While in college, I went to see a professor on a matter of theology. He was an older gentleman, and regarded as a person of some authority on that subject. As I was leaving, the matter of marriage came up. I had attended a somewhat conservative liberal arts college and marriage was more or less a given. I told him that I didn't plan to marry. He smiled, and said knowingly that I would, not that I probably would, but that I would. I don't recall taking any offense. Given the generation and the religion of which he was a member, if there was anything conspiratorial in his smile, then he meant to imply invitation only into the best of conspiracies. But I knew myself better.Decisions regarding young people are the most important decisions any adult can make. Have them. Do not have them. But if you aren't aware of them, then you simply must look down, for they are the most important people on our planet. Your children. Your neighbor's children. Everyone's children. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “[t]he ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” I once asked a boyfriend how he felt about having children. He said he was ambivalent. It is a matter that I hope would elicit stronger feelings. I tend to make decisions about potential partners quickly. An invisible clock starts ticking the moment I meet someone and I can usually find a disqualifying condition with any potential partner within sixty seconds or less: an error in vocabulary, knowledge, failure to laugh at my jokes (good joke-laugh saturation seems important to a successful relationship), failure to have an opinion, failure to defend said opinion well. When you think about potential children, though, how important is it really that you can sit down and have a glass of wine and a conversation with someone?! What you really want is someone who will get between your children and danger. You want someone who, if something happens to you, will be 100% committed to them, who will be there to soothe every sorrow and celebrate every joy, who will be there to do the nightime vigil, winding-down, tucking-ins, and do the coffee-fueled, wind-them-up, morning cheers, who will keep track of all of their significant blankies and stuffed animals, with all of their names and stories and significant histories, who will love them unconditionally and forever through all of the "Dad, I'm a philatelist, tuba-playing, conga dancer" conversations with 100% love and acceptance.
So at conservative liberal arts colleges, marriage jokes abound, jokes about getting a "ring by spring," getting your "MRS degree," or even, at my sister's school, taking out $100,000 in bride loans. (Not my sister. She was a valedictorian, so she got a "smarty pants" scholarship.) But as I said before, I wasn't your average conservative coed. I had realized that I had perhaps an above average affinity for solitude--as in I'm happy to say "see you tomorrow," "Skype this weekend," and to go home to my dog with the soulful eyes which undoubtedly say "shall we have toast tonight and snuggle, my love?" or perhaps something more like "toast, human, bringer-of-toast and be unceasing in the petting of my coat!". And that I found other things like learning and working in a service field highly rewarding. I have long dreamt about retiring to a cabin in the woods, and sitting on the porch with some whisky and a good dog. (Perhaps, not to chew tobacco, but I do like the refrain of this song.) (I used to want to retire to Innisfree, the island in the William Butler Yeats poem, but it sounds like Robin Pecknold has designs on it as well.)
A uterus is essential for birth-giving, but when it comes to caregiving and parenting, I think the brain is the more essential organ, and whether you feel called to parent, to uncle or to aunt, to teach, to nurse, to grandparent, to mentor, or to invest in the future of our children in some other way, please do answer that call, and play your brain organ in some manner to their benefit, for they are the most important people. They deserve our best, and all of that that we can give them.
I have decided to run out my biological clock for health reasons. I don't feel that I am giving upterribly much, though. Aside from the romantic desire to see a beloved partner reincartnated in another generation, like Shakespeare, imploring the beautiful young man to reproduce: "But were some child of yours alive that time, / You should live twice;--in it, and in my rhyme." (Sonnet 17) And Greta Gerwig's character saying she would like to have ten of Olly Alexander in talking about the ten children they will have in Alison Bagnall's The Dish & the Spoon. Aside from this one impulse, though, I've always liked the idea of creating a family through adoption. It isn't DNA that knits a family together so much as love. I would want to adopt children with health problems, perhaps akin to my own, and so create a new island of "normal," away from the sojourns of school and doctors and everything else. But this is a ten-years-away maybe for me. And even if I don't have a family of my own, I have had the privilege of working in healthcare, and am hoping, through study, to increase my usefulness in this profession. Working on team healthcare allows me to support other people's children and other people's families.
Josephine Baker has been a hero of mine ever since I found her in my public library years ago--Josephine the African American civil rights activist who adopted France as her new country, Josephine the jazz artist, Josephine the adoptive mother of twelve children of diverse backgrounds, whom she called her Rainbow Tribe.