I’ve just asked my fifteen year old how he feels about having his older siblings at home for the holidays. I’d hoped he’d missed them generally but his reply left me somewhat reflective as he said, “Well at least I won’t have to do all the cleaning up myself when they’re back.”
He has grown up as the youngest of four and has spent most of his life surrounded by his boisterous older siblings and all their friends, enjoying being the baby and generally getting away with murder as the bigger ones had already fought the important battles. As each older sibling left for university or to travel, the fight for the bathroom eased and he gained a better position in front of the TV. However, the house became quieter and with each successive departure he found himself increasingly alone – no big brothers on the school bus, no one else in the kitchen making midnight toast and as I’d discovered, no one else to share the jobs!
I hadn’t thought about being a single child family and I realise that I haven’t changed my expectations now there’s only one unwilling helper, rather than four. My youngest clears the kitchen after meals, collects the washing, empties the shopping and tidies up in the garden and he does it all alone. There are no longer rows over the division of labour or the precise definition of what constitutes clean but there are also no longer fierce debates about the latest Chelsea line up, tea towel fights or battles over playlists. There is also nowhere to hide – if plates aren’t cleared, food left out and glasses broken – we know who did it! On the plus side, it is great being able to spend more time with him and not having four lots of homework to help with!
We often ignore the emptiness of the house if we’re not in it and I guess it must get pretty lonely. We gaily accept invitations forgetting that his childhood babysitters have flown the nest and whilst he doesn’t need tucking in at night he does need someone to say goodnight to. Luckily, having had four children we no longer have much of a social life so he’s not home alone that much!
Over the holidays the house, fridge and washing basket are now full to bursting again and he is no longer alone. His siblings have arrived home full of their new independence but keen to reassert what they see as their rightful roles in the family. This of course, in practice means all rights and no responsibilities and he’s already fed up with being thrown off the sofa, queuing for the shower and never being able to listen to his own music in the kitchen. However with my newfound insight into being the last one left, the family pecking order is being adjusted while they’re all under one roof and they’ll be taking his plate out for a change!