This is a really key piece, KG. My folks, who famously among their friends in the 30s and 40s in Washington DC openly hated other people’s “brats,” moved to Florida to a farm in 1948. My mother told me much later that we came about because of a single statement made to my father somewhere in 1950:
“We’re going to be lonely when we’re old.”
My brother was born nine months later, then me eighteen months after that.
My parents were lonely when they were old because in so many ways they had utterly unrealistic expectations, didn’t understand what was required of them, and like so many parents, abused the right to have kids in the first place. They ended up estranged from their kids for years and their kids estranged from each other.
That said, I am glad I’m alive, but the lessons I gleaned from watching them implode as parents despite their considerable brain power, education and other wise obvious competence taught me that if my instincts said that kids were a bad idea,
THEY WERE A BAD FUCKING IDEA.
I can’t say enough for what not having kids gave me for my lifetime: freedom to fly, fuck up, fail, flail, write my own path, deal with my own shit without cascading it on too-young heads, and imposing my parental crap on kids who don’t have the skills to deal.
To wit: on one occasion, my brother and I, who were barely toddlers at the time, managed to play Picasso on the nursery walls with our fecal matter. After my mother, who was in her mid-forties at the time, found the mess, cleaned it and us, she stood us in the kitchen like two errant soldiers and shrieked at full volume
I WISH I HAD NEVER HAD YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!!!!
Then she headed out the door, got in the car and drove off, leaving us alone in the house to ponder our future. For hours.
It’s interesting that this is one of the most powerful events of my childhood, that I can recall so much of this- from the age of barely three- right down to the very last detail. The flush in my mother’s face, the terror I was feeling, peeing into my fresh diapers, the blast of dust on the clay road as she careened around the corner and out of sight, my brother and me having clambered up to the kitchen window to watch. Babies, both of us, left alone in a big house, until my mother could calm down.
Can I relate? Damn right. Was she right to get out of the house before doing something worse? Most likely. Did that leave scars? Yeppirs. Of course it did. You can’t say or do those kinds of things to such young children and expect that it’s not going to have a lasting effect, but in the moment, all that mattered to my mother was escape. Again. I understand. And I still carry the message that I shouldn’t have been born. That acted like a brand on my brain.
In some ways that day left me convinced — along with my mother’s admonitions that she wished she’d had another boy and not a girl like me that I was at best a dingleberry and at worse, a major and unwanted inconvenience. My guess is that my mother probably felt the same as a child in her large, girl-heavy family. In that way that we cascade familial shit down through the generations, her cup runneth over into mine.
My father saw his kids as his employees, and felt that he owned us. He dangled his approval in front of us (in the form of money) like a carrot, always withholding love. When I had the temerity to question him, his alcoholism and his vicious behavior to me in front of my then-husband, he threw me out. I had chosen independence, and no long was willing to tolerate being treated like one of the horses in the pasture: pretty, compliant, obedient, and subservient. And whacked hard if out of line.
As my mother aged, she softened, and we became better friends. She was not mother material, but like so many of her generation she did the best she could with lousy circumstances. My father had a terrible time with my choice to tie my tubes at 27, which had far more to do with how he wanted another shot with grandkids than he wished me a full and happy life.
Messy, complex, difficult issues. Ultimately, the gut is the single best source of information. My decision to not have kids, made permanent before I got to your age, was one of the best moves in my life. While that choice also got me disapproval, derision, and outright hostility (gain to your point), I was right. I’d have been a shit mother, far worse than my own, and I would have done terrible damage.
None of us owes the world progeny, religious beliefs aside. We owe it a responsible life. For a great many of us, that means no kids. Either we can’t afford them, we aren’t emotionally capable of managing them, or we are simply not equipped across the board for the responsibility. I can’t speak for anyone else but my gifts to the world began, as yours did, before elementary school when I began to write.
My books are my kids. My progeny. And that really does need to be enough.