My answer to that is a reverberating YES from somewhere deeper than thought or emotion, a place that predates logic by millennia. I’m more sure of this than I am sure that I am a writer. It would be devastating to give up writing, but it’s unthinkable to give up on being a mom.
Of course, layered on top of that instictive answer I am a logical being. I can talk myself into or out of plenty of things. I tell myself it has nothing to do with social norms or expectations. But then I think back to the first moments I knew I wanted to be a parent, and I was so young, thinking of things like my beautiful gold and garnet ring and whom I would pass it on to. (Turns out no one — an unsupervised toddler stole it from my room a few years ago and it was never seen again. But that’s not really the point here…)
I was thinking of what my daughter (or maybe daughter-in-law) would be like, who she would be, who I would be, when I handed that ring over. It just seemed written in the future. I told myself if I wasn’t married by age 32, it’d be time to start thinking about donor sperm or adoption.
What luck that I married a wonderful man when I was 33, old enough to have lived so much life, to feel like the world is a more or less known and friendly place, to feel I have so much to teach and give (and to feel I’ll have no resentment whatsoever for the time and energy I know raising kids will take), yet young enough to be energetic, vital parents and have the kids out of the nest not long after we turn 50 (well, hopefully, more or less…) with plenty more life left to live.
Didn’t hurt that the man was tall, dark, handsome, and so kind. Things were coming together almost too well.
And then, of course, everything fell into the pit of fertility issues, and four years later, I’ve had plenty of time to actually think about that YES.
Here’s the thing about parenting: You can’t really find honest reviews about it. There’s such a galaxy-sized stigma around saying you regret having your children, I doubt one regretter out of a thousand is willing to come forward. Parents are pretty much required to say, “It’s hard, but it’s so worth it.” People put the cute photos on Facebook, and maybe some funny mishaps, but no one posts, “Fuck this, I’m over it.”
I’m lucky in that I have a few things going for me. The biggest, I think, is that I was so free in my twenties. I did everything I dreamed of doing. I traveled the world, worked as a journalist, wrote a book, lived in California and New York and DC. I didn’t become some kind of pop culture success out of the whole thing, wasn’t a bestseller and didn’t get a movie like that Bob the Street Cat guy, but I also wised up enough to learn that true success is internally defined, and I feel a lot of peace and gratitude for my path.
Basically, there wasn’t some big dream or plan or goal that children would keep me from. By the time my husband and I were married, a simple, happy life with him and two children became my dream, my plan, my goal. (Not the only one, but the biggest one for now.)
My more judgmental and ambitious younger self may have sniffed at that goal. I’m glad that person is safely at rest in the past. 🙂 When you travel the world enough, you see that there’s little better than a peaceful and secure family life. It’s what so many humans desire with all their heart, and it is not something to take for granted for a moment.
Of course, there are plenty of other worthy goals. Some people genuinely prefer professional advancement, time with their grown-up friends and loved ones, or travel to ever more exotic locations. Others devote themselves full-time to curing cancer or saving the gorillas. It takes all kinds, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Point is, I feel really ready to have kids. It’s not something I rushed into or felt forced into, so it’s probably less likely I’ll regret it. I’ve also talked to a few honest friends about parenthood, and it’s clear they wouldn’t have it any other way. I have no illusions that it’s all fairies and rainbows, but it does seem to be a deeply wondrous thing, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
I fall in love with kids easily, and my husband is amazing with kids. And since I like walking in parks and looking at trees and flowers and playing with animals and asking and answering seemingly naive questions — I’m basically a five-year-old myself — it seems like a good fit.
But it’s no small thing at all. Being a parent is like marrying a person you’ve never met. A person you can never divorce. Any child who comes to you in any way can have severe mental or physical challenges or can be a sociopath, a drug addict, or just mean. And for all I dream of — and expect — healthy parent-child relationships, and want so badly to experience that, plenty of people have thought the same and been dead wrong.
But that’s the case with any true adventure: You don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It may conform to your wildest dreams and expectations, it may be even better, or it may be strange or boring or worse. What it always is is a chance to find the best in it, the lessons in it, the beauty in it. Beauty and lessons are everywhere, and adventures take us out of our comfort zone and into places where we have to face ourselves and our world in new ways.
And right now being a parent is the greatest adventure I can imagine. I don’t mean this in a rose-colored way. I’ve had real adventures. They’re not all wine and starlight. A train trip across Siberia has its disgusting and dangerous and dull parts as well as its wonders. A solo trip across Europe or the Middle East can be equal parts exhilarating and lonely. You can have a merry feast one night and severe dysentery the next. Sometimes you’re eating on a park bench in the rain because you can’t afford any of the eateries around you, and you feel totally pathetic, then a gentleman says “Bon appetit!” out of his passing car window, and suddenly you feel a rosy glow of connection to common humanity.
So many ups and downs. But that’s just it. If you go on a trip knowing what’s going to happen, it’s not really an adventure.
(And it’s funny how this particular flavor of adventure — Motherhood — is at once the most banal thing in the world — almost any barefoot sixteen-year-old can do it — and one of the most complex and awesome undertakings in the universe.)
It gives me a lot of joy to think of having a little person around who’s completely our responsibility, but who has her own personhood and personality and questions and a brand new vision of life. I have no doubt that, like anything worth doing, motherhood will have its tedious and humbling moments, to say the least, and there will be totally unforeseen pitfalls.
While you can support and direct your children to some degree, they are completely autonomous beings who are in your care for a while but absolutely do not “belong” to you. The humility required to deal well with that, and the crazy surprise of finding out who this new person is year by year, loving and guiding them to the best of your ability…
In addition to helping this little person grow, I’ll grow in a million unexpected ways, too.
I’m really excited about it, inshallah. Hell, just adopting a sick stray kitten has brought more joy (and occasional worry) into our lives than we could have predicted. I can only imagine it’s the tiniest fraction of what it’s like raising a child.
Giving birth is another experience that, while it doesn’t sound fun, does sound totally intense and incredible, unlike anything else.
Basically it’s another impulse I’m pursuing, like I pursued travel and writing in my twenties, that feels right.
All of this is to say nothing of the ethical or ecological ramifications of bringing more children into the world. Might my time and energy be better spent mentoring or teaching or counseling lots of kids instead of pouring all that energy into one or two? It’s possible. But I’ve always done better in small groups, and a little family of my own sounds beyond awesome.
And it’s not like we’ll die after we become parents. You’re still pretty much alive and human after you have kids, right? There’s still a tremendous amount you can do, possibly with more wisdom and empathy than if you hadn’t reproduced.
After all, having a kid forces you to deal with countless things you could otherwise just ignore, like school districts and bad teachers and mom-shamers and bullies and car seats and college tuition and a million other logistics and expenses and hassles. It has the potential to goad you into being a much better citizen yourself.
And so many people were thrust into parenthood accidentally or without much thought or without that cosmic YES prodding them along. Most humans conceive and raise children fairly mindlessly, which can pass on emotional roadblocks and start the cycles all over again.
By doing it mindfully, awake and aware and present for every moment as it comes… Is it crazy to hope that kind of parenting can be transformative? Is it arrogant to hope we’ll raise children who will be good enough citizens, they’ll offset the social and environmental impact they may have?
It may be. I guess we’ll see. Adventure calls…