We were on our very first walk around the neighborhood when I was first asked the question that would follow me around forever. Our newborn son was barely a week old, and we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather that day. We were only going around the block, and I remember loading up the bottom of the stroller with diapers and supplies just in case. The overpacked stroller gave me away as a brand-new mom, I am sure of that.
She crossed the street toward us hoping to get a glimpse of the new baby in the neighborhood. She gushed over his little nose and chubby cheeks as I smiled proudly. Then the question came, “When is the next one?”
I remember thinking how crazy this question was, I mean his umbilical stump hadn’t even fallen off yet, and I was still recovering from a 25-hour long labor. I laughed and shrugged as we said our goodbyes.
Little did I know that question would be asked on repeat like Baby Shark on a toddler’s playlist.
The tone, however, began to change the older my son got. Now the question was met with concerned glares and judgment. I noticed that the taller my child became the question transformed from, “When is the next one?” to “Do you JUST have one?” or “Is he your ONLY one?” or even simply “JUST him?”
Most of the time, I answer the questions superficially because I am usually asked these questions when I am trying to get out of Target quickly before I get sucked into the vortex known as the Hearth & Hand section yet again. Half of the time, my yes is sufficient and the conversation ends, but every once in a while, I get the follow-up responses of, “That’s a shame.” “Don’t you want to give him a brother?” “Only children have a hard time in life.” And once, “Only children are weird.”
You see there is nothing superficial about the truth behind my yes.
It has layers that would cause discomfort if I were to choose to drop the truth bomb on a person as they stood in line waiting to pay for kitty litter and TV dinners. So, I smile. I even smiled, through gritted teeth, when a friend told me, “You are not a REAL mom until you have your second.”
I smile, but the truth is my son is more than JUST an only child. He is an answered prayer after devastating losses. He is the younger sibling of two babies in Heaven, whom he often talks about. He makes friends wherever we go. He is wise beyond his years from spending so much time at the grownup table. He is compassionate and absolutely hysterical. He is not JUST an only child.
I smile because I am a mother of three, even if you only see one. I stay up late and wake up early, I hold a bucket to catch vomit in the middle of the night, I make mistakes, I say I love you.
I am just as much of a mother as the next.
While having one child was not our plan, we have learned to embrace the positives. It is easier to travel, easier to find a babysitter for date nights, less money to save for college, we have more free time and more time to give him. Of course, with all positives there comes challenges, too.
During the pandemic as we all self-quarantined, we witnessed absolute strength in our son as he fought loneliness. While his days had always been surrounded by other children, despite not having siblings, he was now secluded. There were no afterschool activities, recess, or sports practices to attend anymore. He felt that and it worried us. Luckily, we live in a world with WiFi and FaceTime, but it is not the same. Prior to the pandemic, my husband and I would joke that it was as if we had our own quirky third wheel friend, like Cameron from Ferris Buller, who sits in between us on the couch during movie night stealing all our popcorn.
Our “only children” are more than “just” their birth order, and we are very much real mothers.