It's One Big Happy Family season here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release I have asked a number of the writers from "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love," to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Heather Sparks talks about her happy family:
by Heather Sparks
My mother sends an email to me.
Stop waiting. Go for pregnancy now! Let yourself go for the sake of the baby. Stop holding yourself back. Get the baby conceived. Bed G.
I am forty years old and G is my boyfriend. G announced to his friends that we were going to start trying to conceive last spring, but I am still in limbo, dragging my feet, even though everyday that passes potentially makes conception and carrying a healthy baby to term more difficult.
I waited so long to have a child. I wish things were easier than they are.
G and I are both artists. Money is a concern. I swore off artists for a decade, I dated venture capitalists and bio-tech entrepreneurs. I dated men who promised me the world as long as it didn't include children. They were men who wanted sleek, hard, ordered glamour over the soft messiness of life that I craved; so I fell for an artist, who despite his fears surrounding financial security, has said yes to having children with me as part of building a life together.
We have a learning curve. G and I both grew up poor. We didn't get the kind of financial training and advice that many of our peers garnered from their parents. We probably won't be able to afford riding lessons, or tennis camp, or a spacious house and designer clothes and ski trips. We both know what it's like to want things our parents were unable to afford. Things that defined difference, that made us feel like outsiders and pained our parents, who wanted to us to feel included and secure.
We are adaptable and resourceful, but we both know that it's still much easier to make a life for oneself when a path has been forged by socially connected parents of means.
So we worry.
We worry about having money to enjoy our lives to that we can provide our child with joy instead of worry. We worry about student loan payments that should have been paid off years ago, and the cost of health insurance to have this baby we can only imagine.
I try to suppress my fear.
Maybe it's too late. Maybe I talked myself out of it a long time ago. Squandered the fertile time I had. I allowed myself to be bullied in to an abortion at thirty, by one of those privileged men I dated, because although I wanted a child, I did not believe I could financially support one by myself. It was a decision made by a younger, more insecure version of myself -- a woman who was probably too emotionally scattered to be a good solid parent.
So we try to do this together.
G and I are making steps toward something that might work for us. We have moved in to a tiny cabin in a sweet politically progressive Northern California coastal town, where we fall asleep listening to frogs and crickets. It's a forty-five minute commute to San Francisco over a winding Mt Tamalpais road, but we would spend the same amount of time commuting to Palo Alto, and the commute wouldn't be as beautiful. The local public elementary school's mission statement is similar to many good Montessori schools, and the community supported pre-school seems to be bubbling over with happy children.
If things work out, our child can learn to surf, explore tide pools, and play on the bluffs above the ocean. There is a well maintained tennis court in the center of town and there are people who own horses nearby. If our child inherits her mother's attraction to waspy sports, those activities may be open to her.
We can give our child a rich life without conventional wealth.
We are learning to re-imagine what we have perceived as limitations.
I have a conversation with the man we rent our cottage from. I tell him we've planted a garden: that the earth around the cottage is fertile and everything is blooming. I'm not sure if he mishears me, but he tells me "a lot of women get pregnant here."
We are hopeful.
Heather Sparks is a conceptual artist whose work spans installation, sculpture, and video as well as drawing and painting. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and was recently included in the Valencia Biennale, "Observatori", in Valencia, Spain, the Lyon Biennale, in Lyon, France, and the Sotheby's Institute NY, NY. This fall, her work can be seen on the Big Screen Project, a 30' x 16' screen on 6th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets in Chelsea, NY. Her work will also be installed at the Atomic Testing Museum- Smithsonian Museum, Las Vegas in the fall of 2010 in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Center, Las Vegas. Heather Sparks' work has been reviewed and featured in Flash Art, World Sculpture News, Art Papers, LA Times, Herald Tribune, Ha'aratz, Studio Magazine, Camerawork Journal of Photographic Arts, Surface Magazine, Architecture Now, Der Freund, SF Bay Guardian, Slash Seconds, Opium Magazine, Zing Magazine, and other publications. She has been a Kala artist in residence, and is a Skowhegan alumni. Heather received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1994, and her MFA from Stanford University in 2007.