Childless by Choice No More?

Why I’m considering fostering at fifty

It’s not my biological clock ticking like the timepiece Captain Hook’s crocodile swallowed.

I guess I was never what one might call a typical little girl.

While I loved my Cheerful Tearful doll and took good care of her, wiping her tap water tears away and raising her arm to make her smile again, I never pretended that she was my baby. She was always someone else’s — sometimes my stuffed bear Zella’s, sometimes my Dawn doll’s, sometimes my Aunt Sarah’s — but never mine.

I’m not sure I can explain why I played that way. Maybe it was because, as a child, I was always more comfortable with adults. I just didn’t get attached to other kids because, well…

Other kids were mean. They made fun of the way I walked on my tippy-toes and of the striped bell bottoms my mother sewed from a Simplicity pattern.

Sometimes my mom was mean too. Other people’s kids didn’t come home crying because someone said they were a spaz in gym class or that their curly hair was ugly, she would yell. They fought back or they ignored them. They did something — anything — other than bother their busy parents with that B.S.

But other adults always thought I was so smart for my age, so pretty. My favorite teacher once described me as creative, sensitive and aware — a far cry from unrealistic, whiny and stupid — the labels placed on me at home. I guess it’s no wonder I preferred their company.

But I never saw myself as one of them. In fact, I never saw myself as being a grown up ever. I always wanted to be the one taken care of.

Sure, at first, it looked like grown-ups had it good. They could go wherever they wanted, buy whatever they wanted, and most appealing to a kid with an eight-o’clock bedtime, stay up as late as they wanted. At least the ones without kids could.

But the ones with kids, like my mom and our neighbor Roxanne, didn’t seem like they were having such a great time. When they got together, they didn’t talk about birthday parties, ballet lessons or the Late Late Late Movie on TV. They talked about how much milk costs, how tired they were and how their daughters drove them crazy.

So why did they do it? What did they think it would be like?

At ten, I already knew where babies came from, but I didn’t get what that really meant. I didn’t realize that, after the fun stuff (which still seemed kind of gross at that age), it involved blood, screams, slime, huge needles and, shudder to think, cutting.

To me, giving birth — what so many people described as life’s most beautiful moment -seemed like an outtake from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Honestly, it still does (except for the fun stuff). So why do women do it?

They say you forget the pain. But there are lots of kids already here who can’t forget theirs.

They can’t forget being taken from their home in the middle of the night, carrying the few belongings they had in a trash bag. They can’t forget their mother’s boyfriend burning them with cigarettes. And they can’t forget watching the mom they loved (and will always love) shrivel into a stranger who cared more about heroin than her own kids.

Thankfully, though my childhood had its moments for sure, I never suffered the way kids in foster care do. I can’t claim to understand what that’s like, but I do understand what it’s like to need someone older and wiser than you to tell you you’re OK. Better than OK even.

Fostering is risky business. You open up your home to a home study team who may, or may not, deem you suitable. You interact with your foster child’s biological parents whose fear materializes mostly as anger towards you. And you give your best to a child who, if all goes as planned, you must give up but will never give up on. That’s a lot to take on at any age, so why start now, at fifty?

It’s not my biological clock ticking like the timepiece Captain Hook’s crocodile swallowed. Time’s not a smiling reptile taunting me as I try to squeeze in a few more dastardly deeds — like going to Happy Hour on a Tuesday night or having tapas instead of chicken fingers for dinner — before it swallows me whole.

It’s just that I know firsthand how much a caring adult can mean to a child who feels like they don’t fit, who needs encouragement and kind words. I had that person in my life, and it mattered.

Lately I’ve been thinking maybe I could be that person for someone too.