It’s cicada season for the 17-year cicadas, and I suppose for the usual yearly variety as well. On my run today, I saw various cicadas in every stage, from live shiny green to dead brown discarded husk. Cicadas always make me think of my grandfather, because when I was very small and my grandparents lived in Mississippi, my grandfather used to set me at picking cicada husks off their many trees. I worked very hard at it. One visit in particular, I seem to recall filling several brown paper grocery sacks to the brim with them, but that seems like an exaggeration of memory. When I asked him what we’d do with them, he said, “well, nothing,” and it was only then that I realized the task was an invented preoccupation to keep me busy and out from under foot. Which embarrassed me.
As an only child, I was always desperate to be accepted by adults. Usually, I was only around other adults, so I viewed them as my peer group even though they very much were not, and I would basically do anything they asked to feel included in whatever they were doing. Another time, my grandfather set me at sorting through a big bucket of spare change and wrapping the various denominations in paper wrappers. This was likely somewhat more useful than harvesting cicada shells, but the overall purpose was the same — keeping me busy. Not in a dismissive way. He wanted to give me something to do so that I wouldn’t be bored, and he always had a task or an activity for me when I visited my grandparents’ house. I also seem to recall him trying to teach me chess once, but I was far too stupid to learn.
Unlike gathering cicada shells (which I was very excited about) I remember being dismayed by the coin rolling task. I did not want to sit in a dark office by myself and stack coins, but I was anxious to please and also didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and so set about it with a will.
One problem with being an only child is that there is no backup. Adults can’t corral multiple children — even two will form a tiny army and rebel. Multiple children run households. Their presence cannot be ignored; their needs are paramount, and the days of their adults revolve around them. But an only child is an obsequious, easily controlled creature. She will sit silently for hours without complaint while the adults are talking, pretending to laugh at jokes she does not comprehend.
I always thought I would not have a solo child. I don’t even think it’s healthy to have solo pets, and several years after her death, I still feel guilty that I never provided my rabbit with a companion. But I waited a long time to have Edith and I’m pretty old now, reproductively speaking. I just finished up Klara and the Sun today, which envisions a future dystopia where children learn entirely through Zoom sessions at home, and so they are provided with AI companions to ward off loneliness. Even if remote learning became the norm, though, there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood. I don’t think Edith will be isolated.