Thursday, March 20, 2003

Not To Be Reproduced

See, it's not that I have anything against children specifically. Over the years, I've known some absolutely terrific kids, ones that were so smart and funny and curious and sweet that you just want to pick them up and hug them forever. And some of my friends' kids have turned out to be great little people, and I actually find myself enjoying time with them. But despite all that, I know with the same degree of certainty that tells me that I am breathing and digesting lunch at this very moment, that I never, ever, ever want to be a mother.

Back in my other life, way back when, when I actually considered a teaching career, I dealt with hundreds of kids a day, and they ran the gamut from sad, attention-starved kids to spoiled brats, from bullies to brainiacs, from angelic to hellion, and everything in between. The beauty of this situation, I thought, was that I could spend the day with them, but at the end of the day, I handed them back to their parents, and they were not my responsibility. The reality is that I was completely worn out by them emotionally. Some of them stick with me like snapshots of an earlier life, and I ache for them because of the various things they were going through, and how little time I had for them with so many demands my schedule then.

I can't forget the girl who broke my heart hanging around me after school, because her parents were going through a divorce, and she'd rather stay with me in detention than go home. Or, the look in the eyes of the little boy who was chronically unable to stay in his seat through an entire schoolday for some reason, who was being dressed down in front of me by his teacher. And the girl who shyly gave me a present on the last day of school, thanking me for being the only one who ever told her that she was a good writer. And so many, many more of them. I'd go home at night and worry about them, wake up in the morning worrying about them. I wanted so badly to be someone who helped them rather than stifled their spirits, someone to be counted on as an ear for them when no other adult would listen, someone who maybe inspired them in some small way to go out and do good in the world. Perhaps my goals were too lofty, and the difference between my aspirations as a teacher and the reality of all that worked against those goals - the bureaucracy in schools, the overwhelming amount of students with social and emotional problems that went unaddressed, and my own vulnerabilities and lack of self-assuredness - were too great. But the point is that when I quit, I breathed a sigh of relief heard from ten miles away. I couldn't really see them as not my resposibility.

I can't imagine, knowing how freaked I was trying to cope with the kids who weren't mine, what I would do with one of my own. I have the nuturing instinct that most people think is the same as maternal instinct, but there is a subtle distinction there. You can be a nurturer and be able to step back and take time for yourself when you need too. Mothers don't really have that luxury. You are on 24-hour call, for the rest of your life. Good lordy, lord, lord, lord! I know people do this all the time, or the planet would not be over-populated so, but I do not feel the need to be one of those people. Not even the teensiest little bit.

As I just read on a blog today, there are those that will swear up and down to you how the moment you hold your own child in your arms, you know that it is worth it, and you fall in love with your child. Uh, mmm-mmm, yeah. These are the same people who will later on in the phone conversation interrupt their monolog about how tired they are and how little time they have to themselves to repeatedly scream at full-pitch banshee levels at their toddler for wacking their infant brother in the face with a sippy cup or something. They are similar to the parents who will stand around at picnics with the other parents and compare complaints about how being pregnant and giving birth was a nightmare, what antics little Johnnie did today, what on earth were they going to do about their out-of-control teenager, or how expensive college is, how little sleep they got with the baby, how they have no sex life/no adult friends other than their childrens' friends/ no free time, blah, blah, blah, due to the little (or big) bundle of joy. So, am I to gleen from all this that it's all downhill from the first moment you hold them in your arms? Of course not.

But the upshot of having kids can easily be mine without all the self-inflicted punishment of actually birthing and owning them. I can go to their games or not, see their recitals or not, change their diapers or NOT! I don't see a downside to this for me at all. Oh, and those people who go on about how their kids will be there for them when they are old - ha! Tell it to the lonely folks in the retirement home who only see their kids on major holidays. That's not a reason to have children, to guard against being alone, and it's not even a guarantee that you will even have the pleasure of their company after they go out and get busy lives of their own.

For every exhausted, financially-drained, play date-making mom out there, I say thank you for doing your own thing. Enjoy your family, have a blast with the little cherubs, love them with all your heart. But as for me, I say please don't give me that speech about how I'll want babies when I find the right mate, or when my maternal instinct kicks in, or how I'll be sorry if I don't while I can. I think I've found the right mate, my maternal instinct is extinct, and I won't be sorry, I promise you.

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