Today on our way home from the zoo, CJ pipes up from the backseat with this,
“Mom, I want to get a baby.”
“A baby?” I find myself floundering for a response. This isn’t the first time he’s asked, and still I don’t know quite what to say. So I ask, “Why do you want a baby?”
“Because a baby will grow up to a kid. And then we’ll have a kid in our house that I can play with.” he pauses, thoughtful. “And also I like babies.”
“I know you do, sweetie.”
“We have to get a baby, mom!” his tone is urgent, commanding. Like he expects me to turn the car around and drive right to the baby store where we can pick up our own made-to-order brother.
Instead I give a non-committal “mm-hmm” and turned up the radio.
Lately CJ is obsessed with having a brother, a sister, or a baby. The topic comes up more and more. It’s natural, I suppose. CJ is a sociable little guy, and he sees his friends who have siblings and wants one for himself.
But every time he asks, it’s as if a knife turns in my chest.
I never intended for CJ not to have a sibling. I never intended him to grow up alone.
I always saw myself with three children… maybe even more.
Funny how life never gives you what you expect.
When CJ was 1 1/2, I found myself pregnant. It was NOT planned, but somehow had happened. After three months of morning sickness I went in to have the first ultra-sound and hear the heartbeat. The baby was healthy! the doctor assured me. We’d passed the point where risks of miscarriage are high! she was happy to inform. A week later I lost the baby.
It took me two years to recover, to even consider trying again.
But time marches on, no matter how madly we want to shout for it to STOP, just HOLD ON for a minute so that I can THINK! It ticks and tocks and vanishes and before you know it years have passed and you wonder where they went.
So it was with us until we found ourselves here, with a 4 1/2 year old son and no hint of another.
Still it feels strange when people assume that CJ is an only child. When they talk about our three-person family in such finite terms… as if it was our choice, as if it is set. The first time it happened– that someone referred to CJ as an “only child”– it gave me a jolt.
Only child? I thought, He’s not an only child! He just doesn’t have any siblings YET. That’s not the same as being an only child!
But as time has passed I’ve grown to realize that CJ is an only child. At 4 1/2, even if we did run down to the baby store and “pick him up a brother”, I think he’d pretty much still be an only child. Because at some point (5 years? 6 years? 7 years?) the age gap is too great to cross for any kind of meaningful sibling relationship… at least as children. How can a 10 year old really relate to a 5 year old? Or a 15 year old with a 10 year old? I just don’t see it happening.
When he turned three, I thought I was ok with it. I had carefully thought through all the benefits of him being an only child. Like how you get to spend this intense one-on-one time together. How well we know him. How easily he makes friends, because he’s had to.
But as he grows up my heart aches for him. When I see him playing alone in his room. When he has bravely interrupts yet another group of children at the playground to try and find a playmate. And especially when his questions show me how much his little heart yearns for another child to share his growing up with.
Oh, I know that it’s ok to be an only child.
I know that sometimes siblings are overrated.
I know that CJ will be FINE.
I know that somewhere is a woman who desperately wants to have just ONE baby. Who would give anything to be in my position.
But knowing these things doesn’t really help with the ache. Feelings aren’t rational, as much as we wish they would be. And so I grieve for the family I took for granted that I would have, for the realization that the future that I always planned is now, and it isn’t as I planned it.
And even while I feel sadness, there’s also a feeling of hope. That my life isn’t as I’d expected, but that doesn’t have to be bad.
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” Ralph Waldo Emerson