Lately, I’m really getting how much energy it takes to not do something. And how much of not doing things I’ve done and sometimes not done. Not eating. Not smoking. Not becoming my mother. Not not becoming my mother. And, most pertinently here, not having kids.
Not having kids is saying one big no. No to the same thing over and over and over. So that you can say yes to everything else. I picked one big no and a million little yeses. I didn’t want to have to say no all the time. I’m already such a negative person. Cheerful, but negative.
If you don’t believe me, maybe you will believe Greg. Greg is the man I didn’t have children with. Some women meet a man and think This is the father of my children. I met Greg and thought, Now here’s a man I cannot have kids with.
I thought about having kids, of course. But on a gut level, I just didn’t want to. I thought maybe I should anyway. In fact, maybe I should especially because I didn’t want to. Like the way you should exercise especially when you feel lazy. But having kids especially because I didn’t want to? It didn’t seem like bringing another person onto the earth as a contrary action to my character flaws of selfishness and fear seemed wise. Or fair to the kid.
Plus, I just didn’t want to.
As a grown-up, I’ve met plenty of women who have had careers they loved and also had kids. But I’ve also met plenty who’ve made too many compromises. Plenty of guys who have done the same. I had no dreams of family life. I had a dream of an art life.
Somewhere right around the time I was thinking maybe I was wrong about not having kids, a yoga teacher did an adjustment on me. After the adjustment, the sound of ripping.
“Is that your pants?” he asked, adding insult to injury.
In the following months, I tried to heal the hamstring with every combination of heat and ice I could think of, including whiskey on the rocks. Finally the teacher sent me to see Mimi and Moses Yu. A husband-and-wife team of acupuncturists who ran a low-rent clinic in East L.A. The luck of the draw assigned me to Mimi. She had me pull down my pants and lie on the table. It didn’t not hurt. It didn’t not hurt so much I started to cry.
“You can’t take the pain,” she said. “Jewish girls so spoiled. You better never have baby.” Is that even legal to say?
You don’t notice the absence of pain until there is pain. In the same way, you don’t notice the absence of children until there are children. I like children by the way. It was never that. And they like me. Liking has nothing to do with it.
Because Mimi Yu told me I shouldn’t have a baby, I started thinking about having a baby. I started to want to experience childbirth. Just so I could prove that I could take the pain. I couldn’t really take the pain though.
(MORE: Life Without Kids)
I started thinking maybe there was a way to not have a child but not not have a child. Had no idea what that would be. I’d always said I’d have a daughter if I could have an eighteen-year-old. Ha ha.
And then one day the phone rang.
“Do you ever have interns?” asked a sweet girl on the other end. We never had, but we could. She said she came to our show, The UnCabaret, quite frequently, and really loved it. So she was smart enough to open with flattery. I liked that. So I said come over. We sent her on a Xeroxing run, and she did a good job. I asked if she was hungry. She looked hungry.
“Yes, I’m always hungry,” she said. So I made her some chili. And that was that.
I got to be a mother to an eighteen-year-old. Not a mother mother. Not a stepmother. Not a surrogate mother. Not a foster mother. But what I came to think of as a pseudo mother.
Her name is Jaime. Like J’aime. I love.
I got to be a pseudo mother without tapping into my deep well of negativity. Yes, she could drop out of college for which she was accruing debt to major in a field she was only studying to please her parents who weren’t paying for it. I got to tell her yes she could work for my radio show. I got to tell her yes it was okay to start having sex. And yes to quitting her job so that she could go back to school for pre-med and yes to med school as an older student. And then one day, she was driving away in a new car that her on-again, off-again, big-time screenwriting boyfriend had given her.
I hired her, I encouraged her, I fed her, I gave her clothes. Now I only see her on Facebook. And maybe I will hardly ever get to see her again. But I love her. I love her in that way that isn’t a friend or a lover or anything besides a child. Even though she’s not mine. And maybe for me that was the most important part of not having a child. Learning to love and not want to possess. To put away no and start saying yes.
Excerpted from No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.