Along for the Rye’d
The Only Child
By Annabel Monaghan
Sometimes it’s really relaxing to have a benevolent dictator
When I was a young mother of one, my mother encouraged me to quit while I was ahead. I had this one great kid, and life was pretty easy. We’d be able to travel all over the world, she said. You can give one child everything, she added. I wasn’t buying it, so I had a second child.
At this point she implored me: <For the love of all that is good, don’t have a third.> The third child, she told me, messes up everything. Suddenly you need a different car and a second package of chicken breasts. As her third- born, I tried not to take this personally. And I hate to say it, but she was absolutely right about the chicken breasts.
This spring break, our two older kids were doing their own thing, so Tom and I took a trip with our 13-year-old, who is increasingly becoming our only child. His brothers are 5 and 8 years older than he, so he has spent much of his life tagging along. He’s an expert in the college-admissions process and might be able to advise you about which schools offer non-restrictive early action. But he has never been to Legoland and couldn’t pick Elmo out of a lineup.
From the first moment, I enjoyed the glorious simplicity of traveling with one child. Three suitcases, three cell phone chargers, no fighting. Conversation where no one is interrupting anyone moves in a peaceful and informative direction, and fewer restroom stops.
Decisions came simply. Tom and I, having been parents for nearly 21 years, have given up our right to preferences about things like pizza vs. Mexican food. In a vacation situation, we normally sit back and let the kids duke it out until we have a plan of action. With one child, we had a single stream of desire to follow. This may not be a popular position to take, but sometimes it’s really relaxing to have a benevolent dictator.
Two things became clear pretty quickly: 1) We were to be filling in for his siblings; and 2) having only one child is a younger woman’s game. Each day, we were up and out and swimming in the ocean immediately after breakfast. We got a quick break and then were back in the ocean. As soon as my eyes were feeling heavy under the sun, he suggested we ride bikes to the pool. As we collapsed into bed at night, I realized we were doing the job of teen-agers with the accessible energy of grandparents.
What I loved most about this trip was experiencing this one child on his own. Children grow in a family the way trees grow in a park. The largest take up the majority of the sunshine, while the others adapt to the shade. Roots grow however they must, so that each tree gets what it needs. Without the presence of its closest neighbor, a tree might have grown in an entirely different way. Siblings’ personalities develop in this way, in reaction to constant contact with each other. We grow quiet around the loud one, deferential around the smart one. A child pulled out of that construct for a bit, stretches out and fills the space in his own unique way.
If it was possible in this time-space continuum (and I believe it is not) to take each of my children individually on a vacation, just to experience them on their own, I would gladly do it. And I think this is what my mom was getting at, the luxury of giving your full attention to a single child. Interestingly, when I asked her thoughts on having a fourth, she said, “You might as well.”