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The What-If Scenario

A few years ago, I spent some time pondering what I called the what-if scenario. Back then, the what-if scenario was my imagined life had I stayed in San Francisco and had Simon there. The what-if-scenario is back, only now it goes like this: What if Simon had a younger brother or sister?

By now, it’s clear that he’s my one and only. Simon is almost 5, I’m over 41, and it seems to me that the window on a second child closed a year or two ago. I idly pondered the notion, Matt has been quite happy with the status quo, and now we’ve all settled into our triad family. Most qualms I had about the decision were quieted by reading more about only children. Turns out, the little emperors* do just fine.

Still, every now and again I think about how being an only can be a burden to Simon. He’s the sole focus of our parenting focus, he won’t have a comrade in arms when he enters teenage rebellion, and he will have the sole burden of taking care of his parents when Matt and I get old. So while we’re a happy family now, I don’t kid myself that there aren’t any draw-backs to the arrangement.

It’s not ambivalence or regret fueling my current speculation as much as it is having the chance to preview an alternative reality. With Agotich at our house three mornings a week and with Simon visiting her apartment another two to three, I have more time than ever to see Simon in a multi-child setting. Last week, on a day I needed to drop off Agotich at school first, I had Simon help me take her to her class. I lined the kids up in the parking lot, asked Simon to carry Agotich’s back-pack for her, and marched us into the building in a hand-holding line.

To the untrained eye, we were a normal family unit heading into preschool. (I heard more than one smiling parent say something about Simon being a good big brother.) For their parts, Agotich put up much less resistance to holding Simon’s hand in the parking lot than she does with mine, and Simon beamed with pride at the responsibility of keeping Agotich safe and headed in the right direction.

Then there’s Anyieth. Or “Yethie” or “Bethie” as Simon likes to say. He adores her. When we hit Alek’s apartment, he heads straight for the nursery if Anyieth isn’t in the living room. He’s content to watch her sleep, happy to bounce her seat or tickle her belly, thrilled when she smiles or laughs for him, and dedicated to showering her with kisses. Last week he held her for the first time and then talked about it for days.

At first, I thought he was saying and/or doing this to get praise from me. Simon knows that he gets lots of compliments when he’s sweet and caring. But I think I underestimated Yethie’s appeal. When he looks at her, he has the same look on his face that I do when I look at him. It’s that combination of intense focus and softness that are the hallmarks of familial love.

At this point, I think Agotich and Anyieth are family to Simon. It’s not the same, of course. They don’t spend enough time together to squabble (much), and Simon doesn’t have to compete for resources, but he sure likes being “a big brother” to them and feeling part of a unit. The secret to getting rid of any toy in our house is to tell him that it’s for Agotich. He’s also been insistent that they come to his family birthday party this year. And then there’s the biggie. Early this week he asked me if we could have a baby sister like Yethie, too.

The answer I gave him, which satisfied him, is the same one I used when I settled on having an only child myself:

“No, honey, I’m afraid you aren’t going to have a baby sister or brother. Mommy and Daddy think that the three of us make a great family. But you can always have other children in your life, and you can love them like you would family. You never know what might happen.”

*”Little Emperor” is a term used to describe the generation of only children in China as a result of their one-child policy. These kids, especially the boys, benefit from their parents’ attention and growing wealth, but often feel the strain of  being expected to perform to extremely high and rigid expectations.

One Response to “The What-If Scenario”

  1. blg says:

    Good for you, Jess.

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