The lovely thing about being the only child of a loving single parent is you get this feeling that life is yours alone, and loneliness isn’t something to be avoided—and, at the same time, that nothing is more precious than family. Both.
Holding hands, we hold our world. Seeing our curious habits and unique passions reflected in our forebear—we realize where we got it all from. Listening to their life stories, seeing the glint in their eyes, the lines against their cheekbones and whitening hair, we see a part of our future, and our heritage—past and future, both.
A single mom or pa, and an only child—if the parent was loving (though imperfect, as all humans are), it is the smallest tribe. An intimate friendship. A special small love—not small as in less than, but small as in intimate. Like a great oak with a little acorn, tending to one another as the little tree grows brash and strong and the older oak grows venerable, wind-humbled.
The care that flows into the child reverses, with time, and flows into the parent, from the now-adult child. This is as it should be. The debt is immeasurable, endless…but there is joy and patience in the repayment.
My mother tended to me as if I were all the world’s future. And I grew up with the assumption, that I never quite woke up from, that I mattered. That I was intelligent, worthy of love, that I was special. And yet there is a humbleness to this parenting, particularly if as with us the family is poor. We were poor in money, the stress of even simple expenses constant. Food limited, presents at Christmas missing. And yet, yes, we were rich in joy and art and visits to the library to watch public movies or take out books. We were rich in walking and biking and community and when I remember my boyhood, it was always as if smiling.
Of course there hard times, sad times, times when I was bullied and she was there for me but the suffering continued…but within those sadnesses and her stresses there was love, nurtured like the broken flowering branches she took in to our home each Spring when a late snowfall broke the happy trees.
The love of a loving single parent is a humble gift, wrapped in newspaper or cloth, that the child accepts, enjoys, cherishes, and then finally returns in kind.