Aidan recently participated in a conference for young writers. Kindergartners through eighth-graders were invited to submit and read stories to their peers. It was her third year, her third commemorative t-shirt, but the first year I got mad.
Her story was about a stinky unicorn named Pewnicorn. Poor Pewnicorn is so wretchedly stinky her fifty-five 17 year old sisters wanted nothing to do with her. Neither does Pewnicorn’s mother. I’ve had moments as a mom when I thought my kids were just too nasally foul, but I dug down deep and managed somehow. Not Pewnicorn’s mama.
Pewnicorn had to run away.
A lovely princess came upon a weeping Pewnicorn in the forest. The princess took Pewnicorn back to the castle. After many baths in roses and dinners of fresh grapes, Pewnicorn’s problem faded. Her family was still skeptical upon their eventual reunion, so Pewnicorn returned to the castle to finish the de-stinking process. Finally, her family accepted her and her mother renamed Pewnicorn “Rose” to celebrate.
I thought her story was typical and charming—a good effort by a sincere third-grader. After a few more stories another third-grader stood to read her story. I lost count of how many times my jaw dropped as I listened.
For example the little girl used the phrase “swimming in a river of my mother’s shame”. I decided at that moment this was no typical child. I refuse to speculate whether these were truly the words of a nine-year-old because the issue that ticked me off the most was when one of the beaming teachers gushed, “She must be an only child!”
Then she quickly added, “because of the way (main character) talks about her siblings…”
The girl’s mom confirmed she is an only child. I began to think about Aidan listening to this exchange and wondering how she felt as a girl with four brothers and a new sibling on the way. Only children write astounding stories about distant workaholic parents, easily switching between first and third person, past-tense and present-tense.
My kid writes a story about a stinky unicorn, and I couldn’t be more proud. She knew her audience—other young children. How? Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, she eats with, talks too, plays with, fights, hugs, laughs with, sleeps under the same roof with, rides with, watches “Spongebob” with, negotiates with, apologizes to, and shares her life with her four brothers. So much is asked of her, and I know she has and will make sacrifices because of her situation.
I happen to know she wouldn’t change a thing, and neither would I. There are certainly benefits of being an only child. I don’t dispute that. Overlooked, I feel, are the benefits of growing up with many other children constantly around.