What is s/he good at?
What does she need to learn about life that she's not getting, in the absence of siblings?
How is she 'different' because she's an only?
I've realized recently -- and I want the record to show it -- that my daughter has the unique confidence to question anyone. I'm not claiming she will talk to anyone, because that's not true. If she's intimidated by a situation, she'll go all shy on me and refuse to speak at all. But if a question crystalizes in her mind, you can bet she'll ask it, regardless of social context. She's just honestly interested in the answer.
I think this trait comes of her 'only'-ness. As duly noted by many adult singletons, only children are perfectly at home conversing with adults in adult language, and mine, anyway, experiences fewer than average situations in which she's talked 'down' to as a child.
Some of my friends -- parents of multiples -- find this annoying -- that kids like mine tend to linger in adult spaces, rather than gravitating toward whatever the kids in the house are doing. But as a professional writer and interviewer, I am jealous of her fearlessness when it comes to just naming what she wants to know. It's a skill I wish I had learned by instinct when I was her age.
A few months ago, we pulled up to a traffic light in our small town, and waiting in the bike lane alongside Eliza's side of the car was a middle-aged man whose left arm ended at the elbow. He was already at a full standstill, so his disability was practically inconspicuous. He just stood upright, straddling his bike, waiting.
First, Eliza turned to me and asked how the man could ride without two arms to grip the handlebars. "I don't know -- maybe you'll get to see how he does it when the light turns," I said.
But that wasn't good enough. Next thing I knew: 'Bszzzzzzzzzzh," she was opening her car window.
"What happened to your arm?" she asked, point-blank.
Startled, the rider, lowered his sunglasses so she could meet his gaze and said simply,
"I was born this way. I don't have a hand on this arm."
"So, how do you get started?" Eliza continued, unfazed. "On your bike? I broke my leg and had two casts. The first one up to here," she said, pointing at her thigh in the car, which the man couldn't see, "and then I had a short cast down to here," she said, patting her knee.
The rider smiled and asked how she broke her leg (ice skating), then began balancing one foot on a pedal as the light turned.
"I'll show you how I do it," the man said, grinning. He winked at her, put up his shades and slowly, carefully, pedaled to full stride.
As we passed him on the street, Eliza stuck her hand out and waved. Then she turned to me and recapped the whole thing, as though I hadn't heard.
"But, how does his ring his bell, Mama?" she asked as soon as she finished. "Do you think he can do no hands?"
"I don't know, honeybee," I said. "You might have to ask him."