It may come as a surprise for you to discover that I’m an only child. (No shit, says everyone, everywhere.) But seriously, I am, with all the traits and foibles of a human being with no siblings. When I was growing up, I was insanely jealous of kids with brothers and sisters. The more the merrier, I thought, which is probably why I went on to have three children, and positively REVEL in the chaos a big family brings. Honestly, I do. I mean yes, sometimes I sit in my wardrobe and weep, and just this morning I took my breakfast and snuck – actually snuck – out the front to enjoy it, even though I was still in my pyjamas, and even though I could hear all three of them shouting for MUUUUUUUMY, but fuck it, it was worth it, for five minutes peace and solitude. But for the most part, yes, I love having a big family. I love that my kids have each other.
When I was little, my biggest fear was that my mum and dad would die and I’d have to go to the orphanage on my own. I didn’t worry that I’d have to go to the orphanage – hey, I’d seen Annie, I knew how these things could pan out – but that I’d have to go on my own.
As a child, I also had seven imaginary friends. Excessive, no? It is perhaps telling that the seven imaginary friends were, in fact, a family of orphaned bears, called Arthur, Belinda, Brigitta, Barbara, Alexander and, god, I can’t remember, Stuart and Dave, or something. Paul reckons that’s an only child thing – not being an orphaned bear, but having imaginary friends, and I think he might have a point. Kids with siblings don’t need imaginary friends, they’ve got their little gang with them all the time. How cool is that?
I loved spending time with big families as a kid. My best friends all had between two and six (six!) siblings (Catholics), and – to this day – I love being in the middle of that chaos, just like I love watching the way my own kids interact now. I am FASCINATED by the dynamics of siblings. One minute they’re snogging the face of each other, the next they’re leaving bite marks on their shoulders. I have to keep asking Paul: is this NORMAL? And he tells me – as the middle child of three – that it’s entirely normal, and goes on to remind me that he once threw a dart at his younger brother’s head, and had to pull it out before his mum spotted it. (Sorry Daz.)
I have it on good authority that people from large families are jealous of only children. I get that. I did have everything I ever wanted. The best Sindy house, four Cabbage Patch Kids (original, with the Xavier Roberts signature on the arse, not hand-stitched out of an old pair of tights), a My Child and countless ra-ra skirts and stretch belts from Miss Shop. I was spoilt, yes, and I wanted for nothing. But I was also lonely, because however much I willed my My Child to speak, she remained obstinately mute, the little bitch.
And another thing. Can you imagine how much PRESSURE only children feel to grow into successful, responsible adults? I mean, I’ve got three kids, and I’m sort of assuming that one will be gay, one will go to jail and one will become an accountant. Or possibly one child will do all three. Anyway, what I’m saying is, I’m hedging my bets. Out of three kids, I just need one to pay for my retirement and one to give me grandchildren. The other one can sit in his pants all day and play Minecraft and eat biscuits, if he (or she) wishes. But when you’re an only child – well, let me tell you, the pressure is ON.
So yeah, I wish I had a brother or sister. Even now, when mum is being extra weird, and making a big deal out of MY OVEN BEING DIRTY AND THE GUTTERS NEEDING PAINTING, I wish I could turn to a sibling and say, ‘Mum, eh, she’s a one, isn’t she?’ And when someone takes Alice’s dummy, and Frankie steps in to ask for it back, I feel a strange stab of jealousy, because that’s what I wanted: a big brother to look out for me … and then bite me square on the arse.