Today is the last day of my 30s. Tomorrow I will be 40 and I guess I will need to finally admit to myself that I am middle-aged. Naturally, a major birthday like this has me looking back over my life and analyzing where I am versus where I thought I’d be — there is quite a lot of distance between those two points, I can tell you. I never thought I’d be divorced or working for less money than my first job out of college. I never thought I’d be living in a mobile home or in a small town in Pennsylvania, for that matter. But there is one thing that I’ve managed to accomplish: I don’t have children.
I will be 40 years old tomorrow and I don’t have kids. In fact, I have never even been pregnant. I knew at an early age that it just wasn’t something I wanted and I couldn’t see the point of creating a human being without having those inner stirrings that wanted one in my life. For years, I had this general conversation with people:
Them: “So, how many kids do you have?”
Them: “Don’t worry, you have time.”
Me: “I don’t plan on having any.”
Them: “Oh, you’ll change your mind.”
These were perfect strangers! How do they know? What if I’m a serial killer? Or a cannibal? Or someone that likes to dress up as a robot and put on street performances all in the name of art? Why do people assume that everyone should have a drive to procreate? I do not need to replace myself on this planet, I do not need to fill a quota or check off a box of generic accomplishments. I have never, not once in my life, held a baby and thought “I wish I had one.” Hell, I’ve never held a baby and thought “I could take him/her home.” That utter lack of maternal desire tells me that I’ve made the right decision.
I had someone ask me “But how do you know unless you try?” My response was “I could say the same thing to you about face tattoos.” That shut them up pretty quickly. I’ve also used sky diving, Jell-O wrestling and golden showers as examples, because I like to cater to my audience.
That being said, just because I don’t want my own doesn’t mean that I don’t have the capacity to love someone else’s child. I recognize that those are two different things. My stepmother has made a world of difference in my life and I didn’t meet her until I was nearly 30. She didn’t raise me, but she has played a role in who I have become as an adult. While the roles may change throughout our lives, you’re never too old to parent or be parented. The Handsome Hermit does not have children either, I’m lucky in that respect. I was surprised to find someone else that agreed with my thoughts about parenthood, and my decision against it. It made me feel less crazy — until I got to know him better and realized that was the MOST normal thing about him!
Times have changed, though. Now that I am older I don’t have strangers tell me that I will change my mind or that I would feel differently about children once I had my own (which I am sure is true, but WHAT IF?). Instead, when people find out I don’t have kids, they give me this look that says “she must not be able to have any, poor thing.” I’ve actually had some little old ladies ask me if I was “barren”! How is that an appropriate question? And what if that was true? Wouldn’t that be a terrible thing to have to discuss? And will I have to hear about their bowel movements in return? Quid pro quo can be a bitch.
Recently, I was at a cook out and met a lady holding her adorable 10 month old daughter. We introduced ourselves and explained how we each knew the host/hostess and then there was a little lull. She looked at me sweetly and said “Do you have kids?” and when I said no, her face fell. She just assumed we had nothing in common and would not be able to keep up any sort of polite banter. I wanted to point out that she is more than a parent, she is a woman and a teacher and a person all on her own but I didn’t know her well enough to start that particular lecture. Her children are the most important part of her life, as they should be, but they are not what makes HER. Eventually I discovered that she also had a dog, so we had a lovely chat about our pets for awhile, although I could tell she was struggling. I have one less label than she did, but that seemed to be the only that counted for her.
All of this used to bother me, and at times it can still get under my skin, but for the most part I’ve come to terms with it. I am made to feel like a second class citizen because I don’t have children, I can’t swap diaper stories or talk about day care drama. But when this happens, I’ve learned to politely smile and nod my head or to wander over to where the men are talking. I’d rather talk about horsepower than potty training any day!