The Only Child

I don’t know about your’s, but my experiences with children who are the only one in their family would tell me that very often they are very narcissistic, self-centered, and victor-van-welden-596129-unsplashspoiled. Because these only children often get an abundance of attention from their parents and others, they learn to expect to be the center of attention in the extended family, at school, with peer friends, and with adult friends of their parents.   This is not to say that every only-child gets an abundance of attention from their parents.  Sometimes it’s just the opposite and they are sent away from home to boarding schools, private summer camps, or stay home with nannies or nursemaids, thus relieving parents of the need to be with them while they are young.  In any case a child who grows up without siblings or other children around them frequently displays the above kinds of behavior.

When the only child begins school or is involved with other groups of children, they also display self-centeredness and expect others to cater to their wishes and plans.  When others fail to oblige them, anger, rage, defiance, and threatening behaviors emerge as temper tantrums.  These behaviors frequently scare other children or bring out retaliation, avoidance, and other behaviors that exclude the only child. In order to avoid threatening behaviors and to placate the only child, others will sometimes be cooperative or supportive to him.


In my home, I grew up like an only child. My two siblings were considerably older and lived away from home when I was young.  Because of this I received a lot of attention from my parents, my siblings when they were home, and often other adult friends of others in my family.  I relished that attention and grew to expect it from others, both children and adults.  Like the only child, I wanted to be the center of attention and acted selfishly much of the time.  When others rejected me for my inappropriate behaviors I would withdraw and feel sorry for myself.  Or, I would fly into a rage, threatening those who whom I perceived were hurting me.

The summer I turned 8 my parents made two decisions that affected me in ways I never dreamed of before.  Their first decision was to take a month of vacation and travel from Kansas to the West Coast.  That July of travel broadened my horizons considerably through many first time experiences.

Before that trip, which would take us through 9 new western states, I had only visited neighboring states Missouri and Oklahoma. For the first time I saw mountains, first in the distance from Eastern Colorado and then up close as we drove through the Rockies. We visited the Royal Gorge, The Garden of the Gods, and my first visit below Earth’s surface at The Cave of the Winds!  In Denver we visited the Zoo and Natural History Museum, two new experiences for me.  We watched big fireworks displays and visited the airport on July 4th, and were involved in a fender-bender auto accident the next day as we left Denver for Wyoming.  I had never been an accident before and it scared me so I was anxious and afraid to go on!  As we headed across desolate Wyoming, I was depressed and begged Mom and Dad to turn around and go home.

Then we arrived at Lander, Wyoming, just in time to watch a big Indian pow-wow!  Another first:  Real Indians and Indians Dancing to the beat of their big drums.  My depression dissipated quickly.  And Mom told me we’d be arriving at Yellowstone National Park the next day.  While trying to wrap my mind around a park so big, Mom taught me how to read the road map that was really a big atlas of road maps of the U.S. my folks bought before the trip.  She showed me how she had marked the route of our travels so far and how to orient the map with North at the top.  I quickly found that “reading” the map book was exciting and I wanted to know where we would be going from there.

The next parts of the trip were rather non-exciting as they took us to visit people I didn’t really know in Montana and Idaho, across a corner of Oregon and on West to San Francisco.  The longest suspension bridge in the world, between Oakland and San Francisco and the cable cars there were exciting, but paled in comparison to my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean!

Gary-at-OceanSeeing a real ocean for the first time was overwhelming!  I had learned the word “horizon” before, but actually seeing the horizon as a straight line far in the distance with nothing but water in between made it real to my almost 8-year-old self.  I ran from the car, hurrying down the beach to the water.  Mom was crying-out something from the car, but I couldn’t hear her.  As I reached the water’s edge, I realized, too late,  that the water was moving in my direction and REALLY FAST!  The surf swept over my shoes and quickly climbed almost to my knees, scaring me so much I almost fell over into it as I turned and ran to the dry beach.  It was then I decided to scramble upon a nearby plank of wood that was sticking upright in the sand where it looked much safer.

From the Pacific shore we headed south along the length of California and east across the Mohave Desert, another first for me, then into Arizona and New Mexico.  As we crept across these states at what seemed a snail’s pace we saw more Indians and lots of dry, red earth with little growing in it.  We saw more petrified wood than I could shake a stick at (petrified, of course). My 8thbirthday was celebrated when we reached Albuquerque and I remember my folks buying me a small bow and arrow from a road-side Navajo stand. While they rested I had fun shooting my arrow all around the place where we stopped for the night.

The rest of the trip home, I remember little about except that it seemed never to end.  I missed my friends and wanted to get home to tell them all about all the new experiences I had!

I guess you’ll have to wait for my next blog post to find out about the rest of that summer and the other big decision my parents made that was a big change for me.

Do my experiences during the first part of the summer I turned 8 remind you of times when you had a whole bunch of new all in a short time?  If so, what did you experience and learn about the world?  I’d be honored if you would like to tell me about them by responding to this post.

Color photos by Victor Van Welden  & Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

B&W photo by C.R. Armour

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