When taught Grade 11 University English, the first essay I had my students write was a personal persuasive essay with the working title, ‘What I Believe’. I usually tried out every writing assignment I gave my students so that I could have a better and personal understanding of what each one required. And I never tried writing my own personal ‘What I Believe’ essay. So…here’s mine.
I Should Have Been an Only Child
I’m the youngest of three girls. For the most part, I was given to know by my wonderful family that I was too young for most stuff and also third in line. Because of that, I got to experience such joyful things as having to wear hand-me-downs, having to sit in the middle of the back seat in the car, not being invited along when my sisters got to do something fun with their friends, and following my sisters through school and often having the same teachers as they did.
The earliest memories I have of the joys of not being an only child were that, except for Christmas and my birthday, I rarely got new anything including clothes and toys. I know that my parents didn’t have gouts of money to spend on clothes that their kids would rapidly grow out of. However, the fact is that my mom often got clothes given to her by one or other of her friends who had girls older than my oldest sister. So, my oldest sister got hand-me-downs which then went on to my middle sister. Finally they would be passed down to me. So, I didn’t get hand-me-downs which were once removed from their original owner. I got hand-me-downs which were four times removed from the girl for whom they’d been bought. It goes without saying that the clothes were often very worn and were most definitely out of style by the time they reached me. The only saving grace was that I quickly grew and became taller than my sisters so that the clothing was often too small for me once it reached me. In the end I might not have had a great wardrobe but it ended up being new to me simply because it had to be.
And then there was Lorlie. Lorlie was a very old and rather sad bear which was stuffed with sawdust. She had been green and white at one point in her life. By the time she was passed down to me, she was green and gray. Her ears had been mended many times. She only had one glass eye. Her once fluffy fur was almost threadbare. That would never have mattered if she had truly become mine. However, my sister Lyn let me know in no uncertain terms that I only had Lorlie on loan because my mother said that I was to be allowed to play with her. Needless to say, I never enjoyed the experience of having Lorlie because I never really had her.
When I grew up, cable TV or computers or iPods or cell phones didn’t exist. For family fun, we’d often go for long drives on Sundays. My mother would pack enough lunch for all of us and we’d pile into the car and drive out into the countryside. At the appropriate time, we’d stop and eat our lunch in the car. Now, as the youngest kid, I was expected to sit in the middle of the back seat of the car with my feet over the hump of the drive shaft and with me having to fend off the elbows of my sisters who would be on either side of me. The problem was I would get car sick. If I wasn’t near a window so that I could crack it open and breathe in fresh air, the odds were that I would inevitably throw up. Now, when you’re in the middle of the back seat, getting out of the car in a hurry in order to hurl without messing up yourself or your travelling companions or your seat is pretty much impossible. And if my father was driving, he would have to find a place to move off the road so that I could get out. My digestive system often did not co-operate with the need to wait. The only solution, and one which my sister Lyn groused about each time we were in the car, was for me to sit near a window so that I could get some air. My carsickness which I could not help was something I was blamed for because she had to defer to it.
As I grew up and until I developed a group of my own friends on the street, I got to watch my sisters throw parties while I was expected to stay upstairs in my room and play by myself. I got to watch them go on trail rides when we went away to Maple Lake Lodge in the summer. The company which offered these experiences considered me too young to be part of the group. And I got to be lied to when I knew my sisters were planning something at the lodge and I wanted to go. I was told that they wouldn’t be doing whatever it was anyway. And, to make the lie plausible, my sisters would wear their pyjamas like they were going to bed. That I would believe. I didn’t know until later, when Lyn delighted in telling me of their ruse, that they were wearing pyjamas over their outside clothing. They were only waiting for me to go to bed and fall asleep before they would go out with their summer friends. And my parents sanctioned their behaviour. Sort of, “What Jeanie doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Think again!
The absolute worst was that I followed my sisters through elementary and secondary school. And the worst of all of those memories was in grade 5. My sister Sheila had had Mr. McDougall for grade 5 and then grade 6. The following year, my sister Lyn had him for grade 5. And the year right after that, I got him as my grade 5 teacher. I still remember him saying, early in the school year, “I expected more of the sister of Lynette and Sheila Winter.” So, I was always compared to them – either I had to live down what they had done or, and this was much more likely, I had to live up to them as if they were paragons of educational virtue. I cannot describe the relief I felt when I entered grade 12 and both of my sisters were no longer in high school. Just me! The magnificent freedom of that!
I’ve often thought about what my life might have looked like if I had been my parent’s only child. I would not have had to share my clothes and my toys with my sisters. I would not have received things which they had already used or worn. Sure, what I had might not have been new, but I would have been the only one in the family to make use of it. There would never have been any fighting about who sat where in the car. I would not have been excluded from things my sisters did because I was too young. And I would never have had any sort of family reputation to live up to in school.
I think that the greatest thing that would have happened in my life is that I would not have felt as if I was an inconvenience. I would not have felt as if I had to earn what was given to me whether it was clothes or toys or space or individuality. And I would not have had the bliss of judging my worth in relation to anyone else in my family. I know that kids do that with their peers. I just would not have had the added bonus of having that happen in my family. I would not have felt as if I were of no consequence.
Let me say that, as an adult, I’m glad that my sisters are part of my life. That being said, to me and for me, there is no doubt about it. I should have been an only child.