Driving around doing errands one recent afternoon afternoon, I brashly asked my daughter if there was anything she felt like doing. There was: Energyplex, the play gym at the far end of the city. We haven’t used our membership in a while, and with her love of climbing, she’s been itching to go. I raised a few objections (it’s nearly dinner time, dada will be home soon, we don’t have any snacks), but really, had no good reason to say no. So I said yes. We got drive-through tacos (and discovered that she found the beans too spicy) and played for over an hour.
As we spontaneously drove off to have fun, I thought that I wanted to write about being the parent of one child. Because if I had two, I don’t think we would have gone to play.
We currently have one child, which may be how it stays. All around me people are showing up with two kids, or one plus a belly. The conversations are about spacing children, sibling rivalry, and when the first child will go to school. My gut clenches ever so briefly every time, as these are discussions we haven’t been able to have. What I do see is my daughter’s love of babies and younger children, how well she plays with them, even catching them at the end of the slide and helping them climb to the top again. Our endless games of baby-in-the belly, new-born baby, and conversations about what we’ll do with a new baby. Her engrossed play with her stuffed toys: feeding, dressing, bathing, bedding, conducting music classes, singing to sleep. How she would love to have a sibling, and we would love another child, for her, for us, for the child’s sake.
At the same time, our daughter is doing and feeling these things without needing a sibling. She has empathy, effective social skills, and practice caring for others even if those others aren’t in her home. And she has more. She has undiluted attention and care from two loving parents. She has undisturbed time to sink into play, with the ability now to play on her own for up to 45 minutes at a stretch. She gets to have extended reading/cuddle time on a daily basis, with our book selections now veering towards chapter books.
And while she is playing and entertaining herself, or sleeping, or in the care of my husband or mother, I have time. I read, clean the house, write, take care of personal projects, or just relax. And when we’re doing something together, we can enjoy being together. We chat, tease, tell stories, plan, rhyme. It is, frankly, utterly delightful. Some days actually are blissful, from cuddly wake-up start through shared cooking joy to energetic play and self-managed nighttime routine. There’s a level of ease, comfort and delight we often have in our family life that seems harder to find when there are more children with more demands and some of the conflicts that can bring. Even with homeschooling, I can see time freeing up for myself in the near future. I can also see the many activities we’ll be able to enjoy together.
There are other pressures, of course. With just two of us home most of the time, I need to make more of an effort to find people for her to play and socialize with. The strain of this sometimes wears me out! I dream of having just one more child, someone she can imagine, negotiate and wrestle with. However, that’s what we don’t have, so for now I appreciate the personal abilities she’s developing and try harder to find playmates for her. There is also the pressure of parenting just one: my one chance to parent right. Please let me do right by her! and I worry about her in the future, the only child of older parents. But what can I do about this?
I have moments of sadness over only having one, and many other moments of sheer indulgent pleasure at my situation: an utterly delightful child, one whose personality and interests mesh so beautifully with mine; a full parenting experience; and time, not as much as I want but more than I might have, time for myself and my own interests. What a blessing, this one child is.