Bursting My “Only Child” Bubble

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I am an only child—in more ways than one. I’m my parents’ only child, the only grandchild on my father’s side and the only godchild of my three godparents.

I always considered having no siblings great. Growing up, I didn’t have to share a room, my closet wasn’t 95 percent hand-me-downs and I never had to arm wrestle anyone for the last piece of dessert —after all, I didn’t have any competition.

I frequently wavered between wanting a sibling and basking in the “only child” experience.

Family vacations were often boring and self-occupied. Six Flags never happened because what self-respecting adult would risk shrieking hysterically in front of their kid as they go around the Ferris wheel (my dad doesn’t do heights, OK?). At the same time, I loved the independence. I had a good groove going. The only child life seemed like the life.

Of the few “only children” I know, almost all wanted siblings more than the privileges of being an only child—if only so they weren’t constantly the guinea pig. Life was a lot easier if you had someone else making the mistakes. With an older sibling, you didn’t have to worry about what would happen if you came home past curfew or were caught with a boy.

Then freshman year of college hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt pretty blindsided.

I didn’t have anyone ahead of me to make rookie college mistakes, warn me about college parties or how quickly deadlines could sneak up—I had to figure all of that out on my own. I envied my friends with older siblings. Even if they didn’t attend the same school, they still had someone to show them the ropes. I navigated my first year in the dark.

I struggled with the loss of personal space. No one could have prepared me for sharing a tiny space with a stranger. I went from having my own room with a queen-sized bed in a relatively quiet house (aside from Packer game days) to sharing what seemed like the world’s smallest room. I’ll admit, you learn a lot about a person when you live on top of one another.

When the year began, I considered myself one of the lucky few who had a kitchen on her dorm floor, not just one in the basement for the entire building. Despite this so-called “luck,” the kitchen was always too packed to cook or wash dishes—I don’t even want to imagine the nightmare if every floor shared one. The common rooms on the dorm floor mirrored the kitchen.

I only had half of the closet and what few clothes I had, started to disappear and end up on my roommate’s side. The dorm smelled strange and no matter the hour of the night, someone always, always blasted music. I no longer had a quiet escape. I felt constantly overwhelmed with all of the people and things happening around me that the idea of siblings no longer seemed appealing. I longed to have my personal space back…and a lot of it.

Winter break couldn’t come fast enough. Honestly, paint dried faster. I couldn’t wait to go back to my “only child” life. Although I liked my roommate and I enjoyed my college experience, I missed my sense of normalcy.

The first third of winter break went fabulously—just the “unplugging” I needed to feel like myself again. But I quickly got bored. I didn’t have friends around 24/7. I didn’t have someone to talk to as I fell asleep at unhealthy hours. Compared to dorm and college life, being an only child felt pretty mundane.

Though college didn’t necessarily make me want a sibling anymore, I realized the incredible lifestyle one has when constantly surrounded by friends. Looking back on my first year, I realize I wouldn’t have survived the all-nighters, the tough classes or the complete life change without a few things: my support system, the midnight ice cream runs or my home away from home.

This realization didn’t come until I returned home again for a much longer summer break. Though I loved my time over the relatively brief winter vacation, I knew that I would be back in my collegiate routine in a month’s time. Summer felt different. I could only talk to my friends over text, Skype and FaceTime. I wouldn’t see them for three months with everyone scattered all over the globe. I took for granted having my friends around, having freedom and finally settling into my routine.

I’m an only child and I can’t change that. But who am I kidding? I love it and all of its perks—parental attention for one—but the perfect little bubble that I existed in pre-college was no longer appealing…it didn’t include any of my new life.

It took bursting my bubble, longing for that bubble to return and then intentionally leaving it to make me realize that being an only child wasn’t all that I’d created it to be. It was more enjoyable to have constant bustling than to be on my own…even if it meant sharing a closet.

Student, singer, painter, dog lover and poetry aficionado. Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Strategic Communication and Reporting and minoring in Global Health and Environmental Studies.

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