I’m pretty certain there are more drawbacks to being an only child than there are advantages. People misunderstand growing up alone. They often assume the only child to be spoiled, the center of attention, the recipient of numerous gifts from parents and other relatives, all of this resulting in an individual who is self-centered and selfish. The special treatment from others was not my experience. An only child and a girl to boot for a farm family is a disappointment. Children help on the farm, and the boys grow up to run the farm. My father’s parents never expressed their regret I was a girl to me, but they did make my parents feel somewhat inadequate. Since I was a rather cute and bright child, I think I won their hearts if not their total acceptance.
What I did learn growing up alone was self-reliance which included being able to entertain myself. I developed a world of pretend where I was a princess (the fantasy of many children who think they have been stolen from their highborn parents and adopted by another set not fully appreciative of their talents but willing to hide their status from them), a maharajah, as I drove the big tractor and imagined it was an elephant, a cowgirl, always a cowgirl, and I have many photos to prove I preferred wearing my six shooters over any party dress or with my party dress. I rode different horses depending upon which of the milking stanchions in the dairy barn I chose to saddle up with my doll blankets and gallop off on. When I was older my grandparents gave me a bow for archery. It was not a child’s toy, but a real bow with arrows to shoot into hay bales. Now I was an Indian, a role I considered most appropriate because my mother told me of my Native American ancestry, a story I have shared with many and later found out through a DNA analysis to be untrue.
Holiday parties were not shared with cousins because they didn’t appear on the scene until I was much older. My family was not one for having many children. My father’s mother had three children, all two years apart. My mother’s mother had two children, my mother and her older brother two years apart. My maternal grandmother warned me about marrying someone who wanted “a big family.” I think she thought many children indicated a lack of planning and all that might imply. Instead of games with my cousins, I was allowed to play with my aunt’s jewelry in her bedroom, alone, but in my mind surrounded by other movie stars and important people who admired my taste and sense of design.
My childhood and teenage world was rich with my fantasies. I never shared them with anyone except on one occasion in fourth or fifth grade when the music teacher played a record of classical music and asked us to draw a picture of what we saw. I drew a princess in a tower and her prince below on a horse. When the teacher saw the picture, she told me my drawing was silly and that was not what the music was about. I felt ashamed and stupid and learned that fantasies were not to be shared.
There were books, always books in the house. We got television late, so I remember my father sitting in the den reading every night after he milked the cows. He sometime stayed up late enough that he went straight from his book to the morning milking. There were no limitations to what I read. My grandfather collected old books, buying cartons of them at auctions. I read Darwin around the age of nine, and , oddly, the Tarzan books. I still have many of them. Books to me were like pretending, another world into which I could escape.
I’m certain growing up alone and populating my childhood with books and my fantasies fed directly into the love I have of writing, creating stories and lives that I hope others will find exciting and interesting. Now I understand that fantasies are to be shared.
The picture was taken in the Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta, NY where Glenn and I signed books on Saturday, Oct. 1.
Are fantasies important to you?