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Mama Said: Life as a 'oneling' parent of two

Emily Martin grew up with no siblings and, honestly, you have no idea. . .

I’m an only child. A oneling. A lonely only. I remember being in Year 9 French and we had to stand up and declare our status round the classroom, “J’ai une soeur et TROIS freres!” someone would announce, and the teacher would raise her eyebrows in a French way and exhale, “Ooh la la!” (even though she was from Yorkshire), and everyone would smile. What a busy, fun and noisy house that one must be.

And then, “Emilie, combien de freres?” and I’d smile, look a little embarrassed and shake my head (coyly in a very charming French way of course) and say, “Non. . . Je suis une enfant unique.” Tumbleweed would roll across the classroom floor. My classmates would shuffle awkwardly in their seats.

Actually, being an only child was fine. I never knew anything different, did I? So I had a totally normal and happy childhood, as far as I was concerned. At home, I pottered around in my bedroom listening to story tapes and making a parachute to lower my teddies out of the window in a bucket. And then I’d run downstairs and get them.

And in the summer, I went on many very nice cultural holidays to Europe with my art-loving parents and we’d chat in cafes, have espressos, I’d do little sketches of buildings and flick through the guidebook. A little splash of wine in my sparkling water at lunch. Afternoon snooze before heading out for dinner. Game of Draughts, Dad? Don’t mind if I do. Disneyland? What’s that? Center Parcs? Oh is that the one with the. . . what do you call those things? “Flumes”?

Though I do remember wishing very hard for someone to hang out with on those holidays. Someone to play in the pool with rather than just spinning around on my own playing “whirlpool” (DM me and I’ll teach you, it’s an only child game of champions in which there is always one winner). If we were in a hotel, I’d stare at other children in the swimming pool and try to WILL them to swim over to me. Sometimes it worked and honestly those ones were the best holidays of my life.

So here I am now, an adult. Over the years I managed to learn how to make friends and share (begrudgingly). I can cooperate with people and play two-player games. And a few years ago I stared very hard at someone long enough that we now live together in our house with TWO children. Result! I am no longer alone.

I’ve noticed in life that most things don’t live up to the hype. Barbecues being one of them (effort levels not balanced by enjoyment levels) and even Disneyland, to be honest. When I eventually got there (aged 18) it was just, like, some rides and some fireworks? What’s so great about that?

But in one respect, life’s hype has absolutely blown my little Einzelkind mind (was there ever a worse sounding word than “only child” in German?) and that’s being the mother of siblings. Not being a mother in general, which is hyped in one way (fluffy and clouds), and then shapeshifts on you and lives up to a totally different and largely secret hype that no one talks to you about until afterwards (like setting fire to your own life, in a weirdly good way).

For an only child, having no experience of siblings, and then being the mother of siblings is truly like getting a crystal ball and giving yourself the story-book childhood you always imagined while you were playing Solitaire with some stones you’d found in the garden.

The absolute fun of it makes going to Disneyland look like just going for a day at Boots the chemist. The shrieking, the laughing, the games, the whispering, the sleepovers, the dens, the climbing, the fall outs, the punch ups, the baths, the LOVE. Honestly, if you grew up with siblings, you will never understand how lucky you were.

Please though, teach your children, if they see a kid in the pool staring very hard at them or maybe spinning round alone in a rubber ring and talking in a conspiratorial way to their own right arm (because obviously they’re friends with their right arm, not their left arm who is a total loser), that child could well be an Einzelkind. Tell your kids to swim over and see if that weird kid wants to go get a Fanta or whatever. I’ll wager they’ll remember that moment forever.


Read more: Life in lockdown with little ones is no picnic, says Velvet's Emily Martin

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