The other morning I was holding my cat like a baby while I cooked eggs. He is the softest, warmest bundle of love. I call him many names, usually Ernest, because that is his name. But I also call him “bear” and “little bear” and “bear, bear” and when referring to him around our other cat, I call him “bubbie,” for brother. Bear is my husband’s favorite term of endearment. I remember vividly the conversation early in our relationship when he asked if he could call me bear…
“Um. Bear? Really. Makes me feel kind of like a whale.”
But with a little explanation, I came to understand that he used to call his favorite dog Jackson-bear and his mother, Mama-bear. The things he loved and cherished and found particularly cuddly became his bears.
So the eggs are frying, the morning light pouring in our kitchen window, I’m snuggling my precious kitty and I say to Andrew something like, “Maybe one day this will be a real human little bear.”
What I meant was, maybe one day we’ll be standing here in a kitchen in the morning, frying eggs and I’ll be holding a child rather than a cat.
But the sentence flopped awkwardly, uncomfortably out of my mouth like Pinocchio trying to walk. Even looking down at the cat and trying as hard as I could, I couldn’t actually imagine it being a child. And really, I didn’t want it to be.
I grew up thinking I would never marry, or at least not before 35, and knowing I didn’t want children.
No single, traumatic memory rises from the ashes of my childhood when I try to explain it. Mostly, I just liked dating and didn’t like kids. I think being an only child affected how I feel about children.
I was around kids at school and had friends who came over to play, but my parent’s life did not become a child’s life because they had one. I see a lot of parents who do this. Suddenly, they don’t watch any more sitcoms because fuzzy alien-shaped creatures dancing to the musical interlude of a horror movie have permanently inhabited the screen. All the cereals in the pantry now have Disney channel representatives and vacation actually means amusement park. The front yard looks like a tricycle convention. Or garage sale.
In college I had a professor who once, very eloquently, described his opinion of millennial child rearing. Allow me to paraphrase:
“I’m over at a friend’s house drinking a glass of wine, but when I ask for another the mom is all like, ‘Oh, we don’t want to drink too much in front of the kid’s’ and I’m wondering how many hours a week the kids must work to afford making household decisions such as this one. When I was a kid, and my dad came to a baseball game and I played like crap, when it was over he said, ‘You played like shit, get in the goddamn car.’ They didn’t give me a trophy because I showed up. But this mom wants me to see some scribble little Susy drew, pasted on the refrigerator and say it looks good. ‘Matt, look at the beautiful picture Susy drew.’ The picture looks like a pile of shit. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t.”
His daughter is an only child too, and I feel sure she’s spent many years on a chaise lounge. Though I don’t take this opinion for my own, a piece of me similarly fears giving my life over to offspring. That overwhelming sense of responsibility… I mean, I don’t mind your kids. They are pretty funny, rolling around on the floor licking each other, licking the dog, singing the first verse of the “Star Spangled Banner” and lifting up their shirts. Makes me smile, joy like a little geyser in my heart… But then I want to go home, very far away from the screaming.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to help her babysit for newborn twins in our community. I chuckled to myself at first mention of this and felt sad that there would not be wine. But after some reflection, we all agreed this would be very good for me. After coddling two of the cutest babies this side the Mississippi, there was virtually no way I could leave without wanting six of my own.
Here’s what happened: I changed three mustard colored diapers and developed a painful ache in my lower back from attempting to bounce those cranky eight pounds to sleep.
OK yes, they were cute. Cute like kittens frolicking in a flower bed, cute that can’t be challenged or denied. They were perfectly snugly and had that sweet baby smell everyone talks about. I swooned a little when one fell asleep on my chest. But ultimately, I didn’t find any kindling to light the mama-fire. I had precisely the same inclination I experienced in the kitchen holding the cat.
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself WHERE IS IT? WHERE IS the thing that makes all these other people willingly procreate?
I’m young and we’re poor, so there’s little urgency in my concern. But I think about it. I wonder enough that I sometimes make wildly inappropriate comments about my feline becoming a fetus.
Don’t cry mom, I didn’t think I’d get married either and that happened at only 22.
PS. I’m still coming to your daughter’s birthday party. Happily. Willingly. And I’m still bringing a silly gift that she will never remember and inevitably break.