Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Gonna Like Me

Confession: I am an only child.

Coincidence: I married an only child.

Quirky consequence: We were able to have only one child.

I joke to friends that they can smell our "spoiled kid" stench for miles  - and our inflated sense of self-importance is likely a source of global warming. 

I'm quick to comment, "It's a small world. . .and it revolves around us." 

I admit it is a bit more complicated than that:
  • In 1969, I was adopted at age 4 months. I met my birthmother through an online registry in 2000, and discovered I had a half-sister (who was a young teen at the time in Michigan, while I was in Texas).  
  • When my husband was in college, his parents stepped in to raise my mother-in-law's infant great-nephew, as his mother was young and, well, my mother-in-law LOVES babies and would likely babysit anyone under the age of 18 months for free.  

Still, our family tree isn't so much this:

A Texas live oak - gorgeous, big - oh, so twisted and gnarly in all the right ways.
Photo courtesy:www.bergoiata.org

as it is this:

Note the bow, though. We do like to look our best - and we're still twisted.
Photo courtesy: http://www.tightwadblog.com

The NaBloPoMo theme for the month is PLAY, and you may wonder why I brought up the childhood singleton status first. Simple, really. The blog prompt for today is "Who did you play with as a child?" 

It's simple to answer: friends whose faces I remember, but whose names I forgot - with a few memorable exceptions. 

You see, in addition to getting all the toys at Christmas, and being the only suspect when something was broken, marked on or never seen again,  I was also a child in a military family. My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved. Often. Not as much as some families, but certainly more than most. The memory of a childhood best friend is, for better or worse, not one I can really recall.  As I write this, there isn't a person in my life today who grew up with me - or really knew me back then. By the time I moved to what I know call my hometown - in 3rd grade - I was afraid to get too close, and preoccupied with sensing rejection. (How handy is THAT?)

To be an adopted child, who was in foster care long enough to have my photogenic four-month-head flattened on one side due to not being moved, turned over, held or rocked to sleep - and a non-photogenic bum indicating a monumentally awful diaper rash, adding a series of moves from Michigan to California to Texas tended to make me pretty protective of my feelings - a bit like slipping on a shark suit so that rejection couldn't sink its horrid teeth in me:

Add a Cindy Brady dress, tights and patent leather shoes, and it's me! ;)
Photo courtesy: http://bostithebold.deviantart.com

My mom stayed home to raise me, which meant no daycare or babysitters.  That "available friend pool"  was tiny, as in inflatable two-ring pool tiny.  

We moved from Michigan before my first birthday, but playdates likely didn't go over to well there, anyway, when snow covered the windows for months at a time, and I wore a leg brace that I popped off all by myself. Mom's solution:  secure it with black electrical tape.  (Thank you, hip dysplasia.)

This isn't me, but this is the look. Imagine the fun - and cloth diapers, too!

In California, a neighbor's two children were my first friends: Stacie and her older brother, David. David's purpose in life, I was certain, was to show me that having an older brother was a curse.  I was 5, Stacie was 4 and David was, I think, 7-going-on-"I have a death wish." He was skilled in the art of destroying any and all girlie-girl fun.  Mud pies became weapons, Barbies were hostages, and "making girls cry" was an art form.  He did seem to enjoy it when we wanted to play doctor (the preschool version), which likely means he is a successful gynecologist in Los Angeles. 

After two moves in sunny California, we headed to Texas. In San Angelo, I befriended Christy and Suara (Sue-Aura), both of whom had moms who were, shall we say, a bit less overprotective than my Mom. Christy, who was a year younger than me, was also a diabetic. I didn't know what that meant at the time (til I turned 7 and became a diabetic, too - YAY!). Apparently, her mother hadn't caught on, either, because she gave her the same chocolate chip cookies and root beer to drink that she gave me - and would kinda, sorta, y'know, forget to give her insulin. . .or dinner. Years later, my mom would  say, "I wonder if Christy is still alive. You know, if she is, it's no thanks to her mother." 

Suara, who lived next door, was the friend who knew EVERYTHING - only I was too naive to get it. She was left alone a lot, the only child of a single mom, and I don't know where she got her information. I think she was a walking Cliffs Notes version of Cosmo and Playgirl - at the tender age of 8.  She will forever be in my memory as the first person to moon me - complete with a limerick. At the time, I was a mix of Pollyanna and Cindy Brady (without the crippling tree fall or lisp), so you know what happened:

"That is NOT how you play the glad game! Kitty Carryall and I are going HOME."
Photo courtesy: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Pollyanna

You can imagine how often I played at her house after that happened. I didn't know my mother's jaw could drop that far.  

We moved - again - shortly thereafter - and I think, by that time, my protective armor was a a bit too strong. I was less inclined to let someone in, because it hurt too much to have to let them go. Within a year, we moved yet again to a very small town in Texas, where everyone knew - or was related to - everyone else.  Winning over people with my lack of ability in athletics and lack of interest in, well, athletics, wasn't an option, so I just went on my way, wearing dresses more than jeans, reading books that I loved - and playing with my Barbies. 

By the way, if you have an only child, please try to play board games, card games and other silly things like that so your child doesn't look clueless when a friend asks him or her to play. (This public service announcement brought to you by the adult child whose best card game is Solitaire.)

So, who did I play with? A few children who stayed in my heart, but not in my life, and friends who were in my life, but I was too afraid to let too far into my heart.  Would I change things? Sure. A little less self-involvement would have been nice, but all any of us can do is learn from our history, and try to make changes that make sense.

Recently, we moved 1100 miles from my daughter's hometown, leaving the city she was born in, the house she came home to and the friends she's known since she was a toddler. She is 9. Those friends are in her heart today, and she still talks about them, e-mails them, writes to them - and misses them terribly.  Has she made friends here? A few. Are they as close as those first, fast friends who learned to read at the same time she did? Saw her read a poem onstage in kindergarten? Welcomed her back to class in second grade after she was in hospital? Sent her handmade cards at Christmas after we moved last year? No. I don't know that there ever will be friends like that for her again, but I'm grateful for what she had then, and what she still has now. These first friends still love her, miss her - and take the time to keep her in their lives. She does the same for them, because she knows how special they are - oh, and she doesn't feel the need for the sharksuit, either. 

Even today, I still get to play. With her - and her Barbies. 

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