in our own inexplicable ways
building the universe"
-- Mary Oliver, 2004
I just don't know how to start this post (but I've tried about 12 times -- it's been in draft form for weeks). I certainly don't wish to offend anybody, and I think my dearest friends know my heart and know where I'm coming from. And it's long. Kudos to you if you read all the way through; I certainly can't blame you if you don't.
I'll start with a list of disclaimers - which, in and of itself is an interesting choice, as women use far more qualifiers in conversation than men.
Disclaimer One: I. Love. Children. Ask anybody. I seriously love children. If I come to your house, your kids will not want me to leave, and I probably won't want to leave either. Dress up, hide and seek, tag, baseball, Transformers ... I love it all. I'll be the one asking to take your kids outside in the yard.
Disclaimer Two: I'm a kid pro. No really, I mean that literally. I am a professional, soon to be licensed, mental health worker specializing in children with nine years of field experience. No arrogance intended, but I know my stuff. See Disclaimer One as to why I'm a kid pro.
Disclaimer Three: You wouldn't believe how family oriented I am. I gush with excitement when I find out there's about to be a new addition to the family (including friends so dear and so old they might as well be blood related). Mamas, Papas, Baby Bears, the whole works. Families are amazingly dear to my heart.
Disclaimer Four: The gender normative and heteronormative language in this post is phenomenal. I thought about it, but just decided to keep it as simple as possible. But in case you're curious, yes, I realize.
So here's where I'm at, now that the disclaimers have been put out there (and they are all so, so true). I'm struggling right now and bristling a little and wrestling over the expectations that have been put on me over the past few years.
This is one of the most fascinating things about my life: I am nearing the point where it may begin to be difficult for me to have children. By the time I'm finished with graduate school, I will be 34 and, if it's the direction we choose to go, Shoes and I will have just started our life together. That would probably mean the delay of any future children by yet another couple of years (I'm also working towards a very specific type of licensure that requires a state exam at the end of two years of supervised clinical work [post MSW graduation]). (I know that women have children well, well into their 40s, but a woman's peak fertility time is not then.) My feminine role in society is quickly changing from one in which I am a viable womb to one where I am becoming more and more and more the cherished "auntie" .... and I'm ok with that. I haven't ruled motherhood out. Those of you who followed the blog in 2007 / 2008 knew that former husband and I went to great lengths to try to have one of the little lovelies ... and it didn't work. I absolutely haven't ruled motherhood out. So God and I talk about it sometimes and I'm beginning to experience this great peace that it might not happen for me.
Despite my own personal peace, however, it is still very odd to be a woman of my age in a society which still greatly values women for their ability to parent. People are beginning to know less and less what to do with me. Members of my family are beginning to know less and less what to do with me. I understand that I'm beginning to defy some very tightly held notions of traditional feminine roles. But even within that understanding, I'm beginning to bristle a little, too. There is so much to my life -- outside my ability or desire to have children.
But most people don't ask about the other parts of my life. Most people ask about Shoes. When we'll be tying the knot. When we'll be ready to have kids. I saw my father for the first time in two years several days ago (first time we had spoken in six months) and his only question for me was, "What are Shoes' intentions towards your relationship?". (He does not know what I am getting my Masters in. It's troubling.) (And please don't read any fatherly concern into his question; you'll just have to trust me when I tell you that's not the place from which the question was asked.)
I am more than Shoes' partner or the children we may or may not have. But this seems inexplicably lost. I am Shoes' partner - happily, happily so. I am also getting a 4.0 G.P.A. (in my second year) while I obtain a graduate education at a highly ranked university. I provide geriatric psychotherapy to a host of amazing clients. I follow current events to the letter. I read voraciously. I fret over politics and policy. I ask people questions about the things they state matter most to them. I have lots to talk about. That includes kids. But it does not preclude everything else.
It is so very tempting for our womanhood and our femininity to be defined by the presence of children in our lives. I am becoming more and more convinced we have to find a place in our society, in our churches, in the blocks in our neighborhoods, for the women who cannot, or do not want to, have children.
I begin to cherish more and more the time I spend with the ladies in my program at school. Ladies who do and do not have kids, but ladies who have a lot to say about everything.
And a couple of things that are starting to grieve me just a little?
1) Phone conversations with women who allow their children to scream into the phone receiver and continue to speak as though nothing is wrong (forgive me, but I just cannot hear when there is an unhappy kiddo). I've had phone conversations with women who pause our conversations to have lengthy (and I mean *lengthy* - this isn't a break to answer a question) conversations with their children. At this season in my life, when I think about work, school, homework, research, internship research that I could be doing, I despair a little when I lose precious, precious minutes from my day listening to women have a ten minute phone conversation with the little one. I know that kids are awesome and random and cute. I like to talk to them too. But I would so much rather that these moms just called me back at a time that's more convenient for them. I'd be so perfectly ok with that.
2) Comments such as, ""There is no harder job than that of being a mother." I appreciate how exhausting and difficult it is. I appreciate how extremely rewarding it is. I appreciate that it truly is a life-long commitment. It is, no doubt, incredibly hard. But let's put hyperboles aside. It's a little insulting to work with someone in their dying days, helping them navigate through impossible questions about what their lives have meant and if they're ready to pass on, to come home exhausted and spent, only to be told that there is no harder job than that of being a mother. I get sassy when I feel that the work I do is demeaned because it does not include parenting. It's all relative and it's all hard. Today I helped somebody get ready to die. That's no walk in the park.
3) Comments such as, "You'll know when you're a mother." Well, loves, we have already established I might not, so maybe it's ok to accept my feminine, sans children experience as perfectly valid and perfectly whole. I have no doubt I am pouring myself out to my community, my neighborhood, my society. There is an experience I will miss by not being a mother - absolutely, no questions asked. But maybe it would be more appropriate to speak about the life altering, mysterious experience of being a mother with other mothers. I'm just not sure how productive it is to say this to a non mother.
I'm just about ready to wrap this post.
I have no doubt that I've, quite unwillingly, offended somebody. I receive that and I hear that. It doesn't change my personal experience, but I do appreciate that viewpoint.
As I finish, I'm reminded, in my own life, of one of the most powerful, veritable forces of nature non mothers I have ever met. When I was in undergraduate school, one of the professors I knew best was a sociology professor, unmarried, no children woman. She was an ex Catholic Nun who was, and is, a never ending, never tiring advocate for social justice. A woman who has room for all narratives. A woman who once was arrested, during her days as a nun, for protesting nuclear weapons on a military base. A woman who once answered a student who asked her, "Are you still Catholic?" with, "Although I am uncomfortable with many of the church's stances, I will never lose that desire to believe." A woman so ferociously loving and gentle, I can think of no student, co worker or community member that did not love her back ... despite fundamental ideological differences. Her feminine life made seismic waves in my own feminine life, and when I realized that, I realized that mothering, in all of its majestic, mysterious, loving glory, was not the only way to profoundly shape the lives of others.
To those of you who are mothers, bless you and may you have all the wisdom, experience, love and grace that you need every day to do your job with excellence (er ... add a sense of humor to that as well!).
To those of you who are not mothers, my feminine heart and yours are one. I see your creativity, your love, your contribution to society and I affirm that you are whole.
For all of us, in an effort to bridge the polarized gap between those that do and those that do not, grab a bottle of wine and come on over to my house. We'll talk about books. We'll talk about Ghadafi. We'll talk about green energy. We'll talk about your kids. Let's just broaden the experience and the narrative. There's room at the table.