Let the record show that I, Ivy Lee Miller, loved being an only child. I cherished my perfect family, with just my mom, dad, and me. I was happy about not having to share my room, my toys, and especially my parents’ love. Now, however, I am not content with these feelings as they no longer describe how I currently feel. This is the truth, the confessions of a not-so-only child.
It was a clear March morning in my peppy suburban home. My lawn was its normal olive green, the sky was a lazy shade of blue, and the granite kitchen countertops had a spotless black shine. That’s what made that piece of paper so apparent. I hated to pry, but something so flagrantly out of place was too irresistible for me not to take a look.
The thing that was about to turn my perfect world on its head was an adoption confirmation letter. My parents had adopted a kid. I was too dizzy to keep reading. I sat myself at the breakfast bar, trying to think the situation through. “They’re replacing me,” immediately popped into my head. “They don’t care for my opinion. They’ll probably value this new kid’s ideas, though.”
My thoughts spiraled into a cycle of rejection and despair. Wasn’t I cute enough anymore? Didn’t my parents love me? Why didn’t they tell me? Did they think I wouldn’t notice? I looked at the letter. It seemed so innocent, so ignorant. It was like that blindingly bright piece of paper had no idea how much it could ruin my life.
Yet my conscience told me my parents meant to do the right thing. They wanted to do this, not just for them, but for me as well. What parent wants their child to be lonely? While my heart was warming up to the idea of not being alone, the voice in my head was preoccupied with this newcomer’s practical implications.
“Saturday mornings.” It said simply.
“What?” I replied.
“The junior soccer league has practices very early on Saturday mornings. Not to mention, you’ll have to cheer him on in the freezing cold every week for an hour. And he’ll use your bathroom to get clean afterwards. And he’ll want to watch his shows on the TV, and he’ll want to play with your old toys, and he’ll have everybody telling him how adorable he is. Did anyone say that to you when you were seven?”
At that point, I’d had enough. I set the letter on the table and waited for my parents to come down. The Lucky Charms I planned on eating for breakfast could wait.
The sound of two pairs of feet emanated from the stair case, a light rumble on the bare wood. Their faces were as bright as the kitchen’s stainless steel appliances until they saw me and the letter glaring at them.
“When did you plan on telling me?” I demanded.
“We were going to tell you over breakfast, sweetheart,” dad said. I could tell he wanted to smile at me, but held back. There wasn’t anything to smile about.
“I didn’t want to know the week before he arrived, dad. I wanted to know the minute you two decided to adopt another kid. When was that? A year ago? A month ago? Why wouldn’t you ask me if I was okay with another kid here?” I looked at them with hurt, wide-open eyes, trying to channel the pain and humiliation of not being good enough. Maybe if I opened my eyes wider, all the negativity clouding the present would leave, but it just wouldn’t.
“Sweetie,” my mother sighed, “we just wanted you to be happy. We thought you’d be excited to have someone to spend your time with.” Unlike my dad, my mom smiled.
“I’m perfectly fine with the idea of having a brother. I’m not, however, fine with you not telling me he’s coming in a week.”
After that, the next seven days were a blur of mismatched words, events, and emotions. I remember having a math test. The gravity of the events surrounding me made factoring seem trivial. I clawed my way out with a B, to the dismay of my A+ average. I discovered I didn’t really care that much, and I could see my perfect life at home start to crumble, too.
My parents’ marriage was fine. It was like a honey badger. Whether it was attacked by angry honey bees or bitten by bellicose cobras, my mom and dad’s marriage had a dose of magical honey badger anti-venom that kept them going. No, something much worse crumbled—my spare bedroom. It all started with that coat of midnight blue paint I saw when I got home from school. Then it was the weird boys’ furniture crowded around my room. Although I was shocked, I didn’t say anything. Mom and dad probably mentioned they were going to take over my inner sanctum while I wasn’t listening.
With three days left until the big arrival, dinners weren’t as silent as one might expect. We talked about the normal things, like my school’s undefeated soccer season, grades, and TV, but with that fourth seat being filled in a few days, I went ahead and acknowledged the huge adopted elephant in the room.
“So what’s his name?” I asked.
They got the hint that it was okay to discuss the adoption, and my mom, delighted by my begrudging resignation, gushed, “It’s James. And guess what? He’s seven—just like Maddie’s little brother!”
At that point I fell silent. Maddie was my best friend, and I hadn’t told her yet. I couldn’t tell her now; she’d be more angry than if I didn’t bother to tell her at all.
Mom obviously sensed something was amiss, and decided to change the subject. “How was that math test you took last Tuesday?”
The next day on my way to English, I couldn’t tell Maddie. What was I going to say? “Hey Maddie, guess what? My parents adopted a kid named James and he’s coming today! I’m sorry I didn’t tell you; I just conveniently forgot until five seconds ago! Good luck in your science test next period!”
So we discussed the usual things—teachers, tests, homework, soccer, and the class trip to the Natural History Museum next month. Then, the awfulness of my predicament hit me. I had to tell her, or I never would.
I lost my chance. Maddie went home sick, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her via text. I kept my silence until our small four-seater car pulled up to the adoption agency. It looked awfully like a nursery school—with painted handprints covering the windows like tiles in a mosaic. When we walked inside, the main lobby looked sunny and cheerful and bright, nothing like how my life had been for the past week.
The real surprise came when a small freckled boy with hair as red as a ragdoll’s cheeks ran up to me and hugged me tightly around my knees. Mom and dad let out a noise halfway between a laugh and an “Awww…” I put on a happy façade while maintaining my pouty teenage interior. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of him having my spare room.
There was paperwork to sign, but I managed to entertain James at a small table with tons of Lego pieces. He taught me how to build a helicopter while asking me almost every single question that could be asked.
“What’s your favorite color?”
“Do you have a dog?”
“Why does everyone call you Ivy when your name’s Samantha?” (Yes, that is my real name.)
“If you could be an animal, what would you be?”
“Do you like soccer? I do. I LOOOOOOVE soccer. But I like ice cream more.”
This went on for about an hour or so, and I was warming up to him. That was until I realized he would be in the same class as Harry, Maddie’s seven-year-old brother. I couldn’t keep up the charade for long; she’d find out sooner or later. On the ride back home, James wouldn’t stop talking. He couldn’t wait to start school, to have a sister, a mommy, and a daddy, and to get his own room and a billion other things.
My friends and I used to talk about siblings. I always told them I wanted a little brother or sister as being an only child is a lonely existence. They always pummeled me with complaints of my lunacy. A brother? A little monster that draws on the walls and steals your stuff? You want one of those? Or a sister? The little princess who manages to exceed you in every area of measurable human performance, including dance, sport, school, and cuteness? You’re kidding, right? I always thought they were exaggerating. Sure, maybe siblings could be a bit taxing, but they couldn’t be that bad, could they? I was dead wrong.
My fantasy of having both a playmate and personal confidante was blown to pieces by this little loud-mouth. Of course my guyfriends loved him. They only had to spend an hour playing videogames with him. They didn’t have to watch movies with him about little animated characters and their escapades. They didn’t have to help him with the math they haven’t done in six years. They didn’t have to teach him how to draw, despite the fact he was hopeless at it.
Every single one of my girlfriends thought he was sooo cute. Easy to say when he doesn’t take your DS or play with your brand-new soccer ball, getting it all muddy. Maddie didn’t even care that I didn’t tell her. “He’s SO CUTE!” she squealed when I introduced him. That hypocrite.
The middle school I went to let us out half an hour earlier than the elementary school that James attended, so I could walk home with him. Our house was (and still is) twenty minutes away from his school, so I was always able to talk to him about his day. That day, however, as soon as we were about five minutes into our walk, James burst into tears.
“THEY HATE ME!” he wailed, sobbing into his paint-stained long sleeve shirt. I didn’t have much experience with calming down distraught seven-year-olds, but I managed to give it my best shot.
“What makes you say that?” I asked, scooping him up into my arms as I carried him down the winding road to our house.
“I-CAN’T-RIDE-A-A-BIIIKE!!!” he sobbed into my shoulder.
“Neither can the kids in your class.” I told him, trying to wipe away the salty tears flooding from his eyes.
“Yes they can! Mrs. Johnson asked who could, and they all raised their hands, except me.”
It was good to see he was calming down; at least I could understand him. “You can’t hate someone for not being able to ride a bike, James.” I tried to explain, but James wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m adopted, too! My parents didn’t want me and now I can’t ride a bike, either.” He was upset, but at least he wasn’t crying as much. I knew what I had to do.
“Don’t say that, James! You might not get it now, but they only wanted what was best for you! I’ll teach you how to ride your bike. How does that sound?” He smiled weakly and nodded at me, and I carried him all the way home.
After I’d helped him with his homework, we went outside and I lifted him onto his new, blue bike. His eyes lit up as I showed him how to strap on his helmet. I pushed him up and down the driveway, and eventually managed to raise the training wheels. He began to pedal on his own, and despite some close calls, he never fell off. After dinner, he wanted to ride to me in a straight line. Then he’d “officially” know how to ride a bike. I was getting tired of teaching him how to pedal and brake, but I agreed.
He hopped on his bike with his helmet and safety pads, mentally preparing himself for the greatest achievement in his life since he learned how to zip up his coat. Pedaling with all his might, the most determined seven-year-old I’ve ever seen came straight toward me. Sure, he wobbled a bit, but you couldn’t tell if you were watching the grin on his face.
As he braked like a pro, I rushed over and gave him a hug. He grabbed me around my knees like the first time I met him, and said to me, “I love you Ivy!”
“I love you too James,” I whispered, as I took him to his room. “Goodnight!”
Before he closed his door, James said, “I love having a sister.”
That was when I realized that I loved having a brother.
Lauren Harris is a seventh grader at T/E Middle School. She lives in Berwyn, Pennsylvania with her mum and dad. In her spare time, Lauren likes to read and play volleyball. She loves detective fiction, and enjoys visiting her relatives in England each summer. She is one of the winners of the first “Teens Take the Park” writing contest.