emotional minefield for me.

I know that feeling so well from my own childhood. I would watch Eight is Enough and the Brady Bunch and feel like I was missing out on a something amazing.

And I am sure I was but, as I grew older, I also came to understand that what I received instead--a very close relationship with my parents--also was something amazing.

I don’t think my relationship with my parents would be the same if I had siblings. Though I admit that I worry about how I, as an only child, and my husband, as an only child, will take care of our parents as they age. There is no one to share that burden or to help hash out those tough decisions. Even having a sibling to talk with about my parents' quirky, and at times, annoying behaviors would be helpful. There is no one to bounce family issues off of—-it’s just me and my husband—-and we really don’t know all the nuances of each others families the way a sibling would.

And I feel guilty about passing this burden onto JJ.

As a kid, I would ask—-at times beg—-for a brother or sister. My parents would joke that once they had me, they definitely didn’t want another, which I always took in a negative way—-that I was so difficult, they couldn’t imagine having another.

So what did I tell JJ?

That we couldn’t decide whether to have another child and that now it is too late, I am older and it wouldn’t be healthy for my body to have another child. I’m not sure how much she understood but at least I gave her a reason that clearly put the blame on me, not her.

We really were ambivalent about having another child after JJ was born, probably because deep down inside we both knew that one was enough for us.

Maybe it’s a function of being an only child myself but I have a hard time imagining dividing my time between two kids. I’m sure parents of multiple children reading this line will find it laughable but I think for some people (like me and my husband), the idea of dividing your love and attention between multiple children is difficult. I know that even with friends, I much prefer spending time with one friend than two or three. I don’t do group dynamics well—-again, probably a function of being an only child.

My husband says I should have reminded JJ that not everyone has a sibling, that on our block alone there are three only children, but I didn’t think that was what she was asking.

Other parents of only children, has this question come up? What have you told your child? Do you wish you had others or is one enough?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Only Child Antidote

I spent the weekend in Chicago visiting my BFF. We have been BFFs long before anyone ever thought of up the title BFF.

She is my only child antidote (and my shopping muse). She is what I imagine having a sibling is like. Someone you can always talk to about anything at anytime. Someone who understands you better than you understand yourself. And, in my case, someone who can help you find the perfect outfit even if you are not looking for one (and often it's something you would never ever try on if you were by yourself).

I have tried to explain to JJ that relationships like these are important. That family is more than just the people we are related to by blood but also the people we are related to by our heartstrings.

It’s a difficult message for a 7-year-old to grasp but I think she gets the idea on some level. She spends a lot of time with E., her only child friend from across the street, and often refers to him as her brother. JJ and her other only child buddy, S., often beg for a sleepover when they get together.

It’s a start.

But being a BFF requires more than just the convenience of being across the street from each other or both being only children. (My BFF is not an only child, by the way, but her only sibling lives in another country.)

Overtime, I hope JJ will learn that friendships require compromise and compassion, the ability to listen without interrupting, the courage to ask challenging questions and the grace to accept that your needs don’t always come first.

For now, most of JJ’s friendships are based on a mutual love of Pokemon cards, Star Wars Legos and Phineas and Ferb. But, eventually, I hope she will find her BFF and only child antidote.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be My Guest

The most misused term in our household is “I’m the guest.”

JJ is always saying, "I'm the guest" but she doesn't return that favor when someone is a guest at our house, nor does she understand how to be a good guest when she is at someone else’s house.

Play dates at someone else’s house often go like this:

A tearful JJ runs into the living room where me and the other mom(s) are trading stories about school, teachers, homework, and JJ declares, “S isn’t letting me (fill in the blank) and that’s not fair because I’m the guest.”

Play dates at our house often go like this:

A tearful JJ runs into the living room where me and the other mom(s) are trading stories about school, teachers, homework, and JJ declares, “S doesn’t want to (fill in the blank) and that’s not fair because this is my house.”

Similar, aren’t they?

Each time this happens I flashback to my own lessons in sharing and compromise. My cousins and I laugh about this now but apparently I always wanted to get my own way and because I was the youngest cousin and the only only child, my aunts often make my cousins do whatever I said. And naturally my cousins hated me for it. I don’t think my aunts or my mother realized what a disservice they were doing me.

Why didn’t someone gently explain to me that, yes, the guest does get to pick the first game/movie/activity, but then its someone else’s turn to pick. And whether you are the guest or the host, it’s important to happily and fairly participate in all activities, including the ones you didn’t pick.

I try to explain this to JJ. I’m not sure she is getting it but I am hoping eventually it will begin to register and she will understand that to be a good guest and a good host, you need to compromise and take turns, and be open to other people’s ideas and suggestions for activities. It’s a lot like life.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, three 7-year-olds (all only children) were visiting our house with their parents. They played peacefully for the first hour or so but then there were issues when we broke out the Wii. I’m not sure why because we have four controllers so everyone could play but I guess JJ didn’t want to play tennis and the other two did. JJ couldn’t get her head around everyone having a turn to pick a game, and naturally the two guests should pick first.

Eventually, it became too difficult to negotiate. The parents of the other two kids, like my aunts, wanted to let JJ have her own way—something I wasn’t comfortable with. When the kids couldn’t agree on a game, all the parents agreed we should just turn off the Wii.

In the end, it turned out, each child wanted to do something different and once I provided them with the materials and toys to do their own thing, the three of them happily played in the same room. One wanted to do art projects, another wanted to play with Bakugans and JJ wanted to watch Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, a PBS Kids show she only gets to see on Saturday evenings and probably the only TV show I don’t feel guilty about her watching.

Eventually, they all began sharing their activities. Two of them decided to dress up, JJ played Bakugans, they all ended up doing a craft project. And they all ended up taking a turn picking an activity without realizing it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Actually Very Delicious!"

I’m not sure if this has anything to do with being an only child but JJ is an incredibly picky eater.

In terms of food that isn’t Goldfish, pretzels or ice cream, she eats exactly a dozen items: breakfast cereal geared to kids, granola bars, tortillas, hamburger buns with ketchup, white rice, plain pasta, macaroni and cheese, cheese sticks, eggs, bacon, pancakes and steak.

Actually being an only child might factor into this because I never force her to eat what we are eating. I violate the rule all parents have been told and I make her a separate meal. And when we go out to dinner, we gladly buy her a steak. My husband calls it the “$20 kids’ meal.” It is not unusual for her to eat most of a 12-ounce T-bone steak by herself. My husband usually eats what’s left.

So, tonight when JJ declared my tomato sauce was “actually very delicious,” I thought I was going to cry.

Tomato sauce is such a part of my life. Growing up on Long Island, an Italian American (a term you don’t hear much these days), I would wake up every Sunday morning to the aroma of meatballs frying and tomato sauce simmering. It was so comforting. For me, it meant family and love and all that was good in the world.

To make a good sauce, it has to cook all day and mine is no exception. I started simmering mine at 9:30 this morning and didn’t stop cooking it until we ate at 7 pm. I put in herbs from our garden—oregano, rosemary and basil—and fresh garlic from the farmer’s market, red pepper and bay leaves. This is not a sauce for wimpy eaters but my picky eater LOVED it.

She asked for a bowl of sauce to dip her pasta and after declaring, “its actually very delicious,” she spread it on her oversized pasta shells and I could hear her making “mmmm” sounds as she ate. Now, that is comforting!

As my husband pointed out, that’s the most vegetables she’s eaten since she was a baby.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family of Only Children

We are a family of only children. I am an only child, my husband technically is an only child (his older brother passed away years ago when my husband was a child) and our daughter is an only child.

You may wonder if this makes our house incredibly quiet or how we ever manage to get anything done. Doesn’t everyone want to get their own way all time?

Ours is a surprisingly loud house. We have a Wheaten Terrier who barks at anything that moves. And all three of us has penchant for loud music. Though neither my husband nor I particularly enjoy listening to our 7-year-old’s favorite song, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” at Spinal Tap decimal levels.

And, yes, at times we have to negotiate with each other and with our daughter, JJ. And, yes, there are times when we all retreat to a different room of the house and want our alone time. Even our dog does this!

But, mostly we are a regular, social, outgoing family. Not a family of spoiled brats. Contrary to what Wikipedia has to say about only children.

I did not plan to have an only child. It just happened that way. While I never envisioned myself living in an Eight is Enough household, I always thought I’d have more than one child.

Would I be happier with 2.5 children, which according to this 2007 Gallup poll, is the ideal family size. I doubt it. But it does give me pause that so few people picked one child as the ideal family size.

While it has its challenges, having an only child also has its advantages. The whole scenario gets even more complicated when you throw in a mother who is an only child and father who is de facto only child.

Did I mention that half of my friends are only children and that most of JJ’s friends are only children? You haven’t really tested the limits of your patience until you’ve tried to negotiate with two 7-year-old only children. Last Saturday, we had to negotiate with three 7-year-old children but that’s a topic for another day.