There was a plaid wool blanket in my parents’ car, just big enough to cover me when I would stretch out across the backseat. During snowy Massachusetts weather, I would wrap it around me, cocoon-like, and lean forward to wedge myself between the front seats where my parents sat, making plans, cracking jokes, or listening to the hum of “Weekend Edition.” Summertime meant I would ball it into a pillow, and prop my head on it to re-read every book in the Anne of Green Gables series, inhaling the permanent rubbery smell of our boxy blue Jetta. These days, my daughter sleeps under it when she stays in their apartment; I am always amazed at how small it is, and how it never seems itchy to her, as it wasn’t to me.
Many of the only-children friends I have collected over the years talk about the tyranny of the backseat—how lonely they were, how removed they always felt from what was happening in the front, or how curious they were about what was transpiring in all those shared backseats they’d stare at in traffic. One of my closest friends refuses to travel alone with her parents, citing the obligatory isolation of the back seat. “Alone in the back seat—in my mid-thirties. It’s too depressing,” she says. I can see what she means. I’ve found that many of the things I loved about an only childhood can warp into something more complicated as an adult. But I loved my solitary backseat as a kid. I had my books, my wool blanket, my daydreams, the conversation in the front I could join or tune out. And I loved our lean team, just the three of us, off on an adventure together, on our own sweet terms.