Last night at dinner I accidentally (but with absolute certainty) declared that I was thirty-eight. Oops. I’m not. I’m thirty-seven. Why did I unnecessarily age myself one gigantic year?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my life isn’t turning out how I expected it to. At my age, my parents were married with a mortgage and four kids. My younger siblings all have their own families now. And then there is me. Single, unemployed, living with my parents ME. How did I get here? And how did I get so old?
I loved kids when I was growing up. I always assumed I would have some of my own. But I don’t. And I now know that I won’t (gasp!). The responsibility, the commitment, the loss of independence (and quiet!)… Even if I were to fall in love tomorrow, it would still be too late. My self feels semi-permanently set.
(I hereby commit to forever being an outsider! That’s right, motherhood is the biggest club of all!)
Ten years ago it was something people felt they had the right to ask me (“Do you have a boyfriend?” “Don’t you want kids?”). Now no one asks me anything. Polite silence.
Now I am the one who wants to talk about it. Why not look it square in the face and be honest about it? I’ve made a choice—this is not something that will happen to me because I was not loved or not lucky or not anything; it will be something I chose.
It happened when I logged into an online dating site, and after only a moment’s hesitation I checked the box: “Does not have children and does not want any.” A moment of clarity?
Life is funny like that.
Not wanting children does not mean that I do not love babies, or even mildly-like teenagers. For me, one has nothing to do with the other. (For others, it might. I don’t know.)
My sister skeptically watches me play with my niece, but she doesn’t remember all those years I played with her and loved her like a big sister loves a little sister. My father criticizes the way I play with my other niece, but he doesn’t remember that this is new to me now—I am out of practice and need to warm up.
I want to be a good aunt.
When we were kids we had a single, child-free great-aunt. It was obvious how much she loved us all, but did we love her back? Maybe. We found her to be strange. Her house was strange. Her furniture was strange. Even her cookies were different.
Am I going to be the one the children are forced to visit on holidays, forced to write thank you notes to, forced to smile for her camera? Will I give them used books as gifts, as my great-aunt did, and the books will be pushed to the back of the shelf, forgotten?
Then I think of all the children I am aunt to who aren’t related to me. My first “niece” was my best friend’s first child. I remember holding her when she was just two days old. Now she loves art and Picasso and when I moved I gave her all of my art supplies.
I remember my former neighbor’s children and how just before I left the youngest one would whisper that he loved me and told his parents that I was part of their family.
So I won’t have my own children, but children can still love me, and I can love them. For years, family to me has been so much bigger than my actual family. Family is who you love, regardless of blood.
I admire the women who traveled this journey of childlessness, either deliberately or not. It is not an easy road to wander—it is littered with regrets and “what-ifs” and doubts—but it is there that you find out how strong you are.
This is not a “woe is me” post. It is just another post.
It is what it is. (*Inside joke: I write this line and wink to my father who once read an article….)