Ambivalence, grace, and the choice to have kids

No one ever asks a man, “Are you planning on having children?” But it’s a question that is often lobbed at women between the ages of 20 and 40. And it’s a question that I often ask myself. Am I going to have children?

Ann Friedman’s recent piece on women’s ambivalence toward having children struck a chord with me. Like the women Friedman characterizes, I am open to having children, but I’m also not sure if I particularly want them. I find that many of my childless friends express a similar sentiment. It is, perhaps, one of the first times in history in which women have felt confident enough to say such things out loud.

Growing up, I never envisioned myself as a mother. I did not play with dolls or play-act at breastfeeding or other mothering activities. At a young age, I was teased, by my older female relatives, for my considerable lack of maternal instinct. I preferred reading and bossing my peers around; I didn’t want to be anyone’s mother. I baby-sat often in my teens, and even now, I am still quite adept at diapering an infant, but I never particularly loved watching other people’s children. Unlike many of my female friends, I never begged to hold people’s babies; I didn’t know what to do with them. I preferred the solemn six-year-olds to the babies every time.

Partially because I’ve never imagined myself as a mother, I find the joys and trials of parenting very difficult to envision. As an outsider, I just see all of the sleep-deprived, home-bound, strung-out young parents — who, by the way, are doing incredible jobs at raising their children with great love and daily sacrifice — and think, “Why would I want that?” Because I’ve never experienced or even witnessed these parenting highs (naturally, because they surely occur in the intimate, private moments between parent and child), they seem so foreign when mothers describe them to me.

Furthermore, I also wonder, what is the point of having children? On a purely rational and self-preserving level, it’s so that we can have someone take care of us when we are old, because our beloved dogs won’t be able to afford our retirement homes. On the evolutionary level, it’s so that we can push our genes (regardless of whether they are genes worth preserving) onto the next generation and thereby further the human race — despite the fact that the world is already grossly overpopulated with our species. It’s the emotional level that I don’t understand. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a compelling reason for children from the emotional or psychological perspective. Surely that reason exists; I’m just not sure what it is. (If you are a parent, chime in!)

I reject the notion that because I have a womb, I ought to fill it with offspring. Further, I roundly reject the notion that God will love me more if I procreate. I am deeply opposed to any denomination or branch of theology that asserts that the more children you have, the holier you are. This is an incredibly short-sighted, reductionist, and offensive stance.

I am so glad that many people have decided to become parents. I know so many wonderful, loving, shining exemplars of mothers and fathers, and I know they do good, hard work every day to raise their little humans. I just don’t know if I’m cut out to join their throng.

In intimate moments, this is a conversation that comes up often among the women I know. I said all of these things, the sentiments above, to Tara, one of the best mothers I know, and was a little fearful to hear her reaction. Tara is one of those gloriously sympathetic human beings who was born to be a mother. She is smart and compassionate and sacrificial; her kids are her pride and joy, and for good reason (they’re amazing little kids). She seems to really revel in motherhood, in this beautiful, awe-inspiring way.

And so I was worried, to say all of these things to her. But this is what she said: “Abby, if you do have kids, that is great. God will give you the grace to be a great mom. And if you don’t have kids? That’s OK too. God will give you the grace for that too.”

It was such a simple sentiment, but it brought me to tears. No one has ever said that to me before. To receive such grace! And especially from a Christian mom, who have, up until this point, always said that I need to stop being so fearful, so selfish, so cold-hearted. To be told, regardless of what you do with your uterus, you are loved and accepted. I have been waiting so long to hear this from someone. It brings me to tears even now, just writing about it.

I have always assumed that I would have children, because that is what you do when you are a married person (and when, in my case, you are married to a person who wants children). But I feel no great fervor for child-rearing. And I am OK with languishing in this ambivalence for now. I have a few more years before the demands of biology start to become urgent. And then to wait, to receive grace for whatever comes.

Outdoor summer

Visiting Andrew and Tara at "Montana"
“Montana,” with Tara and Andrew.

Friday night, we trekked out to “Montana”–the Hill’s cabin in Waynesboro–to have a peaceful, happy dinner with Andrew and Tara. (Well, mostly happy. We were all a little sad that Baby Leah wasn’t there.) Tara made heirloom tomato soup. We talked about creationism and mommy culture on Facebook. Pyrrha found a baby snake under my shoe. We laughed. We were loath to leave.

I mean, look at this place.

Visiting Andrew and Tara at "Montana"
Soy fields at “Montana.”

The following day, we took Pyr on a little hike through Pen Park.

Pen Park visit
Pyrrha and Guion at Pen Park.

While on our way back down, we had a thrilling wildlife encounter. Pyrrha and the doe (featured below) squared off with each other for a solid three minutes–neither one blinking, twitching, breathing. Guion and I were getting bored. “OK, which one of you is going to make a move?”

Deer!
Pyrrha vs. Doe.

Finally, the doe flicked her ear. And took off. And so did Pyrrha. And so did Guion.

Pyr may have frantically lost this hunt, but the encounter at least whetted her appetite for big, wild creatures.

“Did you see that?” Guion said, walking back to me with Pyrrha in tow, breathless. “She acted like a DOG!”

It’s always something we celebrate around here.

In other news, I am thrilled by the prospect of two weekends in a row in which we do not have any travel, weddings, or house guests. This is something of a summer miracle. I have been doing lots of chores, taking the shepherd on lots of walks, and reading lots of novels and letters. Saturday, I even took a NAP–something I haven’t done in many years. It felt profligate.

How have you been spending your summer?

This past week, in four photos

Guion’s final poetry reading.

On Wednesday night, Guion–who is extremely sexy–gave his final poetry reading at UVA. It is hard to believe that we’ve been here two years and that he’s already finished his coursework for his MFA. He did a wonderful job, as always, and we had a beautiful evening in the gardens celebrating these five great poets:

The graduating poetry MFAs: Melissa, Guion, Marielle, Juliana, and Austin.

I am so very proud of him!

With my accomplished husband.

Saturday afternoon, we celebrated Leah’s 1st birthday at the park! Watching a baby have her first taste of chocolate is a glorious, intense experience.

The Montgomery family at Leah’s 1st birthday party.

More photos from the MFA readings and Leah’s birthday on my Flickr.

This is our last full week in our beloved Belmontonia, so I will be thoroughly consumed by the task of packing and preparing to move. My posting here will be a little more sparse than usual. But I still love you. If you’re looking for something sweet to read, you should check out Granddad’s memories of his mother’s German shepherd. OK. Talk to you again soon.

Monday Snax

Mama and baby
A perfect dinner out at Blue Mountain Brewery. Baby Leah is trying to decide what kind of beer she wants.
MB!
The tenacious Mary Boyce saved us from a perilously grumpy waitress.
Guion and baby Leah
Guion is undeniably good with babies.

We had a beautiful weekend in Charlottesville; the weather was exquisite, as the humidity had fairly retreated and we were left with idyllic warmth. Paul and Christie invited us on their Friday date night and a small group of us went to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton (a few photos above; more on Flickr). We went to a church potluck and then we hosted a potluck of our own last night. It was all very wonderful.

Win and Tracy were visiting with the purpose of scouting out a place for Win to live in a few weeks. By the grace of God, Win is living in probably the coolest house we’ve ever seen in town: the Massie-Wills historical home, built in 1830. It’s amazing. He is one lucky dude.

Potlucked Snax:

Pratt’s Ex Libris Collection. Well, of course I’m posting this (if I haven’t already…) The Pratt Library’s collection of gorgeous book plates. I wish people still used these things. I know I would. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Weird Writing Habits of Famous Authors. I enjoyed reading about the habitual quirks of some of my all-time favorite writers, including Eudora Welty, Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, and T.S. Eliot. (Flavorwire)

Other People’s Houses. A collection of dreamy photographs from the domestic lives of some of today’s most beloved bloggers and photographers. Who doesn’t love a dash of beautiful voyeurism? (Other People’s Houses)

Jennifer Egan Fever. It’s worth catching. (The Paris Review)

South Sudan: The Newest Nation in the World. A series of powerful photographs from the birth of South Sudan. Welcome, South Sudan; we wish you great peace. (The Atlantic: In Focus)

Iceland, Part 10: Blue Lagoon. I know I just keep posting Kris Atomic’s photos of Iceland, but I can’t help it! This place looks so otherworldly. I must go. (Kris Atomic)

Kimono. A collection of gorgeous, modern-looking kimonos from 1920s-1930s Japan. (Anne Louise Likes)

Wasabi Wonder. More from Japan: Ever wanted to know what wasabi looks like in real life, i.e., coming straight out of the ground? Take a look! It’s such a fascinating and weird plant. I bet that friendly-looking farmer just reeks of wasabi all day long. But what a gorgeous place to farm! (Tokyo Photojournalist)

Paper & Kyoto: Shops to Visit. Even more from Japan: Uuugh. This post just confirms what I already ardently believe: That I have to get to Kyoto soon and that the Japanese create the world’s most beautiful stationery and paper products. (Upon a Fold)

Intricate Pattern Notecards from Wild Ink Press. So beautiful! I always feel like I need more stationery, even though it’s almost never true. I also love the “literal” cards at the bottom of the post. (Oh So Beautiful Paper)

The Supermom Myth + Follow Up on Breadwinners. An additional post from Jenna of Sweet Fine Day, just because I always like what she writes and I think she’s a wise, judicious woman. (Sweet Fine Day)

Five Women Who Changed the Face of Ballet. I loved reading about these dancers, mainly because I’m gearing up to read Jennifer Homans’ widely acclaimed Apollo’s Angels. (Behind Ballet)

Sarah Palin for Newsweek. Noted photographer Emily Shur talks about her casual cover shoot of Sarah Palin for Newsweek. Shur really humanized Palin for me in a way that the “liberal media” have not. It’s an interesting little vignette, at least. (Emily Shur)

Dear Mom. Catching bunnies snuggling together? The best thing ever. Guion, I think you should know that even though I’m obsessed with getting a dog, I’m also still obsessed with getting a bunny. Or three. (Maura Grace)

How Handwriting Builds Character. If this is true, I must have really well-built character. Kidding! (The Atlantic)

Megegan: Un an plus tard. What a beautiful woman. And I’m so very interested in the things that she happens to be carrying around with her. (Au coin de ma rue)

On the Street: Via Fogazzaro, Milan. This looks like a still from a film I’d really want to watch. (The Sartorialist)

Women’s Magazines Are Obviously Horrible. This is true and hilarious, but I still really love reading In Style and People on the beach… (The Hairpin)

Instant Cat Pants! Why do kittens do the things they do? We may never know. (Pawesome)

The Lost Roles of “Arrested Development.” Rainn Wilson as Gob Bluth?? Can you imagine it? I certainly can’t. I love Rainn, but let us all say thanks that we were gifted by the glorious presence of Will Arnett. (The Bluth Company)

Monday Snax

Long weekends are such a gift! Yesterday, we had the pleasure of joining Andrew and Tara at her family’s farm in Rapidan, Virginia. We played with the beautiful Leah, swam in the pool, and planned our future farm commune. A lovely afternoon, and some more photos on Flickr.

Sweet baby Leah and her mama.
Andrew in the perfect pool.
One of the dozens of breathtaking farms in Keswick. We live in the prettiest countryside.

Oh, and happy Independence Day and a BIG welcome home to Grace, who has finally returned from her world travels! Hallelujah! We get to go see her this weekend and I CANNOT WAIT.

A lot of Snax with a lot of juicy watermelon wedges:

Miss USA: Should Evolution Be Taught in Schools? THIS is the greatest thing I have seen on the Interwebs in months. Tears fell from my eyes. You can’t write this stuff. After you watch that, please also enjoy Mackenzie Fegan & Co.’s hilarious response. (The Daily What and Got a Girl Crush)

When You’re the Breadwinner in the Family. The dynamics of the American family are shifting. Many newly married women I know are out-earning their husbands and yet it’s still a touchy subject. One of my all-time favorite bloggers has a beautiful and honest post about her own experience as her family’s primary source of income. (Sweet Fine Day)

The High Line. A mile-long urban park in New York. What a cool idea; looks like a great place to bike, run, or walk a few dogs. Jenna, from the Sweet Fine Day post above, has some pictures of her visit there with her family at the end of post. (Wolf Eyebrows)

From When Grandma and Grandpa Davis Came to Visit. If you’ve talked to me lately, you know that I’m not into childbearing ANY time soon. And yet I can’t help but melt when I see pictures of grandparents and their fresh grandbabies. Something about that interaction always gets me. (Rockstar Diaries)

America’s Progressive Catholics: Another Side of the Church. It’s not all anti-abortion rallies here. An interesting perspective on the small but growing group of Catholic Democrats. (The Atlantic: Politics)

Top Metros for Same-Sex Couples with Children. Do the results surprise you? They surprise me. Way to go, RTP! (The Atlantic: National)

Palin vs. Bachmann: A Poem-off. The stirring words of the Tea Party’s leading ladies, converted to poesy. (The Book Bench)

What America Looks Like: Variations on the Swimming Pool. A collection of photographs of the various forms of the pool around the country. Some are weird and jovial, others decrepit and haunting. (The Atlantic: National)

The Five Food Groups. Amen. (Little Brown Pen)

Lobsters Don’t Age. Um, hey, God? That’s weird. Why? (Broken Secrets)

Kari Herer. Dark, lush photos of beautiful bouquets. Can never get enough. (Design Sponge)

Better Book Title for Wuthering Heights. Truth! I’ve always thought that about this book, too. (Better Book Titles)

The 20 Most-Watched TED Talks. Will be adding these to my list of things to watch when I feel like killing time productively on the Interwebs. (TED blog)

Monday Snax

That is one fresh baby.
Welcome to the world, Leah Catherine! Dear friends Tara and Andrew welcomed this sweet baby on Saturday morning, just in time for Tara's first Mother's Day!

We had a full, busy, and sunny weekend and it was just perfect. I spent most of my weekend around dogs, which naturally made it a wonderful one; I had my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which I loved. I can’t wait to go back there and walk some more attention-hungry puppies! After getting home, I took a two-hour walk with my beloved Bo. The next morning, I walked our rector’s dogs with Mary-Boyce and then we all went to go see the newest addition to our community, Leah Catherine! Such a sweet baby and SO much hair! Tara looked amazing and we are just so excited to get to hang out with her and watch her grow up.

Snax with a bowl of perfect strawberries:

The Princess Party. This is about a week late now, but I just wanted you to appreciate all of the gorgeous details from Cate’s royal wedding-watching party. Didn’t it look amazing? I feel very privileged to have received an invitation. We had such a good, thoroughly girly time! (The Charlotte)

Rainbow Gatherings. I have an abiding fascination with off-the-grid living communities and I love photo series of these groups of people. Photographer Benoit Paillé spent a series of years with people from the Rainbow Gatherings, which happen all around the world. The people are so haunting and unusual; so many of them look like they might have lived a thousand years ago. (Behance)

Super-Secret War Dogs Are Basically Bionic. This is crazy. Titanium teeth!? Headpieces with microphones so they can hear and respond to handlers’ remote commands?! (Daily Intel)

A Mother’s Day Report Card. A day late, but this is still hilarious. “Helping me with math homework: Average.” (Passive Aggressive Notes)

A Mother’s Prayer, by Tina Fey. A hilarious but heartfelt prayer from the funniest woman alive.  “When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember her parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with beer.” (Peonies and Polaroids)

Best Countries to Be a Mom. Is anyone surprised that Scandinavia rocks this list, too? #1, Norway. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are also in the top 10. The United States is not. (The Hairpin)

Around the Farm. I’m not going to lie: This is kind of our ideal life. Fairytale, dreadlocked children in a tractor? Homemade biscuits? Chicks in a bin? Bring it on. (Farmama)

House G. A sweet house in the Netherlands that was once an old barn. I’ll take it! (Wolf Eyebrows)

The Art of Disney Animation. A collection of sketches and proofs from old Disney films; makes you appreciate the artistry behind those chirpy little films you watched as a child. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Man Repeller on Makeup. Ever since Catherine told me about The Man Repeller, I’ve been hooked. Here the main Repeller herself shares her favorite makeup products. I love her. (Into the Gloss)

Gypsy Queen Marina. The strong brow and the devil-may-care attitude! I feel like she wears whatever the heck she wants and manages to look fabulous all day long. (Tales of Endearment)

This Is How We Do It. All I want is to be invited to one of Brian Ferry’s dinner parties. How magical. You can almost hear the sparkle of conversation in his photographs. (Brian Ferry)

A Beautiful Hair Story. A photographer documents the daily regrowth of her hair after cancer treatments. (Design for Mankind)

Meet Riggins. My friend Megan just got a tiny kitten and named it Tim Riggins, after the Friday Night Lights rebel heart-throb. Well done. (Thoughts from a Nest)