Eric and I have a running joke about the ongoing sporting match in our house between the “home team” and “the visitors.” We are the home team. Our future children are the visitors. We are unofficially keeping score.
Every time we see a tiny cable-knit sweater, the visitors score. Every time one of the dogs throws up in the middle of the night, it’s a point for the home team. It started off as kind of a “We’re so not ready for kids!” joke but… now we’re starting to realize that the only thing in the visitors’ column is tiny sweaters. (And maybe tiny glasses and also tiny Halloween costumes because omg!) The visitors may score some fun superficial points here and there… but the home team is still winning by a lot.
For most of my life, I’d use the phrase “When I have kids some day…” but I said it without really meaning it, the same way I might say, “When I’m an astronaut…” or “When I’m working in the White House…” It was one of those future things that wasn’t real, but that I figured could be at some point. I took my lack of real interest in making this a reality as a sign of youth, of immaturity, of having other priorities.
After I met Eric, there came a point when I thought, Oh, okay, I can see why people want to have kids when they are in love. I love him so much, so the idea of having a tiny him who we raise together is kind of awesome! But even though planning a life with him made me want kids more than I did before, it didn’t actually make me want a kid. It did make me think that I might want one eventually though so… that was a start?
In the spring of 2012, I learned I needed to have surgery to have a bum Fallopian tube removed, effectively cutting my fertility in half; based on the persistent portrayal of women my age as fertility-focused maniacs, I was surprised I wasn’t more upset about it. After the surgery, I was told that my damaged tube was actually just had a few cysts, which they had removed, leaving my fully functioning tube there. And at that moment, I felt…well, a little disappointed. I didn’t realize until then that I was kind of hoping that the decision would be (half) made for me. And that’s when I started to realize that, for me, perhaps the home team was a lot further in the lead than I had originally thought.
Eric and I have had a lot of conversations about this, but the problem is that the dominant conversations on the topic portray all adults as being on one of two teams: Team I Always Knew I Wanted To Be A Parent or Team I Always Knew Kids Weren’t For Me. Neither Eric nor I can join either of those teams, though we’re comfortable with both of them. That makes navigating this considerably more difficult. After many conversations about this in the three years we’ve been together, here is what we do know:
We both feel like we have the personalities and skills that lend themselves to good parenting… but we’d prefer to use them to nurture people who aren’t kids. Eric said during one of these conversations that in an office, every team needs someone who basically helps keep everything together and reminds everyone to eat their broccoli. We’re good at reminding people to eat their broccoli… we just prefer to remind adults. We think you need people in a community who can help the caretakers take care of themselves sometimes. I will happily babysit your kids so you can have a date night, or whisk you away for some grown-up conversation when you need it. (I will also happily hang out with you and your kid sometimes!) But when Eric and I think about things like mentoring or just cheering people on, both of us agree we’d much rather do that for older teenagers or adults than kids.
It’s not about money, work, or logistics. To pretend it is would be unfair to the great parents who don’t have a ton of money and to the working parents who love their kids and make it all work. While not feeling like we can afford kids is certainly a part of it (and not having any family around is too), when we ask ourselves, “What if we had a combined household income of $200,000? Okay, what about $500,000?” and the answer is still, “Meh,”… well… it’s pretty clear it’s not about the money.
That makes it seem like it’s pretty clear where we stand. But I’ve never been comfortable saying so definitively because I know that as soon as a woman says she doesn’t want kids, there are a million people there to say, “Oh, you’ll change your mind!”
In this friendly competition between the home team and the visitors, these spectators? Are not helping. Look, I understand that they are psychic and want to show off their psychic powers every chance they get, but they’re really just running interference. (Also, if changing your mind about having kids is so incredibly common, why they aren’t telling everyone who says they want kids, “Oh, you’ll change your mind!”?)
I’d love to shut them down with a straightforward, “No, we won’t” but I can’t… because I can’t deny that these psychic womb-watchers may be right. I may change my mind. Eric could too. We really don’t know. I’m twenty-eight; I’m perfectly aware that there is still plenty of time for my mythical biological clock to turn on. I don’t want to make any bold declarations now… but Team You’ll Change Your Fickle Womanly Mind has left me wondering when it’ll ever be okay to make that call.
(And what does making the call even look like? It’s hard to feel like you’ve really made a decision when you haven’t actually done anything. When Eric brought up the idea of getting a third dog a few months ago, I told him that it was not reasonable for us as a couple to have three dogs and a child. But what do we do at that point? Name the dog “Barren” and tell everyone it’s because he was a post-vasectomy gift from me to Eric?)
When I think about the future, I worry that even though the home team is winning right now, the visitors are playing the long game. I’m worried they are planning a sneak attack. One day, I’ll just be going about my business and this roving gang of adorable brown babies in hipster glasses and tiny sweaters (and HATS! oh god, BABIES IN ADULT MAN HATS!) is going to capture either Eric or me and we’re going to be helpless against them. I imagine one of us being held in the clutches of a giant baby like Ann Darrow in King Kong, while the other is making rescue attempts, knowing all the while that once someone gets The Baby Fever, there’s no saving them. And maybe no saving our relationship.
Not knowing is hard. Every time I see a cute baby, I look at it really hard, willing myself to feel something that tells me which way to go, that it’s time to call it. Thanks to the belligerent fans who have effectively gotten in our heads (who knew that “Heyyyyy batter-batter-batter” shit actually worked?), I’m ready for this game to be over.
Photo from Rachel’s personal collection