Happy Mother’s Day! Whether you biologically birthed them, adopted them, surrogated them, fostered them, step-mothered them, psuedo mothered them – whether they are people, or ideas, or projects, we are all mothers. We are all mothers to our mother the earth. That’s part of the Big Change. But on a more worldly plane…
I have an essay called “Not’s Landing” in a new book: “No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Motherhood”. Here it is on Amazon.
It’s a cool collection edited by Henriette Mantel, with a forward by Jennifer Coolidge and includes essays by my friends and awesome writers Margaret Cho and Merrill Markoe – among others. Enjoy mine here and check out the book for the others!
“Lately, because I gave up the booze, 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 sexing. Not becoming my mother. Not not becoming my mother. Not obsessing. Not being afraid. Not writing. Not having a real job. Not giving in to time. 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. Having kids is saying one big yes so that you can say a million little nos in the hopes that you might end up with a child who is alive and has a good conscience and boundaries and plan for living without being too afraid.
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.
We married but I never liked calling him my husband. In fact I spent a lot of time not calling him “my husband.” I found it annoying that the words husband and wife refer etymologically to ownership and emotionally to a particular kind of relationship that most often involves having kids.
“You’re so negative for a positive person,” he once said. “No, I’m not!”
I thought about having kids, of course. But why do today what you can put off forever?
On a gut level I just didn’t want to have kids. 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. Reach out and connect especially when you feel isolated. Share especially when you feel greedy. 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.
Not to mention that it seemed unfair to everyone else already on Earth. Even as a teenager I was very taken with the idea that overpopulation was the root cause of every other problem on Earth. (I’m sorry, Senator Kennedy, but what about just less offspring?) And I just felt that if you didn’t HAVE to have kids maybe just do something else.
Plus, I just didn’t want to.
I didn’t want to from the time I was fifteen. I was in the passenger seat of my not-smart-enough boyfriend’s jacked-up blue Nova, headed to my ancestral family tract home, fantasizing about escaping into my real life. The boyfriend threw some trash out the window. I huffed about his littering. And then I had a thought. I’m never going to have kids. You can’t do everything, and I’m an artist and I’m going to do that and not have kids. I didn’t say anything because he wasn’t the one who I was going to not have kids with. I knew that much. I resolved it so strongly that until now, writing this piece, it never occurred to me that I might be living a grown-up life designed by a fifteen-year-old . I was a very strong-willed fifteen-year-old. So strong willed that that version of me still sometimes bosses this version of me around.
Because maybe that was just a rationalization. As a grown-up I’ve met plenty of women who have had careers they loved and also had kids. But they’ve also made too many compromises[KJN3] . Plenty of guys who have done the same. I had no dreams of family life. I had a dream of an art life. If there had been enough money I think I would have liked to have a child along for the ride.
Then there was the pain. Pain is something I have definitely tried to not have. But you know what they say: no pain, no 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?
Then she twiddled the needles in her own neck, in the Frankenstein spot, to prove she could take the pain.
Over the course of eight treatments the injury was healed. Like fire, sometimes you can fight pain with pain. 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[KJN4] . I like children by the way. It was never that. And they like me. Liking has nothing to do with it.
Mimi Yu reminded me of my mother, who also once told me she didn’t think I should have children. They are both tough, no nonsense, straightforward, partner coupled. Every now and then the more sensitive Moses Yu would come in and twiddle my needles. He had such a light touch. I wished the universe had assigned me to him. But then again Mimi healed the pain. And told me to stop thinking so much and go home and watch some “stupid TV.”
Because Mimi Yu told me I shouldn’t have a baby, I started thinking about having a baby.
All my yoganini girlfriends were doing natural childbirth on sheepskin-covered beds or in tubs of water, orgasming and going inside the pain. 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. That was one of the reasons for all that booze.
I started thinking maybe there was a way not have a kid but not not have a kid. Had no idea what that would be.
Then came the last night of a five-day visit from my parents. We were sitting around the living room of our Los Feliz apartment trying to think of something to talk about. We’d covered everything. We should have been watching TV, but my parents felt they didn’t see me nearly enough and wanted to squeeze in every last second of chatting.
“What else,” my Dad asked.
There was nothing else.
“Well,” said Greg, “we’re thinking of donating sperm to this lesbian couple.”
I motioned across my throat the universal sign for CUT. Stop talking! And he did stop. But so what? It was too late. The baby was out of the birth canal.
My dad started to hyperventilate, unloosened his belt, and hoisted himself out of our thrift store chic gold velvet armchair. It swiveled. My head spun. My mom turned the little wheel on her yellow BIC lighter and took a big drag off her Pall Mall.
“No,” she said on the exhale.
Of course no wasn’t for her to say in this case.
And I was loving the idea. It would be like we had kids without having kids. I would be like an aunt, but more. Or less. There would be this child on Earth that I’d be connected to in this special way. But she’d, or he’d, already have two moms, plus Greg as a something. I liked the whole weird feel of it. A mom but not a mom. Responsible but not responsible. Helpful but not smothering.
“Greg will be connected to these women in a way that doesn’t involve you,” she said panicking. That didn’t bother me at all.
My dad came back in with a few thumbs of scotch in his tumbler.
“You know,” he said, “you’re grown up now. And you don’t have to tell us everything. And in the future, nothing about sperm.”
Way to draw a boundary, Dad! I was excited. We needed more boundaries in my family. This was a good start. The fact that my parents do want me to share everything is part of the claustrophobia of family life that was another thing that kept me from wanting to have kids. Maybe that’s one reason people have kids. To give them something to talk to their parents about that’s not them. It’s like a privacy hedge.
As it turned out that particular lesbian couple decided not to procreate. And so we never did expand our family that way. Soon after that another friend, single and desperate to have kids, said, “Well, if nothing else works I can always borrow your husband’s sperm.” Like it was sugar or something. Yes sure, bring over the measuring cup. That never happened either.
But here’s what did happen. I manifested a daughter. It was a miracle. Even my own negativity could not get in the way.
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 Un-Cabaret, 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. I got to tell her yes she should try to become a location scout. And yes to becoming a teamster. 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.