(inspired by the French idiomatic phrase, “femmes d’un certain âge.”)
I woke up dreaming of her again. She was about 5 years old, dressed in a little pink and blue pinafore, standing at the banks of a shallow pond, reaching a knobby white birch stick toward swans in the distance. She looked at me and giggled. The sun glinted off her father’s black hair and suddenly she was all dimples. But it was her eyes, so light blue they took my breath away, a mirror unto my very own that let me know: She’s my daughter.
In dreams, she is my daughter.
In waking life, she isn’t real.
I have dreamed of this girl my whole life, or at least since I was a teenager. I have held her in my arms. I have hobbled into a restaurant lit with Christmas lights and watched her, around age 30, stunningly beautiful, worried, running toward me, helping me reach the table. In that dream, I am old, or injured, or both. In other dreams, we have had fights, screamed at each other. I have read her books, played games, gone on roller coasters with her. I have held her as a baby. I have been ignored by her as a teenager.
But only in my dreams.
You see, I do not have children.
And despite these dreams, and that desire I usually keep hidden away, tucked deep within my heart, I am now getting to the place- damn it, let’s call it what it is- age- where that dream may no longer be attainable, where it is no longer realistic, not just biologically, but in so many other ways as well- lifestyle, sense of self, income fluctuations, social and cultural positions.
Mornings like today bring a bruising sorrow, familiar, like the desk you always bump your knee on. I wake up, a sort of throb in my heart, and I ask: where is my daughter? Where is this child I have dreamed of my whole life? And if we never meet, does that make me wrong? Bad? Selfish? Were my dreams just fantasy or did I just choose a different parallel reality?
The day goes on and I realize that my choices in life make it clear I have never truly prioritized having children, which in turn makes me wonder if I even really want them. From what I gather from the news and conversations with people across the country, artist or psychic or bank teller or teacher or dockworker, all manner of race, religion, orientation, income… a lot of us are in the childless boat whether we want to be or not.
There are as many reasons for this as there are people, of course. Income or lack thereof struggles with fertility, lack of a partner in a context where that is important, miscarriages, or worse, tragic death. I have an ever-growing number of friends who just kept putting it off, and then suddenly, they turned a certain age (different for all of us, but basically somewhere between 35 and 50) and it seemed preposterous at that point. Sometimes I mention this to friends WITH children, and often I’m met with a similar “oh, come on,” sort of roll of the eyes. I don’t think these friends are trying to be hurtful. They’re just looking at it from the point of view of someone who did the “normal” thing and had kids at age 27 or 34 or 21 or whatever age was right for them.
Maybe it’s like anything that we’ve never done but is kind of normal. How many of us never had proper boyfriends in high school or went to the prom (shyly raising her hand) and so it became a “big deal” until we had that experience. We missed something of a ritual growing up and so imagine a piece of us is missing. Will I be fine and maybe even superb if I never go to prom? Yup. Will I be fine and maybe even superb if I never have children? Yup. Can I, alternatively, fuck myself up over these things? Yup. Oh, the responsibility of being alive... makes me wanna cry for my mother.
And yet, I dream of a beautiful daughter whom I have not given birth to and, maybe, never will. I ask myself: if that is one of my many lives unled (other lives unled include marrying a manipulative but wealthy German and living in Europe; becoming a chiropractor; marrying a high school English teacher and attempting to have children and cats and dogs in a tiny little house in the snow; living in New York City as a great soprano; on and on I can list unlived lives, some of which could still be lived but, you know, nah…) then I wonder, what is destiny, and what is my choice, and where do they join together? And will this child come through another source and appear instead as a niece or a friend or a stone or a lily or a character in a book?
I am a mother, that is true. I mother in my work, I mother my friends and family. I mother my projects. I have countless friends and clients who call me to ask about how to calm a teething child, whether or not or when to call the doctor, what to do about a situation at school, how to inspire rambunctious 10 years olds to practice piano.
I’m a mother with no children, and therefore, I am available to mother YOU, dear friend. And I need you. I need to share about aloe juice for mouth sores and flat 7-Up and Robitussin for the flu. I need to tell you to take a day off and I need to hug you and listen to you and understand you.
‘Cause. I am. A mother.
I heard this story once from a friend. When her friend was a baby, her friend’s father was in medical school and the wee family of three lived altogether in a tiny one bedroom apartment. They couldn’t afford a crib, so they put the baby in the top drawer of the dresser, snuggled in among sweaters and tee shirts.
It sounds romantic, I suppose. But, it isn’t. I don’t want to put a baby in a friggin’ dresser drawer. And I’ve traveled a lot in this world, and I know it’s a privileged thing to say. I have the choice. I may be solidly middle class in THIS country, and I may be paying off certain debts from certain choices, but I’m still one of the wealthiest women in the world if we count up all 7.6 billion of us (or whatever the number is these days.) I’ve been to the slums of Delhi, and, heck, even here there is a small tent city/ homeless encampment in the alley a block away from my home in an otherwise gentrified neighborhood. Poverty isn’t romantic. It’s deadly, and it’s unjust, and in certain cultures, it is punished. (hint: ours.)
I don’t think old college sweatshirts are a reasonable replacement for a crib, I just don’t.
My friend was trying to inspire me. “You figure it out,” she said. Probably true. Also, that father of her friend finished medical school. That’s a different story than the folks living in the encampment down the way.
I spend a lot of time watching other people’s children, especially focusing on when those kids are horrible brats. I want to remind myself of the realities of parenting. It is hard. Poop and snot and vomit are flying everywhere. You may end up with an amazing kid or you might give birth to Jeffrey Dahmer. There are no guarantees. You don’t get to know ahead of time. And then you do what you can to parent as best you can, assuming you are a decent parent who gives a shit. I talk this way to remind myself that having children isn’t an answer to my problems and it isn’t going to save me from anything.
But of course, children are a treasure, too. They say amazing things. They are capable of delight and surprises. The true joys of parenting, I know in my heart, are endless and barely expressible, known more by feeling and spirit and experience than through language.
And so, since my doctor assures me I have a few years left to worry about children, I must admit I do not know what tomorrow will bring. And yet I do know that many years have already come and gone, and nothing in my life has gone the way I had hoped, let alone planned. I guess we think we’re in control, but meanwhile, life keeps laughing at us as it forces upon us great antipodes to all our thinking.
So be here with me now, for we are all children of the great Mother Earth. We are all able to parent what is in front of us, whether that is a child or a pet or our own wild sorrow.
Na-mother-ste: The Mother in Me bows to the Mother in You.
ART: Madonna and Child by Justin Cermak
SONG: “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” once in English, once in Czech.
Music by Antonín Dvořák.
Lyrics by Adolf Heyduk.
Performed by Erin.
COMPANION PIECE SUGGESTIONS: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/44212/the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock
“The Love Song of E. Elizabeth Prufrock” by Erin Muir https://erinthepisces.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-love-song-of-e-elizabeth-prufrock.html
By Erin Muir
Love and Relationship Coach