I Salute And Envy Parents Of An Only Child

by Hannah Mayer
only child
monkeybusinessimages / iStock

“Hey Mom! What are you doing in there?” My 4-year-old’s muffled voice called out to me from the other side of the bathroom door.

“Nothing! Just…umm, nothing! Going to the bathroom? I need some privacy please!”

“Well, why are you sitting on the floor reading a magazine then?” The door swung open and her head suddenly poked in. I thought for sure I had used the dead bolt this time.

“Just getting some ideas for our pretend beauty shop!” I said, quickly standing up and brushing bathroom funk off my yoga pants. “Now, let’s find those scissors!”

Obviously that was a lie. I was in no way researching ideas for playing beauty shop. I was hiding from her, because she is insatiable. That morning alone we had read over a dozen books, put together I don’t-know-how-many puzzles, played Candy Land until I heard voices telling me to do things. I was midway through an imaginary perm when I needed a break.

This game of cat and mouse has been going on since September, when both of her older sisters started going to school five days a week. This is all foreign territory for me. I don’t know what it’s like to have an only child, or rather, I don’t remember. My girls are 4, 5 and 6, and right around the time I was getting used to one, another popped her little head in, well, technically out, and said, “Hey wanna play?”

Yes, there are challenges in having three so close in age. The fact that my daily dose of Zoloft coincides with a trip to the grocery store is not a coincidence. However, at home, my parenting duties are pretty much dismissed. I open the toy box and call them when it’s time for supper. Throw on their bike helmets and see them when it’s time for bed. Together they build fairy houses in the backyard, ride scooters in the driveway, or (if we’re being honest) fight like rabid, feral cats for all the neighbors to see while I ignore them and read a book on the patio in peace.

But this year is different. My youngest goes to preschool three days a week, so for two whole days, it’s me and the 4-year-old and it is all me, all the time, and it is exhausting and I had no idea.

“Sure, once we get through this stack of books, we can read every other one on the shelf 50 times!”

“Of course we can play some more! Everyone knows the first 15 rounds of Uno are just a warm-up!”

“By all means, let’s play ‘Mom Is a Jungle Gym’ again!”

There is no escape. There is no “off” button. She stalks me through the house like a lioness. She can smell me through the closet door.

The part that I’ve found most interesting is that all my friends with only children talk about the guilt they harbor in their decision to stop at one. They feel like they took the easy way out.

Well, good news, parents of one! I’ve done the official field-tested research, and you can just toss that guilt right out the window along with any hope of sneaking away a quick moment to go to the bathroom in peace while it’s daylight.

I will say, though, that despite its challenges, this one-on-one time with my youngest has made me realize that she is a real life human being. I’ve gotten to know her as her, not as the younger sibling she plays when she is with her sisters.

We sit and do puzzles, work on her letters, and just talk without being interrupted. It’s weird. I envy the parents who have been able to get to know their only child in such an intimate way right out of the gate.

The blessing in disguise is that this alone time with her has made me really want to slow down and force myself to carve out one-on-one time with my other two as well. Not any time soon, mind you, but someday—once I’ve had a chance to rest up.