I saw a friend this weekend who I haven't seen since she and her husband adopted a second baby, in a bit of a surprise situation. They have an almost 4-year-old and a 4-month-old, and so I was offered a disclaimer when coming over -- beware the small child detritus EVERYWHERE. She apologized as I plopped myself down in the midst of many trains and wooden modular tracks and some errant Cars stickers, and I assured her, "no worries, you have the tiny humans, they come with lots of stuff."
As I hung out, and played with the trains (sometimes more than the preschooler), and held the new-ish baby, I thought about the differences in our lives.
It surprised me, because I wasn't sad and like, "Why don't I have this?" I felt more like, "this is what I wanted, and I wanted it so badly, but I don't want it now."
Whoa, wait a minute...what?
Sitting here, 6 years from the Spring of Grief that started with my scary eye crisis and ended with the dismantling of a dream, peeling owl decals off the nursery wall and contemplating the divots in the carpet left by a crib that was recently disassembled and donated, lying on the floor in disbelief, it's hard to imagine feeling like this. The me who felt a gaping wound at the prospect of never, ever having a child in the house would have a hard time believing that I could enter into someone else's space and think, "I'm good with my life the way it is, minus children."
Here is the difference:
Six years ago I wanted parenthood, so very badly. It consumed everything. I could see myself holding a baby and having a tiny human running around the house. My life was set up to hold that possibility. I didn't want it any less then because I have made peace with not having it now.
Now, I think about my life and our life together, and appreciate the quiet where I can read, the considerably more bare-feet-friendly soft cat toys occasionally spread about the floor, the music we play on Bryce's sound system and time I have (when my knee is not destroyed) to weed for hours and work in the garden without anyone needing me. The sleep. The room where a puzzle can lay out for days. Our ability to go out to dinner if we've had a shit day at work and not have to scramble for a babysitter. The home that we moved to that is perfect for people without children and actually makes us nervous to have small children visit because it's a bit of a deathtrap to tiny bodies. Bryce's PhD which is coming to close in a matter of DAYS, that has been infinitely more do-able since we don't have small children.
I appreciate these aspects of our rebuilt life. Enjoying them now doesn't mean I wouldn't have loved to have a noisy, chaotic house full of need and laughter and sleeplessness... before.
How interesting that visiting the life of parenting young children didn't reach out and tug on my scar, making me feel sad for what was lost... but I did feel sad a week ago when we were at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and a family with teenagers sat behind us. They were celebrating the mom's birthday, and they just seemed really tight, able to make fun of each other, full of an easy kind of love. Bryce said, "What a nice family. Just a really nice family."
I nearly burst into tears. It was hard to voice at the time that THAT was where the grief tugged at me. Not the children, the tinies -- but being older and having a nice night out with older kids. It hit me -- no one is ever going to sit near the two of us, and say, "What a nice family." They might think, "What a lovely couple," and that's awesome, but the implications of our childlessness long-term hit me in that moment. We will forever be a much smaller unit. We are Carl and Ellie from Up. And at some point, most likely, there will only be one of us left.
Now THAT made me feel sad. The difference in the future life. But it was nothing like the gut punch that used to happen when I wanted the early days more than anything. I wanted it all, just to be clear -- but in the quest I feel like I really envisioned parenting a baby and young child. I didn't dream of parenting a naughty rebelling teenager while living in that liminal space of hope and heartbreak.
It's something odd to think about, that we will age and not have the milestones of children to help mark the time (no kid birthdays, no kid driving, no graduations, no other possible life events). But we have our own, and as Bryce wraps up his 8-year PhD journey, we will get to make good on our plans to "do things" and travel. We will NOT be Ellie and Carl, although my knee going bust right when we are freer to go places and do things sure makes me feel like we are similarly cursed.
I count it as a win that this was the first time where I was surrounded by a life that could have reflected ours had we been successful with adoption, and I didn't have even a twinge of "sigh, this could have been us." I enjoyed my time, and then talked to Bryce when I got home and said, truthfully, "I really love our life, just the way it is."
I wanted children. I wanted to be a mother. I don't anymore, because it didn't work out and the window where that is right for us is closed. We are happily, firmly in our new life, and that is a lovely place to be.