An Only Child and a college graduate
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An Only Child, A College graduate

How my experience as an only child helped me thrive in college and life.

An Only Child, A College graduate
Marcelle Peters

"We didn't have more children, because, with you, we reached perfection," my daddy told me. I often used the quote as justification for being an only child in classroom discussions about siblings. I could have easily ended up like every other only child, a spoiled brat who can't work well with others.

But my parents, Silvia and Lorne, always held high expectations for me. My daddy had four rules for me growing up: get good grades, don't do drugs, don't get pregnant and always ask yourself, "What would daddy do?" Occasionally I wondered what it would be like if I had a sibling. I wondered if the pressure from my parents to behave and succeed would be the same if I had a sibling. I wondered if it would be nice to have someone who understood that pressure.

Marcelle Peters

Throughout my dad's career, we lived in Florida, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia. It was my responsibility to make new friends and learn new cafeteria numbers. My dad, Lorne, was born and raised in a large Jewish community in Baltimore, Maryland, and an only child like me. He was raised in a no-nonsense household where he was expected to stay in line and eventually attend college. My grandparents paid for him to go to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to study hotel management and hospitality.

My mom, Silvia, was born and raised in Las Vegas, surrounded by our large Mexican-American family. Our family was inseparable — all of their houses were side by side or across the street from each other. She is a free spirit, the parent who let me skip school and make mistakes. People on her side of the family rarely graduated high school and not many attempted college, but I would be the exception. My parents got married in 1989 and immediately moved to South Carolina where my dad began his first job out of college with Marriott. My mom left the life she had known in Las Vegas for 21 years behind. It never stopped being hard for her to be away from her family.

My parents when they were dating in the '80s.Marcelle Peters

During my freshman year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Raynaud's disease. She had days where she couldn't get out of bed at all and days when she felt just okay enough to go to the grocery store if she had help. I took over a lot of household duties and parent-like responsibility. I arranged her doctor's appointments, argued with insurance companies on the phone, cleaned and made meals for the family. Our relationship dynamic reversed and I felt a responsibility to take care of my parents and myself.

The minute my mom found out she was pregnant, they opened a college savings account and they made sure I knew a higher education was in my future. But how could I leave them for college after the trying times our family had endured together? I finally longed for a younger sibling, someone to look after my parents and keep them company while I went to college.

My family at my high school graduationMarcelle Peters

I enrolled at The University of Alabama because it was only three hours away from our home in Atlanta and had the best college football. My departure was hard on my parents. My dad, a solid man who was rarely emotional, was overwhelmed with sadness when he passed by my empty bedroom. My mom, the type of woman who would snap at you to go away when she was hurting, called me at least twice a day to cry. I struggled to balance academic expectations, my new social life and the emotional needs of my parents.

I learned how important family was to my mom at a very young age. Every surface in our home held framed photos of family members, so I would recognize them when we would visit. "I wish we were in Vegas," was the mantra of my childhood. It was my parents' dream to retire there and I truly believed all would be right in the world if they moved back.

Three months into freshman year, my parents shocked me with the news that my dad got a job with Hilton in Las Vegas. This was the first time in my life my parents moved without me. An unexpected feeling of abandonment overwhelmed me as any hope for long weekends home or parents weekend visits dissipated. The loneliness conflicted with the relief I felt when I realized my parents were going home, that I wouldn't be their sole medium for happiness.

One of my winter break visits to Las VegasMarcelle Peters

Throughout my college career, our bond strengthened. My parents had prepared me to persevere academically, socially and professionally. Our family in Las Vegas stepped up to care for my mom. When I would visit for the summer and winter breaks, I cherished my time with my family. Any resentment I subconsciously harbored for my adult-like childhood or abandonment in Tuscaloosa faded when I saw my dad waiting to pick me up at the airport. When we get to the house, my mom smothers me with kisses and Spanish prayers of protection.

As a recent graduate of The University of Alabama, I recently began to realize the true benefit of my childhood again. On my own, I learned to persevere academically, socially and professionally. My unique experiences with my family of three shaped me into the independent self-starter my parents wanted me to become. Although it would have been nice to share the pressures and expectations with a sibling, I would never want to share my parents. So, if there are any only children out there reading this who might feel like they are alone on their journey to succeed — remember you can do it on your own because you always have.

My family at my graduation from The University of Alabama.Marcelle Peters

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