Only Children of the World, Unite!

I’m addicted to books, especially ever since getting my Kindle PaperWhite. (No, I do not work for Amazon or have any vested interest in promoting them; I simply love my Kindle. And Amazon overall. And maybe Jeff Bezos a little bit.) So I find myself reading much more now and have been lucky enough to come across some pretty good books.

A “good” book to me can be anything from a humorous memoir by a comedian or actor to a how-to book on a topic like entrepreneurship. The main thing is that it be true. I’m just not typically drawn to fiction. When told creatively, I think nonfiction can be as much fun to read as a novel, with the added benefit of knowing what I’m reading actually happened. That helps me relate to or learn from the material more so than I would if I were reading fiction.

Anyway, in this and future posts, I’ll share some interesting passages from the books I’ve recently read; hopefully they’re interesting/thought-provoking/inspirational to you too!

Judy Greer book picture from Amazon

Today I’ll start with Judy Greer’s I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star, published by Doubleday this April. The author is an actress known for taking on supporting roles in many movies, often playing the lead’s best friend or co-worker. I found the whole book to be a fun, entertaining read, but I especially liked Judy’s thoughts on growing up as an only child. At one point, she writes:

“As I’m sure any other only child has experienced, people are always asking me what it was like to be an only child. But I don’t know how to answer that question. What is it like to be a girl? Or a boy? What is it like to breathe?”

As an only child myself, I have to attest to the fact that people really do do this! I too have been asked very often what it was like not to grow up with brothers or sisters. And, like Judy, I’ve had a hard time describing the experience since it was just the way things were in my house. I love reading her take on what it feels like to be asked this, because her thoughts were expressed so well and echoed what I think but haven’t been able to fully articulate in the moment!

In another great section, she writes:

“People also tell me I don’t seem like an only child. I think it’s meant as a compliment, but what does that mean? I haven’t met loads of a**hole only children. If you fill a room with all the a**holes you know, I’d bet that most of them have siblings. How many people am I being compared with? Maybe we’ve gotten a bad reputation, but I don’t really understand why. If I act obnoxious, is it because I’m an only child? Maybe I’m just obnoxious. If a siblinged person acts obnoxious, maybe it’s because he/she has siblings.”

Note: the asterisks are my editing of the word she actually used; just trying to keep this page family-friendly! (How considerate of me, don’t you think?!)

Anyway, I love this part. I can’t tell you how many times people have given me a “compliment” like this and really seemed to think nothing of it. If I’m reasonably social and willing to lend someone a book? Wow, how un-only-child-like of me! Aren’t only children all supposed to be awkward, selfish people? That’s basically what people with siblings seem to think when they give a “compliment” like the one Judy described so well! I really don’t get why people think saying something like that is OK.

I mean, would you ever say something similar to a person based on any other unfair stereotype — and in all seriousness? Not to bring race into this, but…let’s bring race into this. Just as an example. Think of any hurtful/inaccurate stereotype you’ve heard said about a particular ethnic group or race. Can you ever imagine meeting someone from that background and saying, as if pleasantly surprised, “Oh wow, you totally don’t act like that!” Like if someone said, “You don’t drink? Wow, you don’t seem Irish at all!” By the way, I’m part Irish so I can say that. I think. Anyway, you get my point. It still shocks me whenever stereotypes like this one involving only children get passed around as fact, and are expressed freely, because the people saying them truly don’t see them as being wrong – but they technically are!    

Here’s one final segment of Judy’s writing on only children, which I also loved:

“When I ask people about their choice to have a second child, almost all of them say, ‘We just don’t want to have an only child.’ Why? I can’t help but be slightly offended by this. People who seem already overwhelmed by their first baby are having another in order to ensure that they won’t have this freak-of-nature only child.”

Later in the text she goes on to ask a good question, wondering whether this is partly due to the parents projecting their own fears of being alone. Hopefully that’s it; I can understand that more since it’s based on their own challenges and comes from a caring place, versus people just finding only children weird and worthy of avoiding at all costs.

In reality, being an only child is just the other side of the sibling coin — no better or worse, in my opinion. If anything, I actually feel I benefited a lot from the experience. For instance, like most only children, I communicated at an advanced level from an early age since I was talking with adults most of the time. I also was able to keep myself entertained without needing the company of others — and not in a sad aw, she was playing all by herself kind of way but in a way that was empowering at a young age. I knew early on what I liked to do and didn’t need anyone to help me do it, whether it be deciding what cartoon to watch or which toys to play with. It also taught me to appreciate being with other kids my age when it happened — for the record, I wasn’t the kid who insisted games be played her way or whatever else some people assume about only children. (If anything, I found controlling kids like that very odd — and, to prove Judy’s point, in most cases those kids actually had siblings!) I was also able to adjust to new situations on my own much more easily than other children my age, since I wasn’t used to having a peer by my side in every situation. That’s why I was able to get through the first day of kindergarten without crying or even feeling upset, unlike many of the other children around me. I actually remember a lot about that day — I found it odd that so many kids were crying hysterically! What was so wrong? (On a side note, it’s strange how that memory is very clear to me, yet I can barely remember to pick up my dry cleaning now.)

Ultimately, my childhood was a happy one even without brothers and sisters around. So that’s why I really liked Judy Greer’s book — I rarely see people talk about being an only child, particularly in such a funny, right-on! kind of way. I think it’s great for people with or without siblings to read her account of what it’s like. I thoroughly enjoyed that, as well as the rest of the book. If you get a chance, I suggest reading it. It’s a fun summer read!