When people find out that I’m an only child, they’ll often make some kind of comment about how lucky I was to not have to share my belongings, or to have my parents “all to myself.” Logically, I can see how this might look like it’s the case, but it’s not exactly true. I grew up in a house in the middle of the woods, about a mile outside of town. Most of the time, there were no other kids around to play with. My parents didn’t have a lot of friends, so we didn’t have company often. My mom was/is a stay-at-home mom, so I had her, but my dad was always working, often not making it home until after I’d already gone to bed in the evening. I was lonely. I was also introverted, which back then just came across as shy and weird, so I didn’t make friends easily. Mostly, I just sat in my hammock out in the yard and read a lot.
My father is the oldest of three boys, and though both of my uncles also had children, their oldest kids are seven years younger than I am. Now that I’m in my 30’s, having cousins in their mid-20’s doesn’t seem like such a huge age gap. When you’re 15 and your closest relation is 8, it’s a little difficult to relate. Also, my mother’s only sibling, a sister, decided not to have children, so I’m the only kid on that side. Summer vacations at my maternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically younger than everyone else, while trips to my paternal grandmother’s house felt lonely because I was drastically older than everyone else. On top of all that, from kindergarten through sixth grade I was sent to a private Christian school, and I was the poorest kid in class. My bookish behavior, worn-out Kmart clothes, and complete lack of understanding of pop culture did not earn me friends, let’s just put it that way.
So childhood was uncomfortable. As I got older, I started to focus more and more on just getting the hell out of dodge, and starting over again. The focus for my family was always that I get a great education, so I excelled in high school and applied to good colleges. I was excited to get into Tulane for undergrad, and once I moved away things got a lot better. Though I didn’t become a new person, I did find different ways to express myself. I pushed myself to be more outgoing. I found friends, and eventually those friendships built a family structure. Now, my friend family feels more real to me than my actual family.
It doesn’t help my relationships with folks back home that as I grew and explored, my life experiences began to shape my understanding of the world. My life in a small town in the country paled in comparison to my new experiences in New Orleans, Chicago, and across the world as I traveled and met people from all walks of life. My education level began to set me apart from my family, as well. I have a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, while most of my family members went to work right after high school, or else got bachelor’s degrees from smaller local colleges and then jumped into the workforce. It doesn’t matter much to me, but at home, people tend to mention my school career to me in a condescending way pretty often, like getting an education is a negative trait. I’ve given up trying to figure out what that means.
Also, I found that as I got more and more into modern tech and gadgetry, both for work and for kicks, I started finding that I had even less to talk to my mother and father about. Eventually, there couldn’t help but be this huge divide between us. All of the things that I take for granted about the way the world works are just not part of the world that they see every day. Their views are also often shuttered and prejudiced, so I find myself having to ignore a lot of things, while picking and choosing what “battles” to undertake, what ideas to gently attempt to instill to try to negate the prejudice (and sometimes, complete ignorance). It’s not easy. It’s not fun. I hate it. Luckily, both of my parents love me very much, and try their hardest to relate to me. It’s obvious when we’re talking to each other that we’re all doing our best to figure out how to talk to each other and keep the bond strong; it’s just nothing like what I know/see/experience happening with my friends and their families, so sometimes it gets me down.
The one bright spot in my family is my cousin Crystal, who’s my oldest female cousin. She’s almost eight years younger than me, but we’ve always been close-ish. When she was a tiny, chubby thing with a huge smile, she’d always follow me around everywhere, and as she got older we bonded over being the outsiders in the family. We’re the only members of the family to move away from North Carolina, and with me being pagan and her being an atheist, we’re both damned for all eternity as far as our family is concerned. So there’s that to bond over, lol! Plus, we’re both pretty geeky, which doesn’t hurt. But there’s still enough of a gap in our ages that we aren’t buddy-buddy or anything. It’s just nice to know I have one family member that gets me, and I think she feels the same way. We talk on Facebook every couple of weeks, so that’s nice.
Either way, here I am – the black sheep of the family, even though I’ve done everything “right”. An adult who hasn’t seen her parents in three years, and tries never to go home to North Carolina if she can avoid it. Someone who wants desperately to connect with her family, but mostly feels like she has nothing at all in common with them. Someone who convinces herself that feeling like an outsider is just in her imagination, only to have it proven over and over again that she has never fit in, and never will. If I felt like I didn’t belong there as a child, it’s definite that I actually don’t belong there now, as a grown woman. I don’t feel like I have an extended family, most of the time. I love my parents, but I’m often exasperated with them, and they with me. All I want is a big family that laughs together and could be counted on in a pinch. It makes me sad that I might never have that. But I guess that’s just what happens to some of us.