Mother and baby
To the lady I met at the grocery store café yesterday:
You are the well-dressed late-30s professional who squealed when you saw my little boy, in his stroller, making a revving sound and running his toy car over his own legs and arms. He has big blue eyes, strawberry-blond hair, and comically fat cheeks, and he was loudly saying "bbbbrrrrrbbbbbrrrr beep! beep! bbbbrrrrbbbbbrrr". It was heartbreakingly cute, I will admit, though I am his mother.
I laughed and asked if you had kids, because usually it's other mothers who exclaim over strangers' babies, and you said, No, but you really wanted a baby. And then your eyes kind of welled up with tears, and we were plunged into one of those moments of intimacy with total strangers that sometimes happen in a big city. "I have a boyfriend," you explained, "But he isn't ready yet." And then you said, bitterly, "I don't think he'll ever be ready." Struck by the moment, I gave an equally straightforward reply: "Get rid of him and have a baby!" You laughed, and I laughed too, and we went on with our shopping.
I've been thinking about you ever since. I wish I'd been able to elaborate. I might know how you feel. I'm turning 40 this year. I had to drag my husband to the alter of late parenthood, and even when he eventually agreed, we had difficulty conceiving...I know what it is to want a baby. And having now had two children has only made me want more babies. Maybe it's because I'm nearing the end of the time in which it would be biologically plausible, but I spend a good part of every day thinking about how much I love babies, how much I want to prolong this period of little-kid-dom, how fast they grow, how fleeting and precious it all is, and how once this time is gone you never get it back.
My children are sources of radiance, joy and love that I could never have imagined. Eventually, I assume, they will become ordinary human adults, but just now they are still so young and so close to God that it makes me silly with joy. I love watching them change and grow and develop new skills, but I also want to dwell in this phase for longer. I want another baby. I don't want to be done, just yet, with holding the pants for someone to step into, or lifting people up for hugs, or being the most important person in the world, Mommy.
And I say I'm not done despite being often a de-facto single parent. I know from experience or from watching friends' experiences that a) you can do it alone and b) a resentful, half-committed, I-told-you-this-was-going-to-suck partner is worse than no partner. There are people who just don't want children. You trick or pressure them into it at your own peril.
We all know that a two-parent family is ideal, but if that's not going to happen for you, and if you want a baby badly enough that you're crying to total strangers in the grocery store, you can make it happen. Adoption, sperm-donation...I've seen people do it, even single women. You need to be able to afford it. But you, Supermarket Lady, looked expensively dressed and gainfully employed.
I'm not a real single parent, so there are aspects of how stressful and alone that must be that I don't fully get. But my husband travels for work, so I am often a parent who often manages her children alone, and I tell you that on the day-to-day level it can be done. It's even peaceful and lovely to spend quiet nights alone with your children, with no adult-dinner to make and no one else's schedule to coordinate or consider.
Not to say that parenting isn't the hardest thing I've ever done. Some days when my husband is out of town my body feels like I've been beaten with mallets all day, just from the ordinary wear-and-tear of looking after two toddlers. On those days, I fall onto the sofa once they're in bed, and sometimes it takes me an hour of just lying there before I can stagger up to do the dinner dishes, pack the lunches for the next day, and lay out my clothes for work the next morning. But I never question it being worth it.
There are daily dramas of caring for kids alone, like when I forget to buy something essential such as diapers or milk, and the kids are in bed or almost-in-bed, and I have to bundle up them up and bring them with me to the store, feeling sorry for us all. It's tough returning late at night from a trip to my parents' house with a bombed-out car, 25 bags and suitcases, two sleeping little people, and no practical way to unload. I have sat exhaustedly in my dark car, plotting what items will be most essential for bedtime/ morning and how much I can carry, while also carrying a baby and dragging a 4-year-old by the hand, with verbal encouragement. It can just about be done. And there are lots of things I can't do: I can't be consistently on time to school. I can't ringlead my older child through events like weekend soccer while also watching my younger, so we don't do that stuff unless my husband is around. Parties alone with two tiny kids are not worth it. The list goes on.
But this is minor. I can't speak to all the major things that a single parent doesn't have--backup of all varieties emotional, financial and practical. I just know that if you feel like I feel, and it looked like you did, my advice is that you should find a way to have a baby. At least, if I ran into you in the supermarket, that's what I'd tell you.
Mother and baby