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Camilla Webster Headshot

Grateful Only Child, The Manhattan Phenomenon

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My friends have a lot of nasty, difficult, tiresome, depressed, troubled, confusing, greedy, outrageous, rebellious, selfish, irresponsible siblings. I do not. I am an only child.

The word only is so close to lonely in the English language that our minds immediately turn to unhealthy maudlin latch-key children left in adult rooms on a quiet carpet with a forlorn toy. Shy little beings, which struggle to communicate and socialize, but let's debunk that right away with a handy little study from the New York Times.

More often than not being an only in NY means you have your own room, you play with friends, and if your parents have the opportunity you are thrust into a sea of onlys and siblings at every minute of your formative years from the Central Park playground to camp because your type-A parents are so scared of what Great Aunt Matilda said about the issues of socialization facing only children. You are drilled to share so actively you are less likely to say "mine" than anyone's sibling. You are one of a great many gifted children in this city with their own unique identities who roam this amazing metropolis with eyes like saucers and an endless appetite for stimulation from The Natural History Museum to the N Train.

In New York City, being an only is more the norm rather than the exception and it often comes down to closet space, bathrooms and bedchambers. Even wealthy New Yorkers who enjoy a classic six on Park Avenue have only one bedroom for the children if they have live-in help. At a certain age (the time when brothers and sisters start staring at each other and wanting their privacy), these families begin the move to the suburbs and the onlys rule the schoolyard!

Googling the topic I noticed another New York Times story on the Motherlode blog where a woman in the comments remarked that having an only child "was the right decision for our family, but I just hope it doesn't create a burden for her later in life if we die young, or if she doesn't find a partner etc."

When I have experienced a family illness people are quick to say, "it's so hard that you are an only. If you had siblings it would be easier." What a false statement. I have watched one friend after another bear the burden of caring for their sick parents as if they were an only. I've seen others squabble over the nature of their parents' care to no end with brothers and sisters, until, completely tuckered out, they were left to hate each other. I have been the shoulder for the sibling who couldn't feel more alone. I am an only and I couldn't feel more love because as an only I'm always loved up, not loved down.

As an adult, I will never be an aunt by blood. I will never have nieces and nephews that look like me. If I have them I will love them with great fun and fierceness. The only time I felt like the cliché only child in my lifetime is when I left Manhattan for a visit to suburbia in my childhood. I was not part of this ecosphere of minivan collections, cheerleading, tball and family dinners off the highway. I respect that way of life, but it's not mine and it's not designed for only children. Proximity alone to other little beings and acitvities would make it lonely. That's not easy.

So, it's no surprise as an only I was born, raised and I'm still making my life happen here and I'm grateful.

This post was previously published on nynatives.com