Earlier this week I wrote this post about the long road my husband and I took to be at peace with my decision not to have children. In this and the next two posts, I’ll tell you about how that all went to poop.
Strike 1 – Realizing that caring for a child would be a joy, not a burden
Approximately 12 seconds after “baby-gate,” just when N and I were starting to feel like our old selves again, my youngest sister Elyssa came out to visit. On our drive home from lunch, we updated each other about our lives in the excited, stream-of-consciousness way that only sisters who are also best friends can do. (You know what I mean – it’s both shorthand and long stories – simultaneously)
I updated her on N’s and my latest development – that we were not going to have kids, and a long last, we were both totally cool with it. I shared with her how relieved I was to have the weight of the unknown off of my back, and even more, how relieved I was that I would not be burdened by caring for a bunch of kids. I told her the same thing I told you all in my last post about how I did not have the time or the inclination to take a sick day so I could stay home and wipe a kid’s snotty nose.
After I had showcased my compassionate nature with that little gem, Elyssa, who has always been wise well beyond her years, just calmly and sweetly turned to me and asked, knowingly and completely without judgment, what I would do if she ever became too sick to care for herself.
Her question might make more sense to you if you know that Elyssa was diagnosed with Crohns Disease as a young teenager. She insists that her Crohns is relatively “mild,” but I’ll tell you, watching her endure everything that has been required of her with this illness has been both horrific and inspiring. And her insistence that “other people have it worse” is more a commentary on her mindset and positive outlook than on the severity of everything she has been through. For this and a million other reasons, few people (living or dead, fictitious or real) have my unequivocal respect as much as Elyssa.
So back to our conversation. When we left off, Elyssa had asked me what I would do if she ever became too ill to care for herself. The thought of her being that sick invoked in me a visceral and immediate response. Without even thinking, tears immediately came to my eyes, and I heard myself saying that I would take a leave of absence from work and come up to wherever she was living and care for her around the clock. Even though I did not plan or consider those words before I spoke them, as soon as I heard them, I knew they were true and that I meant them with my whole heart.
My wise, Socratic baby sister just smiled sweetly and calmly, and assured me that I would be a great mother. Mind you, we were not then, nor had we ever discussed my then-subconscious and unspoken belief that when it came to mothering, I would be THE WORST. But that’s just how Elyssa is. She always knows how to speak directly to my deepest insecurities, oftentimes before I am even aware that they exist. She told me that my love for her, full and deep as it is, would feel pale compared with my love for my children. She told me that she had every confidence that, just like I would not want anyone else caring for her if she were terribly ill, she just “knew” that I would feel even more strongly about anyone else caring for my children if they got sick. And I would be good at it. I’d be a good mom.
I don’t remember what I said, or whether I said anything at all, but that was the exact moment when the peace I felt about my decision not to procreate shattered. That was the first moment that I caught a glimpse of myself as a mother that wasn’t completely horrific.
And wouldn’t you know, that glimpse was of calling out of work on an important court day because my child was sick and I couldn’t stomach the thought of anyone other than myself cuddling that little nugget and wiping his/her snotty nose.