On Punching Toddlers And Falling in Love

I'm not that into kids. And that's strange, society says, for a woman. People look at you sideways when you're a woman and you say things like that: I don't like kids. You get asked the inevitable question, as I did until I gratefully hit my fortieth year—So, when are you going to have kids? Not, are you going to have kids, but when are you going to have kids. Like it's a foregone conclusion. And that always gave me pause. I've spent a lot of years as a single person, traveling, writing, waiting tables, moving from place to place, staying as long as it took for the novelty to wear off and then moving on again. So that gave me a bit of a pass on the kid thing, but sometimes I'd fall into a relationship and think “yeah! This is the one. Maybe we'll get married and make babies together.” And I'd settle in for what I imagined was the long haul, only to hear, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, the quiet, menacing growl of panic, that jungle cat that paced and paced in ever-tightening circles in my belly. “Settling down” just wasn't in my cards—not in the white-picket-fence way that I imagined would be a good, safe place for a family. I used to wonder what was "wrong" with me. Did I step out of line when the biological clocks were being handed out? Was it because I came from a "broken" family? Was I, in fact, broken? 

It wasn't always me that hightailed it first. I had a talent for choosing guys with the same jungle-cat tendencies, and the eventual splits were sometimes bloody and painful. I hated the actual breaking-up process, but deep down there was this sweet, cool sense of relief, once the dust settled, that there was no little person to drag along with me into the next chapter. Kids were baggage, I'd tell myself; but the voice bore a raw toughness that echoed with a faint tick-tock....tick-tock. And then it was strangely painful, like a cheese grater on a scab, when some random acquaintance would find out months down the line that I'd broken up with so-and-so, and they'd get this fake-sad expression and say something like “aww but I thought you two were so good together. And you'd have made such cute babies.” And then there it would be, the unspoken, or, if the person was particularly dense, the spoken thought: “Don't worry, you still have time. Women these days are having kids in their forties.” 

So here I am, in my forties. Fortunately for me, people are either getting smarter about the things they say, or I'm better at ignoring stupid questions. Also, it appears that biology and I have reached a truce. Those brief urges toward procreation, the quick little flirtations with Baby Madness that plagued me through my twenties and thirties, they're like dance steps I once knew but have gladly forgotten. And the hormones that flushed through my poor slavish brain have mercifully relinquished their hold, maybe because now I'm safely ensconced in Year Forty-Two and that's the consolation prize I get for making it this far and having to cope with both zits and wrinkles. 

But every now and then I meet some dum-dum who can't imagine any other use for me than as a brood mare, and the question pops out, though it has morphed a bit: So why didn't-cha have kids? I watch their eyebrows climb their foreheads in consternation at my reply. But it's the easiest answer in the world. I never could have done all the things I've done if I'd sacrificed my time/energy/life to raising them. Also, aside from a few of my friends' progeny, I truly don't like them all that much. I mean, kids are jerks. What other person, besides maybe a hot mess of an alcoholic, would come into your life and immediately start demanding all of your attention? Who else in the world would put up a screaming fit and start waving their fists in the air, in the middle of the goddamn night, and when you dragged yourself out of bed to see what was wrong, would present you with a diaper full of shit and expect you to do the honors? And then do it all over again a few hours later, after biting you in the tit? (I would just like to interject here that I have dated a few alcoholics, and the particulars are very similar. It took me two or three tries to figure out that alcoholics—the seriously mental ones, the ones who simply cannot stop drinking and must go to live-in rehab or die—are not relationship material. It was either stop dating them, or resign myself to a life of changing diapers. I chose Option A.)

I don't know how parents do it. I look at my friends who have kids and I think god must have given them an extra heart when the baby came along, full of patience, long-suffering and the ability to survive on tiny, vampirish doses of un-sleep. And then there are the other kind of parents: the kind I was worried I might be. Some shitty toddler was pulling faces at me behind his mom's back today and I felt the old urge to give him a solid punch in the ear. I am not supposed to have those urges, and I'm certainly not supposed to talk about them; but, this is my blog and if you like PC shit, read something else. Would I punch a toddler? Probably not, but I never wanted to find out, and so I never had one. More people should get on that train, I think. We don't need more children in the world, but we could use fewer shitty parents and more people who are free to do stuff that makes them happy and helps the planet. Maybe, if women (and men) could dig down and withstand both the societal pressure and the hormonal overdrive to reproduce, they might find other things to do. Like save up a little money, travel the world, write books, rescue a few species from extinction. 

And here's a revelation: you can still have a family without necessarily hurling a child from your loins. I have a huge family, but it's not because my romantic life up to now has been stellar. In fact it has been a circus, a reckoning, a bloodletting. Every turn around the track has brought me face-to-face with that jungle cat, that animal self who wouldn't be tamed, wouldn't relinquish control. I couldn't settle into love because every time I tried, that snarling beast came back and chased me on down the road. There were (aside from the alcoholics) some truly kind men who got trampled on my way around the track. But it felt like relief to run. It felt like relief to be alone again after suffocating myself in close quarters with somebody else. I couldn't imagine bringing a kid into all of that. I'd have chewed myself apart. 

But family? I have that in spades. And love has been gentler lately, or perhaps I've been gentled, have let go, just a tiny bit, of the need to be in control all the time, to go running off whenever things get scary. And that softening, that breaking, leaves cracks for somebody else to get in. It's really startling when that happens, because I always imagined it was a Someday kind of thing, which is to say Probably Never. But once I began to cognitively understand, to wrap my mind around the fact that I have not ever, at any point in my life, been able to dictate what happens to me—from my parents' divorce, to whether it rains today, to whether someone I love suddenly dies—then I began to let go. My illusions of control and safety began to fall apart. It's taken years. It's still happening on a minute-to-minute basis. I still detest rain, bad drivers, feeling abandoned, unruly children, death, confrontation, and a long list of other annoying and/or terrifying things which I cannot control and which Life keeps sticking in my face. 

But I love, too. And love trips me up and renders me breathless more often than I can say. I am learning this: if you open yourself, love will amaze you. There is nothing, nothing, it can't do. Case in point: I recently started dating a guy who has a kid. Sort of unavoidable when you're in your forties, I guess, but I wasn't going to pretend to like the kid just because I liked the guy. When the time came for the inevitable meeting, I figured I'd just let the chips fall where they may. Kids, like dogs, either love or hate me and there's not much I can do about it. I expected this kid to give me the brushoff: Dad's girlfriend, seriously, what a drag, she doesn't even play video games. But instead what happened was that I took to the kid almost instantly. He was smart and funny and bold, like his dad, and instead of waiting for him to accept me, I just loved him and that was that. And for an extra smack upside the head, so Life could really drive home the point, I liked his mom, my sweetheart's ex, too. Now there's a good joke on a miserly heart: hanging out in the kitchen having dessert and laughing with my sweetheart, his ex-wife, her husband, and their shared kid.

And just like that, I step over the threshold of the Now, into this present moment. I open the eyes of my heart and look around me, at the way Time, that old alchemist, will transform pain into love. At this man who walked into my life not so long ago, precisely when I became ready, whether or not I knew it. His past and his present, all here in the same room; my past gradually fading, and my present glowing bright as the kitchen windows against the windy dark outside. I can practically see that old jungle cat padding away down the road, quiet at last, content out there in the wild, where it belongs. Leaving me with a bigger heart, and a bigger scope on family. That whole mom, dad, two-and-a-half kids thing? Whose arse did they pull that one out of? This scene feels a lot better to me. Call it broken if you want, nobody likes divorce, but this is what I know: love comes in through the cracks that only happen when we are broken. When we are willing to admit we don't have our shit together, that we aren't totally competent, that we don't know what's going to happen next. We don't ever know. It's okay. Love lives there, in the uncertainty, and it conquers us in the sweetest and heaviest and most ordinary of ways. Love doesn't care that you don't like kids or that you do, that you might be an asshole toddler-puncher (please don't do that), that you long for a white picket fence, that you started a family and then it broke up, that you have two dads or three moms, that you live in a trailer, on a boat, in a mansion, in a tin shack with a muddy yard and seven dogs under the porch. Love can find you there. You just have to be broken; that's all it takes.


  1. The jungle cat is always there. It will sleep more and, when awakened, roar less as it grows older with you, but when it is awake it will stalk you, and you will retain your edge because of it.


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