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Sufferer and Observer | 2015 | Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot


All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.  

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Fears Like White Elephants

Adalynn and Amber

In the checkout line of the grocery store is a little gift with eyes like Hawaiian seas, gently devouring an apple the size of her fist. She looks up at me. I wave. She does not wave back, but neither does she look away. I melt.

"That is a painfully cute kid," I tell her father.

"You want her?" he asks, laughing.

I click my tongue in mock consideration. "Almost."

He wheels the child away once he is done making his purchases. He has a son at his side, the same eyes but a few years on the baby, trying to unscrew a sign from the wall with his fingers. I don't find him as cute.

I have never wanted children. I grew up with a mother who babysat, so I always had ready access to children unrelated to me at a variety of growth stages. I never felt a nurturing instinct for them beyond what was ordered for me. Maybe they could be playmates and they absolutely could be inconveniences, but I never wanted to swaddle them and coo lullabies.

I have taught for a decade, so it is not as though I am unfamiliar with children and helping them to grow. There has been the occasional one whom I liked beyond grading their papers-though having written papers I didn't groan to grade was a qualification for liking them-but I didn't want to be their father. I acknowledge that I do not spend my weekdays with exemplars of teens. I teach the borderline hopeless and metastasized. Even when I taught rich, gifted children, I didn't want to take any of them home and finish raising them. At most, I wanted yearly updates that they were still high achieving.

Prior to getting married, I made my lack of desire for children clear to Amber. She agreed that children were not a priority to her. She wanted to focus on the continual process of becoming an artist and loving me. My goals are my writing and her.

Then, months ago, she said that she loved our cozy life and thought it would be the perfect place to introduce a child. As lovingly as I could, I made clear to her that I thought she was insane and, to a varying degree, have been mentally ill about this since. Through hard work and a lot of communication, we created something rare and beautiful, I thought. Now you want to burn it down and salt the earth for some creature we've never met?

I cycled through terrors before saying, "I love you more than anything but, if you really want children, I am not the right person for you. Do you need to divorce me? I don't want to be the thing limiting you. I don't want you resenting me."

She said she loved me more than she wanted children.

I believe that, in small part, Emily left me because I did not want children, which is why I was so vehement prior to marrying Amber. I feel almost betrayed that her mind changed, only that I am not allowed to feel this. Wanting babies is the encouraged perspective for a woman Amber's age. This is what we are supposed to want. I am the apparent aberration.

I ask Amber if she would want to adopt, just so I can understand all the factors that enter into her decision. She is unequivocal that she wants to be pregnant and have our baby, not care for a baby genetically unrelated to us. Her biological clock isn't for cuckoos.

She thought my objection was a fear that our child might be an "asshole." My concern is that I do not want a child, asshole or otherwise. (Though, if I had a child and it was in any way debilitated, I would be destroyed. This, society makes clear, means I should not have a child. I am not inclined to disagree.)

Part of this came about after our niece Adalynn was born. Though Amber had cuddled up to our younger niblings in the past, she hadn't had the opportunity to love one since birth, which seems to have kicked in a maternal instinct in her.

Six months after our wedding, Amber and I were at my nephew's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. My mother asked when we would be having children of our own, in the way that mothers apparently must. I off-handedly replied that I didn't think I wanted children. I don't know that I have seen her look more disappointed in me. She immediately told my father, who looked at me as though I had killed his imaginary grandchildren in front of his eyes.

I don't disparage people who choose to have children. Their plan makes sense to me, but it is not my plan. I believe Keilaina was born to be a mother and was certainly raised with that goal in mind. Even when she was a flirty nineteen-year-old, she was unambiguous that she was the larval form of a mother auditioning fathers for her future children. When she found her Dan, it was only a matter of time before she fulfilled her destiny.

When my brother Dan started dating Becky, who had two young children, I was confused because this was a lot more responsibility than I would have wanted fresh out of the wrong relationship, but he dove in without any reservations. Over the course of the last thirteen years, he added four more to that number. They have made clear that, if they had the means, they would reproduce ad infinitum.

I don't understand why having a child should be what is expected of me. Can't I exist for something other than reproduction? I have six nieces and nephews, collectively. Hasn't my reproductive chit been used up?

This is a decision that affects the rest of my life and it is one that I thought was behind me. It reminds me of when I was underemployed, when it seemed my Master's in education was only holding me back. My mother insisted I ought to go back to school, spend more money toward a seemingly insurmountable debt, to be certified in a discipline I wouldn't want to teach. I was sleepless with anxiety more often than not, feeling pushed toward the edge and blamed for having done the best I could.

I realize the window for my revising my answer is closing. Despite the fact that my answer had always been "No, thanks. No kids. I'm good." every time it was mentioned around me, some atom of my being understood there would be more than enough time to decide otherwise. This is another factor in my life that reminds me that I don't have forever. It is the fear of forever missing out on an experience I never wanted and don't expect to.

I told my therapist that I was okay being finite because I couldn't see another likely option but the question about having children isn't one of infinity. Instead, it forces me to consider my own mortality, if I ought to sacrifice my life to summon forth a sprog to take up the flag when I inevitably fall. However the flag I want carried is not one of genes but ideas, so each new book I shove into the public consciousness is a charge.

It seems that the majority of people abdicate their dreams to their children. I've worked too hard and long to give up for a possibility. I wasn't born to be someone's father. To be someone's favorite author, possibly and that is a goal to which I will persist in working. To be a father, I would have had to have lived a very different life.

I am happiest around adults. Around children, I am counting down the minutes until I can be in quiet again. I was this way even when I was a child.

A child to me would always be like a white elephant, an expensive gift to which I must cater my life, something I did not want in the first place but cannot refuse if it is presented to me. Having children is the greatest possible sacrifice one can make short of trading one's life for that of another. Once you have a child, they are the focus of your life. You have to do right by them, you have to work to their benefit. What you hoped for and wanted out of life is no longer a priority.

If I had a child with Amber, that would be the end of the life we have now. Our relationship would irrevocably change and it would likely be for the worse. I know few couples who are loving after having children and many who quickly fall to enmity or divorce.

I can't deny that a great many people have children who shouldn't. I've lectured a number of fifteen-year-old fathers who would have better served the world with vasectomies. I have taught over a hundred brutally neglected and abused children. I wouldn't do that to a child. If there were a baby, I would feel obligated to take care of it. Abortion is not an option for Amber, nor would we put a child up for adoption.

Even a dog feels like too much pressure for me, in a world where I was not allergic to them. I don't want to be responsible for any life that cannot get by without me. Am I selfish? Almost definitely, but do we need another child raised by a neurotic narcissist with warped self-esteem who never intended parenthood? I want to take care of Amber and myself. I can manage that. When I come home, I need it to be quiet because I have spent so long with the loudness of other thoughts.

I could write this off as Amber's hormones having kicked her ovaries into overproduction, but that is pat and insulting. Still, it reminds me of a version of the thoughts I have when my neurochemistry goes wonky, only her sudden urges are quaint and welcome whereas mine are suicidal.

Amber has gone off birth control, though I genuinely believe it is not directly related to what I have deemed her "baby fever." She had been on the pill since long before she was sexually active and wants to know what it is like to be without it. For the first time, she feels the waves of hormonal variance. She has read a half dozen library books on natural birth control and female anatomy. Never before in my life did I imagine my lover excitedly lecturing as to the viscosity of cervical mucus.

I worry that, unless I relent to her reproductive urges, I will lose Amber. If not in form, in spirit. One day, she will look at me and see not the man she loves but the one who kept from her a genetic destiny.

Soon in Xenology: A New Year.

last watched: Ernest Saves Christmas
reading: A Creature Was Stirring
listening: Regina Spektor

Sufferer and Observer | 2015 | Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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