It was our last day of holidays. We were packed and ready to get the ferry. We had cleaned the house and swept the patio, emptied the fridge and hunted down missing socks. Mentally, we had already left.
But our eight-year-old daughter still had one thing that she wanted to do. “Oh please,” she said, “just one more trip to the beach?” She didn’t say why she wanted to go, but we suspected: she wanted to swim.
She had, of course, been in the water several times a day during our holiday. But she always had her little boogie board to help her stay afloat. Either that or she kept a sneaky toe on the bottom.
She could never bring her self to surrender to the water, to trust that it would bear her weight, that all she had to do was push off and move through it.
Back home, she has had lessons galore. (Her teacher is named Ariel, by the way, and who better to teach you to swim than a mermaid?). But when the moment comes to let go of Ariel’s fingers, our daughter always clings on.
On the beach, she went out quite far. She let the waves lift her up and her deposit her back on the sand. Then, when she thought we weren’t looking, she gritted her teeth and pushed off.
From the shore, we could see her hands and feet moving in a flurry under the water, and it happened: she was swimming.
We had been there for a month, and she left it to the last moment. “She’s cut it fine,” I said to my wife.
“Well, she was nearly three weeks overdue when she was born,” my wife pointed out. “She has a history of cutting it fine.”
It turned out that she had seen her friends – a brother and sister from a few doors down from us – swim so easily that she thought it couldn’t be (itals) that (end itals) tricky.
If she had an older brother or sister, someone to pave the way for her, someone to egg her on or drag her in, would she have done this ages ago? Not for the first time, I wondered about the plight of her being an only child.
A while back ago, Sky News presenter Colin Barzier published a book entitled Sticking Up For Siblings (Civitas, UK£8.00) in which he argues the case for larger families.
They make for healthier kids, he argues. They are company for each other and they help combat “Little Emperor Syndrome”. And it’s not that expensive, when you consider sibling reductions and hand-me-downs.
Children in larger families are thinner and happier, he says, and he speaks from experience: he is the father of six.
The number of one-child families is growing, both here and in the UK. The average Irish family had 2.0 children in 1991, but by 2011, that figure had reduced to 1.4.
In the UK, one in four children is an “only” child. The trend is for more affluent couples to have fewer children. It is a trend Colin Brazier wants to challenge.
Although there is considerable research to show that only children are happier than those in larger families, I still sometimes think of our family as somehow missing something.
We would have loved to have more kids, but it just didn’t happen for us. Six might be pushing it, but two or three would have been nice. They’d knock the corners off each other and diffuse the intensity that sometimes comes with small families.
Often, I have watched as our little girl stood at the edge of things – playgrounds, parties, classrooms – and wished she had someone to go in there with her, someone to take the bare look off her.
When she came out of the sea that day, her smile could have powered the flight back home. She was wriggling with pride and happiness. She was now a swimmer.
She’s going to be all right without brothers and sisters, I thought. She’ll make it on her own. And in her own good time.