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Home(s) for the Holidays
I know all too well what little Eudora is going through.
Eudora wants a sister. Eudora wants a brother. Eudora is confused, angry, bored. She’s just a young punk now, around 5 or 6 years old, but in a few years, Eudora’s frustrations will intensify. Eudora will need someone to take the heat when she inadvertently snarfs down an entire bag of Nutter Butters. Eudora will need someone to blame when Dad’s “special books” are absent-mindedly left on the bed. Eudora will pray for someone to commiserate with when her parents pull from the Borders bag that horrific Where Did I Come From? cartoon sex book and get way too serious about penisesoh noand vaginastell me this isn’t happening.
Eudora, of course, is an only child. I, too, am an only child. (And so are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alan Greenspan and Lauren Bacall and the guy who played Cousin Howie on The Fall Guy. And so were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Cole Porter and Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.)
And god forbid if Eudora, the star of a new children’s book written by two local psychologists, follows in my muddy footsteps. For if she does, then, when she is 30 years oldand her parents are divorced, and her dad is remarried, but her mom, well, collects teddy bears, and that horrible doomsday stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas commences, and guilt forces her to risk same-day multiple-turkey-dinner tryptophan overdose so as not to set Mom off on an “Is she a better cook?” tiradeEudora will contemplate hitching a ride to Vegas, settling down in a grimy off-the-Strip efficiency, and living the rest of her lonely life chain-smoking at the blackjack tables. (The holiday season is also when Eudora will start having those recurring Rain Man fantasies: estranged sibling hidden away in loony bin who can count cards. Very cool.)
But rest assured: Eudora, who also happens to be a purple rhinoceros, has a good shot at being a well-balanced only child. Her parents do weird things like hug and smile, and never do they call each other inventive Neil Simonian nicknames.
Chances are Eudora will never despise the cruel, cruel winter months because they mean single-handedly tracking down (and paying for all by her lonesome) hundreds of goddamn Christmas gifts for her mom and dad that can never be similar but must always cost the same. Not to mention finding gifts for her father’s wife: Those gifts must be thoughtful and possess the power to elicit Waltons-sized hugshowever, the total price of her stepmother’s gifts can never exceed the total price of her mother’s. Oh, and how about this little chestnut: Christmas morning must always be spent with her mom, or else the crazy old woman will start saying things like, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll just go wander around Ames. I think they’re open today.” Yes, all very important rules to remember.
Anyway, thanks to Why Am I an Only Child?, co-written by McLean, Va., psychologist Jane Annunziata and Potomac, Md., psychologist Marc A. Nemiroffboth parents of only childrenEudora has become the most pivotal purple perissodactylous singleton of all time. The colorful, upbeat book was written in response to one of the fastest growing back-up-the-toy-truck segments of our society: the single-child family.
Get a load of these stats: According to a recent Time magazine article, a third of American families started today will have only one child. And according to a recent Washington Post article, the percentage of women in the U.S. who have one child has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. According to the Census Bureau’s Birth Expectation Survey, the number of women ages 18 to 34 in our country who plan to have one child has increased from 12.7 percent, in 1985, to 13.9 percent, today. And according to Carolyn White of Onlychild.com, a Web site devoted to snotty little bastards like me, about 20 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 are without siblings.
Needless to say, Eudora, in her anointed role as their leader, is gonna be one busy little girl.
Annunziata, who specializes in treating children and familiesand has been getting more and more only-child-specific inquiriescame up with the idea for Eudora after she picked up her son from preschool many years ago and he perceptively voiced the book’s title: “Why am I an only child?”
The more I talk to Annunziata over the phone, however, the more I realize that the “interview” (I stop taking notes halfway) is turning into a “session” (I start doodling unhappy-looking stick figures). In fact, I might as well be sprawled on a couch by conversation’s end.
“Only-child families are more and more common now,” Annunziata says in soothing, shrink-wrapped tones. “It’s less of a big deal. But kids still think, I feel different and I feel lonely….And parents often have a lot of guilt for having one child.”
Yes, yes. That’s good. I’m feeling better already (smiling, joyous stick figures). Keep going:
“The holidays are a time when you feel [being an only child] more acutely. The holidays magnify your feelings. It can feel more pronounced….There’s no one to share the burden.”
Now you’re talking, doc. Burdens. Goddamn burdens. (Kill the stick figures! Kill ’em!) I get pissed with envy when I hear people such as a co-worker, the otherwise affable Mr. Big Pants, brag about how he’s gonna kick back on Thanksgiving and enjoy a leisurely holiday at home. That’s not fair: The guy doesn’t even watch football. Sure, Mr. Big Pants endures parental complications, too, but he also has a sister on whom he can pawn off the problem. I’m shit out of luck. In factand this is the absolute truthas I’ve been writing this, both of my parents have called to complain about never seeing me.
So go now, Eudora. You lead them. Be patient. Be kind. Tell them about all the toys and the attention. Tell them how every family, no matter how many people are bitching around the dinner table, is strange and screwed up. And tell them about the benefits of never having to share your Halloween candy (that is, unless you unwisely attend a grade-school trick-or-treat party where Mrs. Hickey forces you to divvy up your chocolate booty with all the other kidsand did she really expect me to trade a Krackel for a friggin’ apple without throwing a hissy fit?).
And please, Eudora, don’t worry about me: It’s too late for yours truly. I’m a lost cause. Save the onlys who can still be saved. For yet another year, I’ll stuff myself into a turkey trance at my father’s house and then, dead-dog-tired, will drive to my mother’s, steering the car with my tongue and trying to figure out just how in the hell I’m going to cram even more turkey into my headall without a brother or sister with whom to split the guilt.
Happy Thanksgiving? Yeah, maybe for Mr. Big Pants. Sean Daly