Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Friends with Kids

Ever since I turned thirty-seven, I've been thinking a lot about the fact that I will most likely never have children. Richard Gere can father a child at age sixty-eight, but women can't do that. I know that a lot of women do get pregnant in their forties, but that usually happens with the help of fertility treatments or surrogates, which I, an underpaid English teacher with two jobs and thousands of dollars in student loan debt, cannot afford. Not to mention I do not have a husband or a boyfriend, and I'm on the pill, so I'd say my chances of getting pregnant are slim to none.

When I lived in Small Town, several of my friends there had young children, which affected their social lives. That is, unlike my college-aged neighbors, who regularly woke me up at 2 A.M. with their loud parties that made them sound like they were drunk wolves howling at the moon, my thirtysomething friends often had to leave our get-togethers by nine or ten P.M. to get home in time to pay the babysitter or tuck in their children.

When they hosted parties at their homes, they often invited their other friends to bring their kids along, and they would have kid-friendly activities available, like a crafts table, a swing set and plenty of toys, etc. The kids would work on their art projects or run around, playing, while their parents kept one eye on them while conversing with the rest of us. I would sit with the parents, suddenly feeling so much younger than them, despite the closeness in our ages, because I did not have any children of my own. Unlike my friends with kids, I never had to say things like, "Annie, be careful with your soda. You're going to spill it," or "No, you can't have any more soda. If you drink any more you're going to be up all night and then I'll be up all night and you know how cranky Mommy gets when she gets tired," or "Oh, my God! Do not eat that worm! That's not food! I am so sorry, everyone. He's just curious. My son doesn't normally eat worms or anything else that's still moving, haha!"

I didn't really know what to say to them sometimes. It's not like I could relate to their stories about being up all night with a crying baby or how difficult it was to handle life with a toddler. So I'd usually say things like, "So, I, uh, hear that it's hard to get kids into kindergarten these days! What is up with that?"

Here in College Town, I've joined a Meetup group made up of women, most of whom are close to my age, who go out for dinner to various restaurants in the area. At a Thai restaurant one night a few weeks ago, we were talking about motherhood. I said I was ambivalent about having kids, and one of the women, who had a child of her own, said, "If you're not a hundred percent sure that you want to be a mother, you shouldn't do it."

And I knew she was right. My father is still holding out hope that I'll be married with at least one child within the next few years. My mother tells me about all her friends' daughters, most of whom are younger than me, who are already married with children. She has called me an old maid on more than one occasion, including my birthday one year, where instead of giving me birthday wishes she commented on the fact that I was now an old maid in my thirties. I haven't told either of them that it is very unlikely I'll be a mother. But then again, they still think that I'm a Republican, like they are, and I have to bite my tongue from shrieking like a banshee when my mother quotes Sean Hannity and says that Donald Trump is a "good man". I learned a long time ago that the less they know about my life, the better, because we fight enough about the little they do know as it is.

My parents are partly why I am ambivalent about having children. My mother is a verbally abusive, controlling pessimist who is always convinced that the worst-case scenario will happen, which is why she predicted that I wouldn't last five years as a teacher. (I've been teaching for more than a decade now, but she keeps reminding me that I'm untenured and not secure in my job, in order to emphasize that I made the wrong decision.) My father is a verbally abusive, controlling cock-eyed optimist who stubbornly holds on to his view of the world even when everything is falling to pieces around him. My sibling is their golden child, who is not treated half as badly by them as I am, and gets angry when I get upset with our parents because my sibling agrees with both of them that I am the one with the problem.

I only see my parents twice a year for a few days each time, and I call them once a week out of obligation. I talk to my sibling less often. Therefore, I've always viewed time with family as time to dread and be endured, not time to look forward to or to cherish. It's hard for me to picture myself with a happy family because I never got to have one, and part of me is afraid that I'll turn out to be like my mother or my father if I had my own kids. And I know that although they would love to have grandchildren, eventually their cruel streak would surface and they would lash out at my kids. And then I'd fight back as hard as I could because I'll be damned if I let them hurt my kids like they hurt me.

I think that parents have the toughest, most stressful, most heartbreaking, and most rewarding job in the world. It's a job that they can't ever quit, and I have to admit, the idea of having my own son or daughter who may even look like me, someone who I would love unconditionally, is appealing.

But I've always viewed motherhood as akin to winning the lottery. It'd be an amazing life-changer, but it's okay if it never happens. And I haven't gone out of my way to buy lottery tickets. And although my job status as an untenured college professor is insecure, I like that if I were to get a good job offer at some school halfway across the country, I have the freedom to just pack up my stuff and go.

Here in College Town and the other small Midwestern towns that surround it, people typically marry their high school or college sweethearts before they turn twenty-five and have several kids before they turn thirty. That's why most of the single guys my age are divorced with children, including two of the guys I dated, the Artist and the Musician. I know that it's slightly unrealistic to prefer to date a guy close to my age without kids, but...

Sometimes I feel guilty about the fact that I'm not thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mother or stepmother. I feel like society pressures women to view marriage and motherhood as not only a happy ending but the only happy ending. And if a woman chooses to create a different kind of happy ending for herself, she's considered "weird."

On the other hand, I'd rather be "weird" than to be living a life that I don't really want.

What about you? Do you have kids? If you do, how did you know that you wanted to be a parent? If you don't have kids, how do you feel about parenthood?