My son, Emmett, was asleep in the backseat. We’d just spent the better part of the morning looking at trains in the sleepy old town of Fillmore and I was zoned out, driving east down highway 126 back toward the Valley. Then a strange thought popped into my head. This is the end of a chapter in both of our lives, I thought, his final days as an only child. In a few weeks, his sister will arrive and everything will be different.
I wish I could tell him to savor every moment, but he wouldn’t understand. That his life will never be the same. That he will have to share his space as the center of the universe with a sibling. And that having a sister will be even a greater experience than his first three years on his own.
Even if Emmett is blissfully unaware of what’s coming next, I’ve become hyperaware of this impending shift in our lives. I’m doing all I can to appreciate these moments when it’s just the two of us – balancing on the train tracks at Traveltown; watching the planes land and take off at the Van Nuys Airport; eating quesadillas at Poquito Mas. I want to always remember what it’s like to be like this because it never will be again. It’s weird, because in the scheme of this family my wife and I are creating, this period will only be a small part of it. When our daughter is born, a whole new set of dynamics will begin to play out.
So far, he seems excited by the prospect of a sister, albeit theoretically. At least there haven’t been signs of resentment when we do things like prepare his sister’s bedroom, buy her clothes, or discuss her arrival. Just the opposite, in fact. He talks about her all the time, and hugs my wife’s bursting stomach every morning and asks, “Is Olivia awake?”
Just in case, we pound him with the propaganda – books like I’m a Big Brother Now, which explains the experience in kid terms. Still, you never know what will happen the first time Emmett demands attention and has to wait.
But here’s what I’d tell him if he feels sad: Being an only child sucks. I am an expert at this, having been an only child in a broken home. Before I explain, I attach an asterisk to this. I was raised an only child, but I do have a brother. He was given up for adoption when I was 2. At the time, my mother was 20, in the process of divorcing my father, and had no real means of support.
I also inherited a stepbrother from my mom’s second husband (and later another stepbrother after he remarried), and three stepsisters from my mom’s third husband. Later still – when I was 28, to be exact -- my biological father sired a daughter. For those keeping score at home, that’s one full brother, one half sister, three stepsisters, two stepbrothers. But the stepsiblings don’t really count.
The bottom line is this: As a kid, I was alone. And I hated it, especially when my mom was between husbands. I often wondered if having a sibling to commiserate with would have made my childhood journey any easier. I always imagined it would have.
I didn’t learn that I had a brother until I was a teenager, when my mother handed me a wrinkled, laminated photo of a newborn in a hospital bassinet. It was not something she liked to talk about, so I never learned the reasons why she gave him up. But I do know that losing her child left a huge hole in her heart that could never be filled.
After my mom died in 1994, I searched for my brother. At the time, I thought I needed someone I could grieve with and fill the emotional void. Thanks to the magic of AOL, I found him within a few months. We’d never met but we grew up within a few miles of each other. He was raised in Van Nuys, while my childhood was spent in Sepulveda. When I found him, he was living a quiet suburban life in Moorpark with his wife.
I wanted desperately for us to connect, but we never have. We can’t. DNA and blood is all that holds us together, but that’s not enough. We are different people who have always led different lives. We didn’t grow up together. He never knew his mother – my mother -- and chose not to seek her out. And that’s fine. We’ve had nice moments together, such as when he came to my wedding in 2001 and met his other biological relatives for the first time – and I’m grateful for those. But my initial expectations were too high. I’ve known my brother for nine years now, and whatever communication we have now is good enough for me.
But this experience with my brother has served to highlight the importance of growing up together and having those shared experiences.
So I’m excited for Emmett. The only child in me is jealous he gets a sibling, but as a parent, I know that I’m lucky. For the next few decades I get to live vicariously through my son and daughter.
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