I remember the exact moment when I became obsessed with the idea of becoming a parent. It was just before Christmas in 2007 and, because I went to a teensy tiny prep school that included kids all the way from pre-kindergarten to 18-year-olds, a group of us seniors were singing holiday songs to the littlest ones. They looked all excited as they listened, sitting cross-legged and grinning adorably. But then, they sang to us. Oh my, did they sing to us.
As these little muffins (I refer to everything cute as a muffin, my apologies) sang this high-pitched version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” my heart began to positively melt. It was totally off-key and very out of sync, but somehow, that made it even more wonderful. I reached over to my right where a friend of mine was standing and silently grabbed her hand. She squeezed back.
“I know this sounds weird,” she whispered, “but–”
“I want one.”
We continued to clutch one another’s hands until the kids were done with their caroling, and somewhere, I thought heard a “tick…tick…” Lo and behold, my biological clock had begun ticking.
After that, I was absolutely positive I would someday become a parent. I have zero desire to have a husband or even a relationship of any kind, but I want to be a mother. I had always wanted to be one, but that was the moment I realized that there was just no way I would not wind up being a parent.
An amazing parent, in fact! Well, hopefully amazing (and amazingly hopeful). Of course, most people who want kids believe they’ll be excellent parents, so my claim is not extraordinary. Nevertheless, there is this bizarre stream of constant thought in the back of my head, keeping track of things that might make me someday be a better mother, or the ways in which I will need to change before I am ready to become one.
I will someday completely quit drinking because I should and because I know myself, and I am not a responsible drunk. I will exercise in order to decrease the negative aspects of my fibromyalgia so that way, I’ll be better capable of playing with them. I will eat better so I don’t wind up getting heart disease and diabetes, both of which run in my family, and wind up too sick to care for my own little muffins.
Don’t worry — I fully realize that I should be doing all of these things for myself already, and that taking care of yourself is part of being a good parent (so I hear, at least, but I am obviously not an authority), but the fact of the matter is that I’m the kind of person who only goes on walks right now because I have a dog. Parenthood will likely be quite similar, though exponentially more intense.
But now, I am reconsidering my desire to have kids. Not because I am realizing I permanently want the amount of freedom I presently have or because I’m discovering just how much it costs to raise a kid by watching my relatives who all have broods of their own. It’s not because I don’t want my body to change — in fact, my mom says it’s a little freakish that I’m kind of looking forward to all the commonly thought of as less appealing aspects of pregnancy, such as stretch marks (which shouldn’t be that big of a surprise anyway).
It’s because I am heartbroken over what happened at Sandy Hook and I do not know when I’ll be able to feel okay about purposefully bringing children into such a world where such horrible, horrible things can happen to them.
Believe me, I was not naive before this. Everyone I know has had terrible things happen in their lives, including myself and aspects of my own childhood. As a fairly paranoid person, I observe (and occasionally dramatize) the enormity of bad stuff around me. I have never not looked behind my front seat, for example, because I just assume that somebody will be sitting there with a knife one day. I also am afraid of driving because, perhaps more rationally, I know that literally tens of thousands of people die each year from it. Also, I have expensive insurance and do not want it to raise, but that’s beside the point.
I am constantly aware of sexism. I am knowledgeable about rape and rape statistics and rape culture. I am knowledgeable (though, much less so) about war and famine. I notice dangerous shit all over the place and yet, I still have never once wavered in my desire to give birth to or adopt three children.
But seeing the headline that just had the names and ages…I imploded in a way I have never felt before. Just reading the number “6” that many times, over and over, I couldn’t breathe. I was alive when Columbine and September 11th and many other horrifying things happened, but I think I was too young to process much besides, “People do bad things and I’m very sad right now.”
Instead, I am feeling so overwhelmingly upset, I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t know how to react besides horror and awe and a now huge, sickening fear that my lifelong dream (i.e. my future kids) could someday be destroyed because of one person with one cruel action.
I am quite certain that I’m not the only person whose feelings regarding kids — whether they exist already or not — have changed in the past week. My mom, who works at an elementary school, just held me for a long while because I couldn’t stop crying. I have read so many stories about petrified parents who have never been afraid to send their kids to school, but are now having to force themselves to let them go each morning. However hard I’ve taken this news, I can only imagine the fear that people who are already parents are experiencing. And then, one step further, I don’t think I possibly can imagine the pain that those who were directly affected by Sandy Hook are now feeling.
But I can tell you how it’s affected me, if you’re interested in the highly distressed views of a now slightly more jaded 23-year-old.
It has changed the way I look at little ones. As I walked down the street today, I saw a couple kids playing with each other and being just generally cute. Normally, this is my face:
It has undoubtedly freaked out every partner I have ever had. I can only assume they think I’m obsessed with babies and want to have theirs (when, in all actuality, I’ve only ever dated one person with whom I would consider children in the future), so they get weird and uncomfortable and start ensuring that I’m being religious about my birth control. But I really just love kids, in general, and want them and am totally unabashed about that part of my being.
But now, when I see their little faces, I get bleary-eyed. I am currently visiting New York City and have yet to see my cousin’s children — of whom I am obsessed because they’re amazing and brilliant little angels — because I’m afraid I will cry. And crying in front of kids is probably not the best way to say, “Hi darlings, merry Christmas!”
Now, I can’t think of anything in regard to children besides, “Somebody might take them away from me, someday, and I will probably not be able to stop that person.”
Every time I have so much as thought about kids in the past week, I just can’t get images of children crying out of my head. I wish I could tell myself that the headlines and stories are somehow worse than the truth, but they’re not. We all know that that’s not true. The fact is that there are a bunch of kids who aren’t coming home to their parents, and that’s not fair to either party, and that truth is worse than any fictionalized details people could’ve possibly come up with to get pageviews or a larger television audience.
Yes, I have always known about the bad, bad things our world holds around every corner and down every lane and across every hallway. There are awful things that happen all day, every year. But for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint, I can’t help but be so frighteningly aware of them that the prospect of having a child now upsets me. My friends often make fun of me because I get this can’t-hardly-wait grin on my face every time I see baby pictures or spot an adorable kid in the street. Now, I just want to avoid thinking about children because if I do, my only emotion will be anguish. Anguish and fear.
Photos: Leave It To Beaver, The Little Rascals, The New Normal.