Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
The One and Only . . .
December 26, 1997
Only children are spoiled brats as kids and maladjusted and unhappy
adults. So says the stereotype. Well maybe only children have gotten a
bum rap through the years. I speak with some authority on this subject
since I am one of those spoiled brats.
Countless books and articles have been written about only children and
usually they try to explain us as though we are a distinct species.
Granted, there are some characteristics that most of us have in common,
like being perfect, but I do not believe that our personalities are
entirely dependent on how many siblings we have. After all, Elton John
and I are both onlies. We do not have "O's" tattooed on our foreheads
so you can't pick us out of a crowd by looking at us. I just
discovered that a woman with whom I have been playing Mah Jong for five
years is an onlie. All this time I thought she was perfectly normal.
I will confess that, however, that given loving and supportive parents
or parent, the only child has a lot of advantages. I got to do a lot
of grown-up things that most of my friends missed. Taking one child out
to dinner or to a show is quite different from taking several.
Fortunately for me my folks loved live entertainment. Come to think of
it, when I was a kid there wasn't much of any other kind. The movies
were still few and far between and television wasn't even a glint in
anybody's eye. So we saw practically all the vaudeville that came to
Denver. Remember vaudeville? The Orpheum had a new show every week,
everything from opera singers to jugglers, from stand-up comics to
exerpts from Shakespeare. Our favorite acts involved those two person
horses prancing around the stage. My Dad thought they were the funniest
things in the world and practically rolled in the aisle. I still don't
quite understand it, but you never know what a parent will find funny.
The Broadway Theater in Denver was a stopping point for a lot of famous
entertainers. Most of them I have long since forgotten, but I do
remember hearing that funny little Scotsman, Harry Lauder in his kilt,
leaning on his crooked cane singing "Roamin' in the Gloamin'." And my
favorite comedienne of all time, Bea Lillie, played the Broadway once.
Imagine my indignation on reading that Joan Rivers thinks she is the Bea
Lillie of the nineties. Not.
So what I lacked in built-in play mates, I made up in other ways.
According to researchers on the subject, onlies tend to be
overachievers. There's nobody to knock them down. (When they become
adults there are plenty of people to knock them down, but that's another
story.) They tend to have a high level of self esteem and they are
generally highly motivated toward education. Since they are constantly
encouraged, they drive themselves very hard trying to live up to
These kids grow up with the exclusive love and attention of their
parents. They don't spend their childhood being yelled at by siblings
who call them "dumb." They aren't forced to share everything they
have, a trait which is alien to children's nature. They usually feel
very secure. Why not? They never have to compete for attention. And
when it's time to grow up, most of them are able to do it successfully.
I don't like to brag, but I am in some pretty good company. Many of the
famous onlies are artistic people, Van Cliburn, Burt Bacharach, Lillian
Hellman, James Michener, Leonardo da Vinci. On the somewhat more
practical side, there were John Kenneth Galbraith and William Randolph
Hearst. And there were two great humanitarians, Indira Ghandi and
Eleanor Roosevelt. To keep the balance, there is at least one famous
football player, Roger Staubach and that all time romantic, Clark Gable.
As a kid I enjoyed being an only child and as an adult, I am very much
aware of the advantages I had. But I do envy the relationships I see
between adult brothers and sisters. Oh well, you can't have everything,
and I'd rather be an only child than a septuplet.