Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Revisiting the idea of children

My husband and I were at a friend's house last night. One of their other guests brought along her three-year-old son. A charming little boy at first glance, he quickly reminded me why I'm still not ready to be a mother. Although he tried hard to stay quiet (with admirably self-controlled whispers to his mother as he played, albeit loud ones) while the grown-ups watched a short feature film (about 45 minutes in length), his efforts at self-amusement soon grew too loud to ignore and his mother prepared to gather him up to leave. That's when the fireworks began.

Within seconds, the little guy's protests had ratcheted up from loud stage whispers to outright shouts. "I don't want to go!" he cried, over and over, as one by one, we gave up all pretense of ignoring him and turned to watch the unfolding drama. His mother levered him toward the door with a great amount of difficulty, owing as much to her own advanced pregnancy with angel #2 as to the little boy's amazingly sure-handed grabs for whatever furniture he could reach to hold on to as she tried to get him outside.

Most of the guests were amused. I was disheartened greatly, myself. Was this the joy of motherhood -- to be the center of attention while your offspring create disruptive scenes in other people's homes? More importantly, could this poor woman's life ever be the same again as it had been? I'd never met her before, but in my mind, her life before becoming a mother was busy and satisfying, one in which she shared evenings with her husband and their friends and families in laughter and joy, one in which her days were spent working or running errands, to rest at the end of a productive day -- a life much like my own. What did she have now? My brief glimpse into her life told me that getting herself and her son up and dressed to face each day might be in and of itself a challenge.

I have other friends with children. Many of the women I know have either taken breaks from or set aside permanently their careers to be stay-at-home mothers. I cannot think of a more noble and self-sacrificing and necessary job -- and yet for myself, I do not know that I am capable. If we have children, I would want no one else to have the daily care of them but me and/or my husband. All the same, that choice represents a change in lifestyle I shudder to contemplate.

I like my life. I work from home most days. The work is computer-based, and when I'm not on the phone with clients or colleagues, it's quiet work. The only noise I might hear aside from the tapping of keys is the delicious hum of the clothes dryer, warming clean towels and blue jeans and sweaters. While I work, I sit in a living room decorated in shades of rust and gold and chocolate, grown-up colors that soothe me. My husband and I have been known to take midnights walks on foggy nights, just to enjoy the strange sensation of losing one another within 6 feet, even though we can still hear our shared laughter. We've gone to IHOP or Whataburger at 11 at night, just for fun. We sleep in on Sundays. We run errands together, and if they keep us out three hours longer than we thought they would, it's no big deal. We throw parties that get loud with the laughter of the friends we love, and we never worry about waking up the kids.

And so, because I have no concept of what life will be like after children for us, I'm forced (in my lack of imagination) to pit that life against the one I have. I see clutter -- primary colors everywhere, plastic things obscuring my view of the wood furniture I love, fingerprints on glass, crayon marks on the crisp ivory colored walls of our home. I see long nights of sitting up with the baby, piles of laundry that don't ever seem to diminish, dishes in the sink. I hear thumping from upstairs as children run and fall, shouting and crying. I sense that the only places we'll be going at 11 p.m. in this new world is to the store for more diapers or, heaven forbid, the emergency room to treat a fever that won't respond to Tylenol. And what pains me the most is that I see myself looking always at a child, and my husband doing the same, and we so very rarely look at one another anymore.

I'm afraid. I guess any woman might be, or any man. I'm afraid to lose the life I love. While it's natural, it's also powerful. And I know my husband doesn't share my fear -- his view of a life with children is one of joy and laughter and pride and play, while mine is filled with effort and loss. In four years I'll be at an age at which pregnancy becomes riskier. I feel like I'm running out of time to enjoy the life I have, to develop a happier imagination about being a mother, to reconcile how I feel with the fact that I've always felt motherhood was in my future, to weigh how much my husband wants to be a dad with how afraid I am of being a mom.

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