Recently, my boyfriend’s good friends Tom and Jessie had their first child, a healthy, chubby-cheeked little boy that they couldn’t wait to show off to their friends. So, we picked out a fuzzy outfit, wrapped it up in pastel paper, and drove out to New Jersey to do the traditional ooh-ing and ahh-ing. When we arrived, we walked in on a scene of familial bliss. Elated grandparents bustled around making lunch. The new father was glassy-eyed with excitement and lack of sleep. And there, in the center of it all, asleep on his Mama’s shoulder was the tiny, perfect new boy: Liam.
“Oh my goodness,” I cooed, “look how sweet he is.”
Jessie looked up at me with a peaceful smile. “You can hold him if you want,” she offered.
“Don’t let her do it, Nick,” one of the grandfathers warned my boyfriend. “As soon as she holds that baby, she’s going to want one of her own.”
With that, my boyfriend practically picked me up and threw me across the room in the direction of the baby. Like it or not, his look said, you’re going to hold that cuddly, sleepy, little bundle of joy!
Later, on the drive home, he smiled at me and took my hand. “You looked so cute holding Liam,” he said. “You’re going to be a really great mom someday.”
“Thanks,” I replied, “but I hope you’re not counting on any day soon.”
“That didn’t make you want to have a baby, even a little, tiny bit?”
He shook his head and sighed.
My lack of maternal desire is usually a joke between us. When I say things like, “I think I might want to have just one little girl.” He’ll reply with, “Don’t worry, by the time you’re ready to have kids, I’m sure that science will have mastered gender selection.” But lately, as all of our friends make giant leaps into adulthood, the joke seems to be wearing thin. After almost four years of dating, we’re both nearing the end of our twenties and he is beginning to wonder if I’m going to be ready to have kids at least sometime in the next decade. The best that I can offer as an answer is a non-committal: maybe.
In an effort to understand Nick’s perspective, I asked him the other day, “Why are you so ready to have kids?”
He looked at me blankly, as though I had asked him: What’s so great about this breathing thing anyway? “What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, why is it so appealing to you? How do you know that you’re ready?”
“I don’t know. I’m almost thirty. I love you. I have a stable career. I really want to be a dad and I don’t want to wait until I’m an old man.”
Great, I think. My boyfriend’s biological clock is ticking a lá Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny and mine doesn’t even seem to be keeping time.
But he’s not finished. “I think it’s a pretty normal thing for people our age to at least be thinking about. I mean, why aren’t you ready?”
It’s a fair question and one that I’ve asked myself plenty of times this past year while attending an endless succession of weddings, baby showers, christenings, and other traditional, “Guess what? You’re getting old,” events. I have come up with lots of great reasons to explain my lack of reproductive enthusiasm to myself and anyone else who might be interested. For example, I’d really like to have a house when I have a baby, but I live in New York City. This means that for me, the idea of owning property is a dream akin to that of human flight. To make matters worse, I recently left my rock-stable teaching job for the shifting sands of freelance writing. I’m also preparing to head back to graduate school, quite possibly across the country from all of my family and friends. It is financially, emotionally, geographically, completely impractical for me to have a baby at this juncture in my life. And yet, I know that these practical arguments are just a cover-up for my deeper fears.
Making big decisions has always been difficult for me. I’ve always been afraid of choosing the wrong thing, like when I set foot on Boston University’s campus my freshman year of college and got the horrible, sinking in my stomach that said I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I’m terrified that I will wake up one morning and feel this way about being a mom. So, I’m not taking any chances. I want to wait to have kids until I’m absolutely sure that I am ready.
I think about what a good dad he will be, the Baby Bjorn-wearing, diaper bag-toting, shared-parenting kind.Waiting means that I am going to be an older mom and I have come to terms with what that entails. It means that I will have one or two children, instead of the brood of four I once imagined. It means sometimes dealing with sidelong glances from relatives who wonder when I’m going to settle down and comments from meddling old ladies at Starbucks who warn me not to “wait too long,” with a ominous raise of their penciled-on eyebrows. It means watching friends who have always been on the same page as me move off down paths I’m not ready to take. I can deal with all of this. I expected all of this. What I didn’t expect was a twenty-something-year-old boyfriend with a serious case of baby fever. Just because I’ve come to terms with late parenthood doesn’t mean that he has.
Sometimes I watch him, when he is taking pictures of our cats sweetly napping or letting my nieces and nephews wrestle him to the ground. I think about what a good dad he will be, the Baby Bjorn-wearing, diaper bag-toting, shared-parenting kind and just for a moment, I’ll want to push all of my fears aside and say, “Ok, let’s do it.” I mean people have certainly brought children into the world in far less favorable circumstances.
“Wait,” Nick interrupts me, reading over my shoulder as I write, “does this mean…?”
“No,” I reply, “I’m still not ready.”
“Ok,” he says, “but when do you think you will be?”
“I don’t know. Five years,” I say and then, after a moment’s thought, “Maybe.”
That is the only answer I have for right now.