It’s a bomb waiting to go off and the clock is ticking.
This biology of mine is messing with my mind.
Yesterday, I was at the gym and I saw the guppy league getting ready to swim their laps—20 or so kindergarteners in floaties and neon swimsuits catapulted themselves into the water. They screamed with delight while their parents stood poolside, snapping pictures with their phones and laughing.
I stood there, on the other side of the pool window, for a few minutes. Then, one of the parents turned toward me, looked me up and down, and moved a few feet closer to his swimming child. I suppose I looked slightly creepy, ogling the scene like I was. I wanted to tell this father that I was just as creeped out as he was. Times 10.
I’m a happily unmarried, childless woman in my mid-thirties. It’s a choice, not a destination I reached by making wrong turns or being too picky. This is the life I planned for myself, one of birth control pills, expendable income, and eight full hours of sleep a night. I’m living this life intentionally and happily, for the most part.
There seems to be, however, a coup going on inside me; I’m being overthrown by my body.
It’s moments like the swim class, moments that I used to walk right by without feeling anything but relief that it wasn’t me overexposing my child on Facebook, that are getting to me. I find myself wondering what I’m giving up by not having children, by not being poolside. I, myself, have always wanted to be the one in the pool.
Some of my friends tell me that having children transformed them into real adults. They tell me that the minute they came home from the hospital with this shiny new person, they switched off their desires for adventure and spontaneous Tuesday nights at the bar. They grew past all that in an instant. They wanted to get out of the water and watch from the sidelines…it was someone else’s turn to dive into life with abandon.
Along with getting to come up with a groovy name for your child (Virginia Dare Lovelace), this is the greatest temptation of parenthood—that it will raise you up to be a proper adult. It will bring you clarity, focus, and a purpose beyond all the chaotic crap of life.
It’s the same reason that some people practice yoga; they believe that it will release them of their bad habits and dirty deeds and desires, and give them a meaningful life.
I can’t speak for parenthood, but I know that yoga has given me structure and responsibility. It also opened my heart up. It was the kind of spiritual surgery I needed after a childhood that made me desperate to get away from my family and not create a new one. The word family, I thought, was synonymous with trapped. A shingle-sided prison with Shake-and-Bake chicken dinners every Tuesday and Thursday.
See, the little girl me stood on the sidelines a lot. I was self-conscious and anxious and none too pleased with my body. I was pure tomboy—always covered in mud and scratches. Always in trouble for my foul mouth and my pranks, some of which involved actual feces, which would have been fine had I been a boy, but I wasn’t. I had to blend in with the girls by playing by the pool rules.
Most of my girlfriends were champs; they understood, from an early age, what was expected from them. They had the French braid down cold by second grade. They didn’t have stains all over their clothes or shout fuck this during a timed-multiplication test. Boys liked them and would send them brief letters folded into paper airplanes. Boys liked to call me Snotty Sara (damn those Garbage Pail Kids) and dare me to climb dangerously tall trees.
When it came to being a good little girl, I was always an outsider. I was lucky that my mother, a strong feminist, was fine with this. She felt that Barbies were sexist plight against all females, and that baby dolls were suspect. She allowed these things, but she always put them in sociological perspective—trips to the toy store were like a women’s studies seminar.
Like any normal child, I rebelled. I took every opportunity to go over to friend’s houses and play with their dolls. Barbie was the pink, forbidden fruit and I was determined to piss my mother off. So I played, awkwardly, with them. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, and assumed that Barbie and Ken were supposed to jump in the pink convertible and either solve crimes or commit them.
Barbie doesn’t hold up banks, one of my friends said to me. I’d armed Barbie with a blue hairbrush—a machine gun almost as big as the criminal herself.
Well, then what does she do?
She kisses Ken and marries him and then she gets pregnant.
This didn’t seem like something you could play at for very long. My bank-robbing scenario had investigations and car chases. My friend’s fantasy life involved ironing, grocery shopping, and cleaning the pink mansion with a miniature, plastic vacuum cleaner. I thought, perhaps, that it was just her. That she was just weird and, frankly, boring. But the more I played with other girls, the more I realized I was the weird one.
Almost all the girls I knew talked about marriage and children from a very early age.
It wasn’t that they had made up their minds, but more that their minds had been made up for them. Very few parents ask their infant daughters if they want a baby doll. They just give them one. The minute a girl child stops sucking a pacifier, she is shoving one into her doll’s mouth. We are shoved into caretaking long before we can take care of ourselves. Our baby dolls are hungry and their diapers need to be changed.
Then we get to Home Ec. class, where we are given a raw egg and told to care for it as if it were our own child. An egg, for Shiva’s sake. Subtle, very subtle.
The young me was forced to make a decision about motherhood, and she chose no. She was brave and defiant, and I’m proud as hell of her. When I told my Home Ec. teacher that my egg had cracked and begun to smell up my whole room, she asked me what would I have done if that were an actual baby.
I guess I’d have to go on the run, I said, so the cops couldn’t catch me.
As an adult woman, I don’t have to create scenarios of escape from a life I don’t want to live. I live the life that I choose, and as long as I am compassionate, loving, and truthful, I consider it a success.
There is, though, a part of me that is still working out my decision to not have children. It’s a decision I thought I made for good all those years ago, but as I age a physical urgency forces me to confront it yet again. I’m having to re-examine if I made the decision out of fear that I’d end up like my parents, or my attachment to my idea of myself as an outsider.
The parents by the pool forced me to stop and consider; as I stood on the other side of the window, I felt that old pull to step inside the pink mansion and play.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise