Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


One: is it really the loneliest number?

A couple of longtime friends of ours just had their baby a few days ago, and hubby and I went over to their house to show our support and meet this new little arrival. It’s always interesting to see how soon the child starts to resemble some of his lineage, and hear how the parents are coping with the swift and sudden change of their entire world. I enjoy the little musings about hiccups and midnight feedings, my heart still warms at the sight of the love between child and mother. Childfree or not, I am and always have been a soft heart.

So there I am, on the couch when mommy comes out of the bedroom with the smallest (as in, newest – he was 10 days old) baby that I have ever laid my eyes on. He had a face like a little old man and his tiny hands and feet were wrinkly and red. His eyes were defiantly closed and he was sitting crumpled up on mom’s chest, totally comfortable and drunken with dinner. I was watching, smiling…perfectly happy right where I was and then BOOM! Mom throws the kid in my arms. I was totally not ready, totally not given the choice, but in order to avoid an awkward moment I took the baby. And there he was. This creation of two of my friends. He had the same chin as his dad, who was sitting next to me, probably waiting for me to tell him I was uncomfortable and give him back. I waited for him to fuss and cry right away but he didn’t. I laid him down on my lap and watched him stretch and change colors (hilarous) and pull at his own face. He was freaking adorable. He was warm and soft and squishy and his feet were little perfect miniatures. He was delicious. I will admit I was scared to break him, and I felt like I was being watched the whole time he was in my lap, but at the same time I loved it. And when I realized I was loving it, that’s when I once again asked myself that ultimate question, the one I have asked myself thousands of times before: do I want one of these?

I waited to hear the answer.

As I watched his face, one eye opened, and then he sneezed the tiniest little sneeze ever. Then he stretched all four limbs and sighed. My heart melted. I waited. After a minute or two the answer finally came: nope. No, I don’t want one. I am satisfied just by this little moment of ours. Even with his precious frame snuggled against my chest and my cute-radar on overload, I know that this is enough for me. I will visit again at another time, perhaps hold him once more, or just be there and participate in watching his every movement. And I know that I will have my fill once I leave. And that’s perfectly acceptable. I know myself, and that is a fine thing.

Dogs, on the other hand: totally different story. The couple’s little yellow dog jumped up onto my lap and laid in it, as soon as the newborn left. She can’t stay away from me – and I’m often told that I’m her “favorite human friend.” Unlike with a baby, I am confident when handling a pooch. I know how to hold them, talk to them, scratch them behind their ears. I innately understand how a dog works. But not a child. I surprise myself sometimes, how different I am from most women.

And speaking of kids, I wanted to make a mention about the whole only-child vs. siblings debate. I’ve been hearing a lot about it lately, and even some of it from a good friend of mine. She has one perfectly sweet and totally well-behaved 3 year old son (whom I adore beyond measure). She and her husband have been going back and forth for some time about whether they want another. What will our son miss out on by being an only child? she wonders. It’s a typical worry among parents in this very over-pressurized pronatalist society. We are told that if we don’t supply our first kid with a second kid to play with, he will become lonely and spoiled. I find it strikingly similar to the “What will you do when you’re old and you have no kids to care for you?” argument. It sounds like a lot of conjecture and fear-mongering to me. The reality in both situations is that you cannot guarantee the behavior or inclinations of any child you bear. My brother and I were born three years apart, and not for a day since he learned to talk have we ever gotten along. I grew up wishing I’d been an only child (and still do). And then there’s my grandfather, who had two children. One died at the age of 36 and the other one has been disowned for decades due to some bad blood. He is 80 years old now and staying with a neice and nephew – a turnout that still would have occurred if he never had children. Just because you raise a kid doesn’t mean she’ll want to care for you when you’re old, and just because you supply your child with a sibling does not mean either of them will appreciate it.

When people pose the second-child question, I’ve noticed they often seem to ignore the positives of only child-dom. Having one child means you can focus all of your parenting, all of your love, attention, your college savings and vacations to Disney World on them. You don’t have to drive a huge mom-van, you never have to buy a house with more than two bedrooms. You don’t have to worry about giving two children only half of what they might otherwise need from you, especially in this waning economy. Not to mention only one child instead of two (or more) means a parent who is at least twice as alert, well-rested and emotionally (not to mention financially) available to that one child.

And what of the spoiling? Well…what of it? A spoiled child is the product of the parents’ raising/coddling/lack of discipline, not lack of another child. Why can’t you teach a child to share without a sibling around? Why do you need a second baby in order to give your first one the tools he needs to deal with the world around him? In my very not-so-humble opinion, a spoiled child is a spoiled child, whether or not they have a sibling (in which case you would just have two spoiled children – something that NEVER happens, right?). And then of course there is the argument that many people ignorantly roll their eyes at, but I for one am quite dedicated to: we don’t actually NEED more children. You don’t have to replace yourselves. We have more than enough people to go around (so many, in fact, that the planet cannot feed or support all of us for very much longer). This world is so overpopulated that you don’t  need to go far to find another kid for your kid to play with. Homes are so thickly settled now to accommodate all the people, I’m surprised I don’t bump into three or four toddlers on my way to my car in the morning.

So why put all the pressure on yourself to have a second kid if you’re not sure about it? Why not just enjoy the perfect little single-serving child that you’ve already made? I mean, you never know if the second one will come out demanding cookies for dinner and uncontrollably screaming obscenities in the grocery store and laughing at age 4 like my little brother did. *shiver*


The Mother Choice

When I am older, will I regret not having children?

It seems I might, if you consider the average American woman in her thirties. She longs for her very own baby to hold in her arms, she cannot wait to feel that unbreakable bond between mother and child. She loves the way that babies smell, the way they coo and giggle. Her biological clock screams for a missed period, a swelling belly, that first little kick in the ribs. Every time she spots a stroller, her heart swells to see that helpless little ball of cuteness staring up at the world beyond him. She is transfixed, transformed by the role of motherhood, and she plans her life out to assume that role one day.

Since I was very young I have known that I am different when it comes to babies. While I do love the children I know to pieces, and have been known to stop and admire the new baby in the office, I don’t feel sad for the crying infant at the table next to me in the restaurant. When I pass the newborn in a stroller, I generally don’t notice (unless the stroller is plowing into me, that is). And no, I don’t always want to hold the baby that’s being passed around the room.

My disinterest in kids has been hidden most of my life because I figured it was weird, or that I would eventually grow out of it. In grade school I babysat just like all the other girls, but I secretly didn’t like it. I pawned off the diaper changing to my co-sitter whenever I could and made sure all my gigs were close to bed time so I could spend most of it watching television and talking on the phone.

Growing up I liked my Barbie dolls far more than my baby dolls; Barbie was an adult and she had a boyfriend (Ken, of course). She and her friends wore adult clothes, they had glamorous jet-setting lives, and they didn’t have to be cared for, fed, changed, coddled or kissed. I would cut their hair (sometimes too short) and fashion new dresses for them out of my old t-shirts and some thread fished from my grandmother’s sewing machine. When I imagined my adult life I pictured it full of other adults, with dinner parties and brilliant conversation, a life filled with whatever I wished (like reading at night without a curfew). Instead of nightly homework I dreamt of nights filled with social events, laughter and cribbage (hey…what do you want from a 6 year old whose grandparents and their friends played cribbage for fun (and cash) every saturday night? You go with what you know).

Even before my teen years, I cringed at the idea of having to plan dinner each night for a household filled with expectant husband and children – the pressure to work and clean without rest, it seemed dreadful to me even then. I grew up in a home with my grandparents and my father (my mother couldn’t handle the pressure so she simply fled home when I was 4), and I remember nothing so vividly as the complaints of exhaustion, sheer exhaustion after a whole day of work, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, making beds, sitting in traffic, dealing with bosses…and now this, now you two kids are fighting again. Can’t you be quiet for two minutes? I’m exhausted. I’m tired. Go to bed, please just go to bed and leave me in peace. Peace and quiet, that’s all I want. Please. Just go to bed.

While I wouldn’t call this begging scene an example of stellar parenting, I do understand where my poor dad was coming from. Like many single parents, he never planned to raise kids by himself (good thing he had my grandmother to help out for a few years). The stress must have been unbearable at times. But even before we were born, I don’t think my father ever realized how difficult it would be to raise kids until he had us. And my mother, what of her? Most will say she was unfit, selfish, and she should have thought about her choice to have kids before just popping them out. After all, you’re not allowed to regret having kids.

Well, what if she had thought about her choice? Would she have decided against motherhood like me? Did she even realize she had a choice? I think most people don’t realize it at all. When I was fifteen I told my Aunt Pauline that I didn’t like the idea of having kids (to which she assured me I’d change my mind of course). It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I realized that instead of just dreading the role of motherhood, I can actually decide against it altogether. What a relief that was!

Although there are times I feel alone in my child-free choice, I am not. According to some recent studies, over 40% of women ages 18-44 are childless (sorry, I can’t find the link right now), and almost half of all married couples in the U.S. have yet to produce any children. No doubt, a chunk of those numbers account for people who are infertile or simply waiting for the right time. But the choice to remain child-free is catching on, as more people realize that “parent” isn’t the only kind of adult to be.

So, I have made up my mind about becoming a mother, but this question still lingers in the back of my mind: will I regret not having kids later? Will I be lonely in my old age?

We are all in this culture of planning our futures, now – we save for retirement, invest in large homes, eat healthy, screen for cancer, avoid getting tattoos with boyfriend’s names, etc. We are all very concerned about making the best of our old age. I guess I like the idea of investing in my youth, instead. I am fulfilled by my life as it is and I don’t have any inclination to change it. Of course I am 32 years old at the moment and so I only have about 3-4 more years before my fertility declines, and thus any lingering questions will be closed. But becoming a mother just to insure against regret would be selfish and obtuse. Not to mention that if I regret not having children I can still fill the void with nieces, nephews, foster children, even adoption. But to regret having kids? That’s just not possible. You cannot take back that decision – unless of course you want to be like my mother, or (shudder) like Casey Anthony.

In the end maybe the answer is that being child-free is not wrong, it’s not selfish or stupid. No, the choice is right because it’s a decision I have put time and thought into, a decision that is mine and mine alone (well, and my husband’s too). Like choosing to be a vegetarian or buying a loft in the city rather than a single-family home in the suburbs, being gay or running with no shoes on (he-he), just because it’s a less popular choice doesn’t make it any less valid.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost. 1920