A childhood memory drifts up …

February 1st, 2010

Sunday’s column dealt with the rude questions and comments addressed to parents of only children. I got a letter today from the mother of another only child, who suggested this answer to the “When are you having another” question: “We’re waiting to see how this one turns out first. Ask us when he’s 18.”

I suppose the ConductMom has more or less decided how I’ve turned out, and it’s not as though anyone is pushing her to give me a little brother or sister at this point, finally. But it did remind me of another thing she used to say — when I was a child, people often asked, “But aren’t you afraid she’ll be spoiled?” upon learning I had no siblings. To which my mother would reply, “We were afraid she was, but it turns out she always smells that way.”

You know I had to get it from somewhere.


4 Responses to “A childhood memory drifts up …”

  1. WhirledPeasPlease on February 1, 2010 10:23 pm

    My parents always got the rude only-child questions. The real reason that I’m an only is that my mom had five miscarriages before me and more children just weren’t possible. My mom calls me her “miracle child” (which was soooo embarrassing in middle school).

    I still get comments from strangers: “You must have been spoiled/bratty.” I usually respond, “No, and I’m even outgoing and know how to share.” I’d like to say something like, “And as a middle child, did you cling to insecurities regarding neglect and jealousy of your other, more significant siblings?”

  2. Claudia on February 2, 2010 3:20 am

    Hi Robin,

    I don’t remember seeing my parents get any rude only-child questions. Then again, they were 40 when I was born, so people who knew them probably knew I was pretty much a last-chance kid.

    People used to say some astonishingly rude things to me directly, though. The two most common were:

    1) “You’re an only child? You poor thing!”
    2) “You’re an only child? You must be a spoiled brat!”

    I’ve wondered for years what the appropriate response on my part would have been. Honestly, what is a polite child (or teenager) supposed to say to an adult who’s being so rude?

    For the record, I liked being an only child, and while I was certainly spoiled in many ways, I was well aware of the “brat” stereotype and consciously fought it.

  3. Robin on February 2, 2010 10:28 am

    WPP, good point! There are certainly stereotypes about other birth-order positions (bossy eldest, insecure middle, immature “baby” more spoiled than even an only child) — why are *we* the only ones that get asked the questions?

    Claudia, my parents were in their mid-30s and -40s, and that didn’t stop the questions. (As I said, my mother is 77 and widowed and STILL getting asked about it!)

    My mother taught me to say, “You don’t miss what you don’t have” in response to the “poor thing” kind of comments when I was a kid, which probably gave me an undeserved reputation for precocity and wisdom.

    I would LOVE to write a book of good responses for children and teens when asked rude questions by adults! Honestly, the way we pry and judge and tease them is horrible! I have no more right to ask my neighbor’s 10-year-old if he’s done his homework than he has to ask me if I’ve done my tax returns yet.

  4. E.A. Week on February 2, 2010 11:56 am

    Adults ask kids all kinds of rude questions (and then wonder why kids later turn out the way they do), and they also ask incredibly rude questions of parents.

    As children, my sister and I were very different-looking. We look more alike now, but back then, we barely looked alike at all. A woman came right up to my mother and asked, “Why do your daughters look so different?” to which Mom replied, “Didn’t you ever hear of the milkman?”

    Another time, someone made a remark to the effect of “What is WRONG with your child?” when she saw my brother’s dreadful skin condition (he had all sorts of allergic reactions as a kid, which he thankfully later grew out of). On that day, he looked particularly red and raw. My mother’s response: “Haven’t you ever heard of leprosy?”

    Maybe not the nicest things to say, but those nosy complete strangers certainly learned to back off.

    As a very tall (5’10″) fourteen-year-old, I would be asked again and again, “How did you get so TALL?!?!” to which I would reply simply, “Genetics.”

    The apple didn’t fall far from the tree (in more senses than one). : )

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