At the end of my freshman year of high school, I wrote a letter to myself listing things I wanted to do before age twenty-five. I recently found the letter while going through old papers in my childhood home. For the most part, no matter how specific the goals were, I’ve reached them. Live on Avenue B. Check. Get an article published. Check. Get a tattoo. Check. Have a kid.
That hasn’t happened yet. And, since I don’t even have a real bedroom in my East Village shared apartment, but instead live in a curtained-off area of the living room, I know this is a good thing. For the most part, I live a rated-R, single-girl life, complete with dates with men twenty years older than me, occasional blackouts and accidentally wearing see-through shirts to work. Practically, there is absolutely no room in my life for a child – or even a proper boyfriend – for at least the foreseeable decade.
As naïve as it sounds, having a kid seems to me the official mark that one has crossed the finish line into adulthood. To me, having a kid provides some sort of stamp of legitimacy on life. Suddenly, someone else depends on you. I know that wanting someone to depend on me is a reason why I would be a pretty crappy mom right now. Still, I think, if not now, when?
I remember reading somewhere that a woman’s fertility begins to decline at age twenty-seven. That number sticks in my head. Then there’s Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s 2002 book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children (in which she says that, to have it all, smart women should settle down and get baby-making out of the way in their twenties, then concentrate on their career). It’s completely alarmist, but what if it’s also sort of true?
At this point in my life, just two years away from that age twenty-seven marker, I find it semi-ridiculous that it’s even possible for me to have a child. I still trip over the curb and walk around with scabbed-over skinned knees. I don’t know how to cook. Even getting it together enough to have both milk and cereal in the apartment seems like a Herculean feat of timing. I have had what can only be described as temper tantrums when my coffee order turned out wrong at Starbucks. In a way, my life has a lot of parallels to a toddler’s. I feel wobbly and shaky and want everything to go my way now.
Still, I can’t help but be fascinated with parenting, because it is something that I casually assume will happen in my future. And yet, in my motherhood fantasies, a father figure never enters the picture, not even when I’m involved with someone. “I could see you doing the single mom thing,” a guy I was dating once said. When I asked him why, he shrugged it off. “You just seem like the type.”
He’s right. In my hyper-organized life of lists and things to get done today/this week/in ten years, I feel like I want to have kids and I don’t want to have to work with anyone else’s timeline. Hewlett herself gives a sample list for twenty-somethings to keep in mind if they want to have children. Number two, “give urgent priority to finding a partner . . . understand that forging a loving, lasting marriage will enhance your life and make it much more likely that you will have children,” sounds manipulative and desperate. Why not just keep dating inappropriate men and, one way or another, get on with number three, “have a child before age 35”?
At work, I spend down-time reading parenting blogs. My favorite is Amber. She’s my age, has two children and lives in the Midwest. She takes photographs of the groceries she’s bought and puts up videos of her husband watching TV. She and her husband go on dates to Taco Bell. She’s having trouble toilet training her son. One of my other single-girl friends is obsessed with We’re judgmental as all hell; without kids of our own, we have the freedom to be. parenting blogs too, and we call each other if Amber’s daughter has missed a developmental milestone. One time, another one of our favorite bloggers wrote about how she got totally wasted on two glasses of wine with her best friend a few months after giving birth. Within ten minutes, I received an email from my friend: “OMG – what is WRONG with that woman? First of all, it is NOT OKAY to drink alcohol while you’re nursing, and that is not some weird Leche League hippie idea, it’s common effing sense. So irresponsible! Gawd. If I have children I sure as hell wouldn’t want the details of it broadcast across the internet. These people are freaks.”
I agreed, even though she had spelled La Leche League wrong, and even though I discovered through a Google search that the American Academy of Pediatrics says one or two drinks while breastfeeding isn’t harmful.
Still, we’re judgmental as all hell, because, without kids of our own, we have the freedom to be – and also maybe because we’re a little bit jealous. When I hang out with parents and their kids, I can’t help thinking about how I would do it better. I would be smarter, cooler and more attractive. My kids would be more charming, more polite and more intellectual. I justify these thoughts by remembering my experience as a camp counselor and a babysitter in college, where I discovered that I can be really good with kids. I can always find a public restroom within a four-block radius. I know that if I put my hand over the WO part of the WOMAN’s bathroom sign, a just-learning-to-read six-year-old boy will use it. I remember feeling a thrill when I used to escort kids to gymnastics or swimming and people would think they were mine.
But passing for parental isn’t the same as being parental; I know that much. For now, I’ll just luxuriate in the two years I have before the clock on my fertility starts ticking down. And I’ll keep hoping that by the time I’m really ready to have kids, I won’t be living with five other people in 500 square feet. Until then, I’ll keep checking in with Amber and posting clueless, well-meaning advice about how to get her son out of diapers.