This is something I wrote on August 7, 2003:
I brought Dog to work today, and this afternoon I took her on a walk. When we walked by an apartment complex, three little boys came running up. "Can we pet your dog?" they chorused, and after receiving the okay, all three gently petted Dog while she stood, amiably grinning. One boy had a pair of plastic handcuffs on. I asked him why, and he showed me a sweet gap-toothed smile. "Because I put them on," he patiently explained. So you're not going to jail? I asked. "Noooo," he said, chortling at the thought.
I imagined, for a moment, having a young son. Laughing with him. Emptying his pockets of rocks, frogs, gum, handcuffs.
Do you feel ready, he asks me sometimes.
"This dog," I said solemnly, "has been known to lick little boys." Three pairs of round eyes looked at me. "But only the bad ones." On cue, Dog casually slurped one grimy hand.
Giggling, all around.
No. I am not ready. I am not ready to utterly and completely change my life forever and ever. I am not ready to be responsible for raising a human being. I am not ready to become a mother.
I am not ready to think about schools and orthodontics and healthcare and swimming lessons and soccer and pencil-packs and report cards and the PTA and breastfeeding-vs-formula and antibiotics and haircuts and macaroni art and field trips and first steps and training wheels and ant farms.
I am not ready to get up in the middle of the night to do anything other than shuffle to the bathroom to pee.
Do not even get me started about giving birth.
I am Not Ready Yet Goddamit.
But for some reason, I can't seem to stop the passage of time. I keep getting older. Oh, I know 29 is not over any hill us reasonable folk are aware of, but months have a way of sneaking by so fast. It doesn't seem fair, somehow, that the decision to have children comes with this, this shelf life, you know? Because it's not just how old you are when you give birth, but how old you are when they graduate, how old you'll be at their wedding, and by the way how old are the grandparents? SHIT.
Is this just a freakout that happens in some women's lives? Where you are staring 30 in the face and suddenly it seems like there are so many people your age with kids and your husband wants kids and and you feel like the immature asshole because you like your life the way it is? Where you start wondering if, in the sway of biological influence, role expectations, and the occasional sentimental surge—you have any hope of making a rational decision at all?
Where the smile on a little boy's face can pull you in a thousand directions at once, and you feel like you are never going to figure all this out. Ever.
Not yet, baby, I say. And I feel like shit when I say it, because I know he is waiting for the day when I say yes, I'm ready.
"Bye dog!" they yelled, waving. "Bye! Bye!" And we walked on.
Oh, I read that and I feel so many things. I feel amazed and absolutely blessed to be here, seven years later, the mother of not one but two young sons. Sons who grin and giggle and whose pockets are always filled with odd things (although not frogs, I must say). Here I am, tasked with thinking all those things I wasn't ready to think about, and what I didn't know then is that all that stuff has nothing on the real parenthood bugaboos. Accidents, illness, death. People who do bad things to children. The days when I am ashamed of my own parenting abilities.
God, and I was worried about haircuts.
I also remember just how I felt, back when I wrote that. How awful and confusing and stressful it was, to not know when or if I'd ever be ready for children. How as time went on, it became such a burden on our marriage. As some of you may know firsthand, it is a terrible imbalance for one partner to be ready for kids (or more kids), while the other is not.
I've had people ask me how I eventually knew I was ready for parenthood, and I have no good answer. I never did know, really. The best I could do was get to a point where I believed, or at least had hope, that I would be able to figure it out. My heart told me I did want a family, so it was my job to override all the panic buttons in my brain.
I realized that sometimes you just have to jump in, eyes closed. No one can promise that it's all going to work out. You just have to ... find the faith.
How did you know when you were ready?