I've mentioned before that I'm reading Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman; I mentioned it in this post about the difference between a good mother and a good father.
I'm really loving this book; it's made me laugh out loud and also cry out loud. I'm beyond jealous that I cannot write as eloquently as Waldman.
Last night, I read a section about how each of Waldman's children had in effect had a different mother. She mentions a comic strip she has stuck to her refrigerator:
The first panel is captioned "First Baby's Pictures," and it shows a pile of scrapbooks and photo albums, painstakingly labeled and organised. The second panel is acptioned "Second Baby's Pictures," and it shows a show box stuffed willy-nilly with photographs. The third panel is captioned "And So On," and it shows the parents looking at a picture on their cell phone and saying "We really should download these one of these days."
Waldman comments that with her first child, she was "young and eager," where as by the time she had her fourth, she was very laid back. Each of her four children experienced a different mother.
Thinking about it, I experienced a similar sort of thing with my childhood: my older sister was my parents' first baby to survive after several miscarriages. She was horribly premature, weighing "as much as a bag of sugar" when she was born in the 1970s, and was always the miracle child that survived. I'm fairly sure she has never, once in her life done a single thing wrong.
My parents then went on to have me, a normal and healthy baby, my brother 18 months later, and another brother 3 years later. My dad worked long hours and was often not home in the week at all; my mum was a stay at home mum, and we did a lot of "cutting and sticking" in school holidays. There was a big cupboard in our hallway whose top shelf seemed to be filled with no end of exciting things to do - such as cutting out tokens saved from numerous cereal boxes, collating them and sending them off for a singing Coco Pops badge. Or, you know, puzzles. In the Summer holidays, we went on weekly coach trips to the beach with other families from our estate, and had a close relationship with our older cousins and other people who came on the trips. I remember being surprised when I realised I actually wasn't related to a lot of the people who came on those trips; we'd always seemed close enough to be family.
When I was 9, my parents divorced. My mum had two daughters with another man, who left shortly after my youngest sister was born. My younger sisters had an entirely different childhood than I had. My mum worked, and in school holidays they attended "holiday club" at her place of work. They were often looked after by older brothers and sisters; I remember doing a lot of baby sitting when I was a teenager. The coach trips to the beach had long since stopped, and the cousins I had grown up with were now too old to be play mates for my sisters. They had other family friends with whom they spent a lot of time; people I barely knew because as I got older, I was out of the house a lot - and a moody, unsociable teenager!
It sounds weird, but until reading Waldman's essay, it had never occurred to me that children in the same family would have a different experience of the same parent.
In a way, it makes me glad S doesn't have any brothers or sisters. We have a very close bond, and I know I am doing my absolute best for her. I know plenty of parents do just fine with two, three or more children - but I worry that I could never be as focused on a second child as I have been with S. For one thing, for there to be a second child, there would need to be a man - and he would probably want some of my attention too. He'd also want some of the child's attention, I'm guessing.
S and I have a unique relationship because it's always been just the two of us. We spent our first night out of hospital with her father, and saw him almost daily until she was 3 weeks old, but after that it was just the two of us. We have our own shorthand communication, our own routine, our own way of doing things. I am proud of that, and I know there is no way that could be duplicated with a second child; I would end up feeling guilty about diluting my relationship with S, and for the second child not having such a close bond as S and I enjoy.
One of my very first blog posts was about S being an only child, and how I had hoped she would have a brother or sister to grow up with. I do still feel sad that she won't have that, but I am also happy just as we are.