I vividly remember a class back in junior high school, where I nonchalantly shared in front of everyone that I was an only child.
I don’t remember how we ended up on that topic. My best bet is that we were tasked to introduce ourselves to newcomers in our section, but my teacher had quipped, “Ah, kaya pala (Oh, so that’s why).”
As if that particular fact explained a lot about the way I behaved. I didn’t take it well at the time, because I knew that of all the often paradoxical myths that were attached to us single kids, almost none of them were positive.
Apparently, I was likely to think too highly of myself because of the way my parents showered me with affirmation, but also battle with low self-esteem since I lacked the built-in support system usually found in siblings.
On one hand, I was too dependent on others that I would trip instantly if left to stand on my own two feet, but on the other, I mature too quickly because I was often left to call the shots on my own. And since I was often left on my own, I was to end up a socially awkward mess, unable to properly interact with and relate to my peers. But at the same time, I would cling so much to friends my age to compensate for the fact that I don’t have brothers or sisters, to the point where it would suffocate them.
I knew I was imperfect, sure, but it wasn’t because of my being “the one and only.” No character flaws were exclusive to people like me. I was no different from those around me, save for the fact that there were a couple more people living under their roof, but at times it felt like there was no use defending myself in front of others.
Somehow, all signs seemed to point to me having to resent growing up the way I did, and constantly longing for a brother or sister to fill some sort of “void” I didn’t even have. And even if my parents worked hard to debunk these myths and prove that I was indeed an exception to the rule, there were certain stereotypes I couldn’t help but live up to.
For starters, I’m not exactly equipped with basic life skills. My parents did say that they always wanted to make life as convenient as possible for me, thus I was never left to cook my own food or take any mode of public transportation to get from Point A to Point B. These are what I’m trying to learn right now, so I don’t feel like I’m getting left behind.
In relation to this, I did grow up in a household with rules — I have never experienced even the occasional sleepover and pool party, and was not allowed to stay up late. I also didn’t learn how to interact with kids until very recently: I’d often freeze when someone would ask me to hold them, because there was this unshakable feeling that I’d end up dropping them.
But now that I’m 19, with a heightened sense of self-awareness, I’ve come to own and be proud of the fact that I am an only child, because most of the cherished memories I made growing up, and the personality traits that I have and admire about myself, can be attributed to it.
I know I’m expected to say that some perks I enjoy are not having to share my material possessions with anyone (alternatively known as: having the last cookie to myself) and never having to fight with anyone for stealing my things/being the favorite/calling me names/breathing in my general direction. Although true in a sense, I feel like they’re quite superficial, and have never been areas of focus for me.
What I honestly appreciate more is being on the receiving end of my parents’ undivided love and attention: I always spent time talking and bonding with them growing up, and got to know them as actual people, not the authority figures they happen to be in my life, and I’m happy that this continues to this day.
Maybe the most important one is that I’m not afraid to be alone. In a generation where being seen without a companion can be a big deal, and where taking time for one’s self is so often associated with feelings of loneliness, I consider it quite advantageous that I am comfortable being on my own.
I can bear eating by myself in the cafeteria when my friends and I don’t have any common breaks, and find pleasure in roaming around the mall, or browsing through the bookstore’s latest releases while listening to music.
Even at home while on summer break, I can easily find ways to amuse myself, and don’t mind not being in contact with people for prolonged periods of time (which is not meant to justify my slow replies to Facebook friends, I swear).
In addition, since I’ve always had a lot of time with my own thoughts, it has led to my being introspective and imaginative. I’m in touch with my feelings, almost to a fault, and find little to no trouble in interpreting the way I react to things and being able to share it with people I’m comfortable with if I need extra help. I also ponder on a lot of things and brew a great number of ideas in my head, which have worked wonders for me and my craft.
I’ve loved writing ever since I was a kid, and have gone from retellings of my favorite fairy tales to musings on everyday occurrences and think pieces regarding social issues. Without the imagination I’ve cultivated through the years, I doubt I would have been able to keep up such a mentally exhausting practice.
Now, I’m not in any way positing that single children (I’m surprised that this is the proper plural form for them, too) are in any way better than those with siblings; I bet you guys also revel in certain privileges that I will never be able to relate to. I guess it’s just about time that people flipped the coin and saw that there’s much more to us than the usual “spoiled” label thrown in our direction.
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Angel Martinez, 19, is a college sophomore taking up communications technology management at Ateneo de Manila University.
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