Mention kids to anyone over 30 and one of two things happens. The person's eyes shine or they glaze over. I'm in the latter category. I'm a non-breeder. It's not that I don't like kids. It's just that having one never occurred to me.
I remember having a twinge of maternal yearning for about 10 minutes back in 1991 when I was living in Edmonton. Away from home, in between gigs and madly in love with a young comic, I simpered to my best friend over the phone that I wanted a baby. She told me to get a job. Next day I was scheduled to do the BC Yuk Yuk's tour. Fourteen years later I have no regrets (well, maybe that 50-minute set in Provost).
That's not to say the topic isn't a sensitive one. A few years ago I was at a ladies' brunch in Mississauga. Why I was invited is still a mystery. We got on the subject of children and I made with a funny about how kids are "parasites" deserving of the strictest corporal punishment. A woman in the group burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. Apparently, she'd been trying to conceive for some time and her marriage was on the rocks. I apologized and gulped back all the available peach punch. Serves me right for hanging around Mississauga.
The subject of children is not a hot one with hipsters. No one worth his or her weight in arts grants or open-mic readings is keen to discuss procreation. There will come a day, though, unless you die young, when the subject will rear its soft, wobbly head.
If history is any indication, procreation ensures the survival of the species. Someone has to do it. Someone has to endure years of sleepless nights, PTA meetings and bail hearings. But who?
When I lived in Edmonton, I met with a gynecologist to discuss getting a tubal ligation. She flatly refused, her reasons being that a) at 30 I might change my mind, and b) society needed my superior genes. "You're educated, you're not damaged" is what I recall her saying. I collected my things, said thank you, Mrs. Hitler, and left. Ah, Alberta, where the Sterilization Act was in place up until 1970 . What I find amusing to this day was her definition of damage. An education doesn't make a person immune. If anything, it can contribute to self-destruction.
Imagine my dismay when my sister asked, no, told me I had to babysit my niece and nephew while she and her husband vacationed in the Bahamas. I had a horrific bout of bronchitis and was in no condition to move, let alone be a disciplinarian.
After a series of threats and recriminations from my sister and my mother, I relented and did my familial duty. (Free advice: fuck familial duty.)
On an acreage in Elora, I tended to the delightful children, a 13-year-old and 10-year-old for a week. (My sister has managed to keep them delightful by denying them a home computer and cellphone and limiting their access to television.)
All right - they tended to me, waking me up so I could see them off to school and generally staying out of my way. I made them dinner and lunches and drove them to their soccer and basketball games.
The week was uneventful, except for one unfortunate incident. Not used to driving in the winter on country roads - not used to driving at all for that matter - I hit some black ice doing 80 km/h. We spun out but managed to avoid the ditch. Cars were in the ditch on both sides of the road.
"You guys still want to go to basketball?" I asked. We carried on. The kids joined their teammates at the school while I excused myself to hyperventilate and vomit in the washroom. We could have been injured or killed. They could have been injured or killed. My orbit had instantly expanded to include two kids.
This responsibility, this parenting, introduced a whole new level of existence. It connected me to the universe like never before.
The week ended, and I came home to my empty Toronto apartment. I dropped my luggage and sighed. No more children's laughter, no more helping with homework, no more slow-cooked meals.
I went to the corner to chow down on Bi Bim Bap. Childless, single, in my 40s, my life was exactly as I wanted it to be - a marvellous thing to contemplate.
No regrets, no fear, no surrender.