Cells divide, and, here’s the key, reproduce. Create. Creation. We create. Recreate. Everybody and everything has babies! Little selves! Little MEs! Birds do it, bees do it….
Well, what if you don’t wanna do it?
A lot of things sound really great in the abstract. Having a mansion sounds nice, until you really think about it in a day-to-day sort of way. Vacuuming all those rooms, paying taxes, dealing with potential ghosts flying around.
Exercising is another one of those things that always sounds really great in the abstract. “I’m gonna run a marathon!” (No, I can barely run errands). “I’m gonna do 30 days of hot yoga!” (No, I can’t do 30 minutes of sitting on a lawn chair in the heat) “I’m gonna climb a mountain!” (No! I don’t even climb the stairs up to the El platform if there’s an elevator available.)
Having kids is also one of those things sounds great in the abstract. When I was young I made endless lists of names for my future babies in my diaries. Three boys and three girls. That’s six children! Sounded reasonable. Colin, Jacob and Taylor for the boys. Beatrice, Isabella and Gabriella for the girls, the Ellas, of course, being the twins. As my diaries went from being covered in pictures of 1980’s pink kittens to being covered in 1990’s celestial motifs to being the bare moleskin journals of the millennium, these kids started dropping like flies. So long twins! Adios, three cherubic-faced sons! Just the idea of the one sweet daughter remained. And I held onto the idea of her for a long time. I liked to think of being pregnant and even of delivering a baby. Naturally, of course, because I’d watched a documentary about how great that was (and as we all know, the only real experience you need to understand a thing is the experience of having watched one documentary about it.) And I would be a single mother if I had to because surely it wouldn’t be that much more expensive than say, having a cat. I liked the idea of taking my little mini-me to the park or out for ice cream or even sleepily wiping my forehead in the kitchen after slaving over another box of Kraft Mac and Cheese while sipping a well deserved glass of Pinot Grigio and thinking to myself, “I’m so tired, but it’s all worth it for little Bella or Savannah or Juniper,” or whatever the hell name I was into that week.
It all sounded so charming and easy, until babies started appearing in my actual life in the forms of my nieces and nephews. For the sake of clarity, my nieces are not actually my nieces, they are my best friend Sarah’s daughters, but I don’t know, if a little girl calls you “Aunt” and has at one point or another pooped all over you, that’s basically enough to be considered your niece. I went to visit Sarah after her first baby was born and while she looked really happy she also looked sort of shell-shocked. Like she had been taken to another planet and brought back nine months later, the same but…altered. I brought a bottle of wine for her and a tiny hilarious fur vest for the baby because those are the sort of obnoxious gifts single childless people bring to new mothers, and after staring at the baby for about twenty minutes I thought to myself, “Ok, cool. Now what are we gonna do?” I quickly learned that the answer to that question is a resounding NOTHING ELSE. I realized then that when you have a newborn baby the only activity you can really participate in is “having a newborn baby.” I remember Sarah staring at me from behind these wide eyes that hadn’t slept in at least a week and saying, “I just want to take a bath, so much, more than anything in the whole world.” I told her that she could because I would be happy to sit on the couch and hold the baby the whole time and her eyes filled up with tears of gratitude. She then got in the tub and stayed in there a really long time. I know it was a really long time because I was just sitting there holding her baby the whole time doing nothing and even though she’s a hilarious six-year-old now, she was really a huge bore back then. When Sarah got out of the bath she came back into the room looking momentarily relaxed. “Thank you!” she said. I felt like a real saint. “You’re welcome.” I said. And then I handed her back the baby who promptly woke up and projectile vomited onto herself, and myself, and Sarah in her clean post-bath clothes. It was traumatic. We all screamed. We took off the baby’s shirt and our own shirts and just sat around topless and weeping for a few minutes. “I had no idea this would be so hard!” said one of us who wasn’t Sarah. “I am not cut out for this!”
She has two girls now and I love them so very much. I love when they braid my hair and send me letters covered in princess stickers. And I love them when they take naps and I love them when they go to bed and I love them when I go back to my house and they aren’t there anymore.
My brother has two boys, my actual nephews. And they are darlings. And I love them so very much. I love when they leave me phone messages and draw me pictures and say weird things and laugh. But I still love them most of all when they take naps, or go to bed, or when I go back to my house and they aren’t there anymore. I volunteered to babysit them once for two hours. That’s just two hours more than no hours. It shouldn’t have been hard. It started off just lovely. My older nephew and I playing Candyland, (I kicked his ass, twice) while my little baby nephew slept peacefully. “This is easy,” I thought to myself in a jinxy hexy sort of way. So then, of course, suddenly, the baby woke up and started screaming because he had…I can’t think of a better word…popped? Every hole in his tiny body had something shooting out of it. Snot? Yes. Vomit? A lot. Poop? You got it. Pee? Absolutely. Plus screaming. He looked so helpless but also so gross and for one shadow of a second I remember thinking to myself… “How do I fix this baby without getting any of its business on me?” But then I remembered you can’t think that way, because baby always comes first, so I scooped his soggy disgusting little body up and held him, like a wriggly little fish I’d caught and was still debating whether or not to throw back into the sea. I sat him down in a chair, like an actual adult chair, and creepily dug in his mouth to make sure he wasn’t choking on any vomit because…I don’t know, it seemed like that was what you were supposed to do? I mean, it’s not, really, babies aren’t the same as drunk college kids who fall asleep on their backs, but it seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t want to leave him to go get a rag so I turned to my older nephew who was standing nearby looking bored and holding an empty upside down tube of Gogurt and I said “Can you help me?”
“No.” He said. “But it looks like someone spilled some Gogurt in your purse.”
This voice came surging up from the deepest deepness I have inside of me straight into the front of my brain and shouted, “YOU ARE NEVER HAVING KIDS.” Luckily my brother walked in the door at that exact moment and laughed so hard he almost fell over. “What’s happening here?” he asked. “Your baby burst and I didn’t even know how to begin cleaning him up,” I admitted. Like a pro, he grabbed the baby with one arm and had him cleaned up in no time. I followed my brother around asking what I should do about the dribbles of baby vomit on my favorite jeans until he threw me a damp rag and said, “Just wipe it off. You can’t do laundry every single time a baby pukes on you.” Oh my god, you can’t?
It was in these moments, and the millions that came after, in which I realized that last little girl I was holding onto in my diaries was fading away. I found myself saying, “If I ever have kids”…… instead of, “When I have kids”….. and then finally let myself spend some time grieving the loss of an idea of something I thought I wanted. Something I thought I was supposed to do. It was sad. But not as sad as the idea of changing my life completely to be a parent. For me it’s not just the poop and the vomit and the constant-ness of kids that gives me doubt. It’s the fact that I had been told since I was very young, through the TV I watched and the toys I played with and through everything around me that I just WOULD. That it was what you do as an adult woman, have kids. “Someday, when you have kids,” was a common expression. We played “House” and collected plastic baby dolls to practice mothering and compared notes about the names of future babies scrawled into our diaries and the whole time it never occurred to me that I had a choice. That it was something I could decide to do or not do.
And I decided it’s something to “not do.” I respect the hell out of everyone who makes another choice and the passion and love that goes into parenting but I’m going to opt out. Because I’ve created this life for myself that I adore and am not ready to hand that over to a darling screaming tiny version of myself. I don’t want to resent that little person. I don’t want to be responsible for her. I don’t want to watch her play in the park or make her Mac and Cheese and I don’t really feel bad about this. I already have two little girls and two little boys I’m going to watch grow up, as a cool aunt, and I still get to spend my Fridays doing like, whatever the hell I want, so it all works out.
My mom talks about this moment in her struggles to get pregnant when someone suggested maybe she was supposed to be someone else’s mother and a light goes off. (Although I see it a little differently and know that she was always my mother, my birth mother was just carrying someone else’s kid). I have a similar thought in my head, which is that maybe I’m not supposed to be anyone’s mother so that I can continue being a lot of different people’s full-time friend and sister and daughter and aunt. So I try to be those things with the passion and love and ferociousness of a thousand mothers. And I think I do a pretty good job.
“Aunt Bea,” said Sarah’s little girl last time I visited. “How come you don’t have a husband or any kids?”
“Oh, because you don’t have to have any of that if you don’t want to.” I responded. “Only if you choose to. I’m too busy doing other fun stuff right now.”
She seemed to be pretty content with that answer, and so am I.