I always wonder what my kids would look like.
Would they have my husband's thoughtful blue eyes or my straight brown hair? Would they be musicians, or writers? Artists or athletes? Would they grow up to be successful? Would they have kids of their own?
I'll probably never know, and that's OK.
One of the things I look forward to in this next decade is that people won't ask me when I'm having kids. Forty seems like a good age to stop asking. Now when I get that question, instead of getting into the specifics of why I don't have kids, I simply say, "I'm a teacher. I have other people's kids." Or, sometimes I say, "I have dogs," which simultaneously shifts the conversation and avoids the awkward pause that comes from people who don't know what else to say if you don't spend your day wrangling toddlers, coaching Little League or joining the carpool, because raising children has not only become such a huge part of their lives, it IS their lives.
I don't fault people who have kids, but it does make me feel kind of like an alien -- like I made a choice that goes against the grain, violates some kind of societal expectation. I'm not helping perpetuate the population. I'm not contributing to the next generation in the same way as millions of mothers out there.
Recently, friends and I attended our mutual friend's baby shower. We sat with her pregnant sister and three other women: one with a toddler, another with an infant on her lap and a third who had kids at home. After the typical conversational courtesies they asked: "Oh, do you have kids?" I gave my usual response, my other childless friend bowed out of the kid convo, and my third friend talked about her 7-month-old daughter. All of the ladies smiled politely and nodded at me before they started discussing sleeping patterns and developmental milestones with my mother-friend. My childless friend and I shared a secret glance and wished the baby shower had an open bar. Without children we didn't exist.
For me, the whole topic of kids is a complex one. After divorcing in my late twenties, I was glad I didn't have children. For a time I believed I didn't want kids at all. But in my mid-thirties when my younger sister got pregnant, I absolutely struggled with the choice. The reality that I wouldn't have kids, that my nephew wouldn't have cousins, that I would only wear the title "aunt" and never "Mom" struck me. There were many teary-eyed conversations with my husband. All led to the same conclusion: if our parenting wasn't going to be 50-50, I wasn't interested. We would have no help and I'm not crazy about day care.
Keep in mind I also didn't want to be a stay-at-home parent. There is a special place in heaven for these women (and men). I value my career and enjoy great fulfillment from it. Giving up teaching and writing would mean sacrificing myself. So maybe I'm too selfish for motherhood. I don't know.
Sure, I love my friends' kids. They are cute, funny, snuggly and sweet, and I truly enjoy watching them grow. But I love my friends more. And I miss them. Because once they have babies, relationships change. It's nearly impossible to have a conversation with my sister anymore unless she's at the grocery store or on her way home from work. Otherwise, she's juggling Legos and sippy cup refills for her 5 and 3-year-old.
There are no longer last-minute happy hour stops with my work friends, either. We used to fill a booth at the local brew pub and share soft pretzels and a drink after school. Now, if we do get together, it's cut short by feeding times. Uninterrupted conversations are a thing of the past.
So what do the childless women do?
They ask all the relevant questions during pregnancy. They ride shotgun while their friends' kids grow up. They make plans that are kid-friendly; take walks at stroller speed and opt for ice cream rather than wine. They practice patience and understanding and swallow snarky comments. Maybe they hang out with other friends who have older kids and can spend that time away. Better yet, they get together with other childless women if they can find them. In the end, though, they learn to adjust to their changing friendships in the same way their friends are adjusting to motherhood.