It seems as if everyone I know from high school is about to get married or have a baby. Temporally, it’s about right. We’re in our late twenties. People are pulling themselves out of their crises and getting their shit together. It’s happening.
Up until last year, I had been certain that I wanted to fall in love, get married, and, most importantly, be a mother. When I was a little girl, I would stick out my tummy and pretend I was pregnant. But when I finally got to a place in my life that included children—you know, all that wonderful, gushy stuff like falling in love and thinking about getting married—things changed.
There are these things you carry within you during your life that you think you are absolutely certain of. Some are genuinely foundational and never leave you; they are intrinsic to you as breathing. Some things you just grow out of. Others you realize you had only ever liked the idea of.
Things changed when I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to be a mother. I just wanted to be a parent.
My niece was born in October 2013. I had hung out with more than a couple babies in my time, but this little girl, who we lovingly call Marve, was my first real experience. Every Thursday, while her mama was at work, and her daddy got some time to himself, I spent the day with Marve. For 8 hours, I was given a small child and my most basic mission for those hours while she was in my care, was to make sure that she didn’t die. I also made sure she was fed, rested, happy, and loved. Very loved. Abundantly and wholeheartedly loved. I loved the fuck out of her.
Quickly I learned how to change her diapers, I learned how to dress her, I learned how to rock her to sleep, and then I learned that after a day with Marve, I was utterly exhausted and beyond relieved to pass her back to her parents. With her, I got to have a little bit of cake and eat it, too. She was my first taste of parenthood. And though I could see, and to a very small degree feel, the simultaneous joy and burnout that came with an infant, it was the latter that stuck with me. In small increments, my maternal inclination was wavering.
Then, a year ago, I met my children.
Bear told me right off the bat that he had two kids. After 8 months of dating, he brought them to a kickball game to very informally meet me. He introduced me as his roommate and friend. The afternoon, though rainy, was wonderful and almost uneventful.
The next week, after I had gone on a first date of sorts with his ex, the woman that would easily become my friend and sister-wife, he asked the kids if it would be okay if he and Georgia dated.
“Sure,” the kids both said nonchalantly over ice cream.
Bear brought them over to spend the night regularly, and routines developed: dinner, then dessert, then tooth-brushing, then pajamas, then stories, then bed. Almost overnight, I had become a parent to a little boy and a littler girl.
Smartly, Bear had waited almost a year before coalescing his two worlds. He and I never explicitly discussed when I would meet them, but there didn’t seem to be a need. I didn’t want them to meet me until they could be certain that I wouldn’t be going anywhere, and I didn’t want to meet them for the same reason. I didn’t want to fall in love with them and then lose them. Because I knew I would. I knew it in my gut. I would meet them and immediately love them, just as I had with their father.
And I was right. These two little people were crazy, silly, loud, smart, funny, and I loved them the day I met them. Even better, it didn’t take too long for them to love me back.
But as much as I loved them, I was still a little relieved when we gave them back to their mom. The significance of that feeling took a little while to sink in. Then, I just knew.
“Between Marve and the kids, I think I’m done,” I said to Bear when it had hit me.
“What?” he asked.
“I don’t think I want kids of my own. I think the kids are enough for me. A kid of my own would be too much. I’m too selfish with my time and sleep.” Bear smiled and told me that I would be a great mom if I wanted to have a kid of my own.
Then, a couple minutes later, he turned to me and all but declared, “we’ll be empty-nesters in 14 years!”
Most of the time, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I get to be a parent and a single, no-responsibilities lady. I have nights alone to myself. I have nights where I can cuddle little kids who drive me crazy and made me so very happy at the exact same time. I have a balance. But every so often, an inkling returns.
There was a night not too long ago when Bear’s daughter Addie, who is five now, woke up in the middle of the night crying, and all she wanted was her daddy. As she clung to Bear, I felt a pang in my chest. That night, as I tried to fall asleep, I found myself crying. I knew how much I wanted to keep the balance I’d found in life, but I would never be anyone’s mommy. Not really. So I lay in bed that night and cried for a child I would never have.
And then, the next morning, as I walked downstairs with slightly puffy eyes, I saw two silly faces sitting on the couch in pajamas giggling about who-knew-what. While Bear went upstairs to get dressed, I made sure they had shirts and pants and socks and shoes on. Then, I helped them put on their coats and backpacks, and I told them I loved them as they walked out the door.
Like all parents do.