It was a picture perfect Friday afternoon. Out of the movies. My new friend and I strolled the streets of the West Village. We popped in and out of furniture shops looking for the perfect chandelier for my future living room. Vast. White. Luminescent. Glamorous. We looked up and down and around. At beautiful objects, gleaming with history and novelty. I ran my finger along wallpapers, safe and bold. I imagined the future. The future home, a wilderness where we will be silly and civilized, where we will finger paint and host dinner parties. Lost in a sea of gorgeous items someone will someday own, I imagined days ahead.
We didn't find our chandelier. But we did find a quaint little restaurant. It was the end of the workday, turning to evening and to weekend, and my new friend and I ducked in and took a seat at the white marble bar. The restaurant smelled of grilled ham and cheese. Delicious. We each ordered a glass of good wine - rose for me, red for her - and we talked. About aesthetics and design. About cooking. She told me that she used to be a chef and that she cooks every single night, gathering the perfect ingredients - meats and cheeses and spices - from different places on the way home.
In unison, we each finished our first glass of wine. And we ordered another. And with more wine, came more truth. Forgive me, but I don't remember how we got there. But we got there. Where is there? Kids. I talked about my girls. I talked about how they are the best things that have ever happened to me, but also the hardest. I talked about how I feel stretched, pulled in many different directions, at the mercy of a sublime and unrelenting chaos. She listened. She nodded. She sipped wine.
And then it was her turn. She shared bits and pieces about her life, her family, her path. She told me about her current boyfriend. She told me about her mother and sister and her late father. She told me about her cat. She told me that she doesn't want to get married. And I don't know where I got the gall, but I asked her a question I'm not sure I was supposed to ask.
"But don't you want kids?"
She shook her head and told me no. And I wish I could have seen my face at that moment because I'm sure it wasn't pretty. I'm sure it was contorted with utter confusion because I was confused. No kids? Ever? Calmly, she shook her head. Told me that kids weren't her thing. That she wants to travel, to be free, to go on adventures. And I nodded. These things sound nice. I persevered. Don't you think you will want kids one day? And she stood her ground. She told me more about all of the things she wants to do, and the places she wants to visit, and the breed of freedom she wants to protect. And I listened. Truth be told, I have a few friends who don't want kids. But I have had few conversations about this. Now was my chance. I said something to her. Something honest.
"Hearing you talk about how you don't want kids is fascinating. It's like you are speaking a different language."
A different language. How true. Day to day, I am surrounded by people fluent in my dialect. I am surrounded by parents, people beleaguered by young children, pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or planning to become pregnant one day. My language has words like Dora and sippy cup and trimester and bouncy seat. My language has made-up words like "Ruff Ruff" (dog) and "Mo" (more) and "titty" (kitty, calm down). Citizens of my world worry (and deeply) about things like vaccinations and stroller recalls and school separation. In my world, in my language, we talk less about things like travel and adventure and unmarred freedom. A different world. A different language.
But. What amazed me more than the fact that my friend, my new friend, didn't want kids was the fact that in that moment, in that picturesque movie moment at the scrumptious-smelling cafe, I didn't leap to judgment. No. I asked. I listened. I imagined. I imagined an untethered life, or a less tethered one, a life where I could float about more freely, pursue my career full-throttle, sleep late on occasion. And I decided that that life sounded lovely, but oh so foreign. I got it. I got why my friend would crave that life, those things. At the same time, I realized that I do not crave that life or those things. At least not now.
The life I crave is also the life I too often curse. The life I have. A life full of exquisite and endless obligation. A life of punctured patience and constant worry. A splintered and scattered and stunning life.
A life of children.
A life of children. That is my life. I do other things - I write, I think, I play, I shop for chandeliers. But all of these things are informed by who I am as a mother. There is no going back. There is no wanting to go back.
Parenthood is my lens. It is my language. It is my life.
But. And this is a big "but," I am immensely grateful for friends who speak different and lovely languages I don't pretend to understand. I am grateful for friends, new friends, good friends, who inhabit different worlds I will never live in. I am thankful for the perspective it would be too easy to lose in this shuffle. Above all else, I am thankful for the stolen shards of conversation, on this blog, in this life, with people who are not me and not necessarily even like me, with people who have no interest in being like me. I am thankful for the contrast, for the complexity, for the other.
This no kids thing is a tricky, thorny issue. A 2005 New York Magazine article explored the hazards of revealing you don't want children. People have strong opinions on this. Visceral ones. Vicious ones. And part of me gets it. Part of me, however little, does not fully comprehend not wanting kids. But the bigger part of me, the growing part of me, thinks that we can never fully comprehend our own situation, our own desires, our own reasons, let alone those of someone else. This bigger part of me, this better part of me, wishes we could all remove the claws and ask questions instead. Honest and earnest and clumsy ones. This better part of me wishes that we could embrace and celebrate that we are not all clones, that we speak different languages and live in different worlds and that this is okay.
A pipe dream? Maybe so. But it's my pipe dream and you can't have it.
Thoughts on this hot-button issue? Do you have kids? Do you want them? Do you not want them? Do you judge people who do not want kids? Do you agree that we do not all inhabit the same world or speak the same language? By writing this post am I somehow passing the very judgment I purport to scorn?
If you have links to good articles or blog posts on this topic, please send them along or post them in the comment box below. I am interested in further exploring this question.
I'm thrilled that this blog post was featured on Five Star Friday!