The Main Reason I Never Wanted Kids

Throughout my life, when I pictured having a kid, I saw more blue than yellow, more dark than light

Melissa Toldy
Dec 23, 2020 · 5 min read
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Photo by Luis Machado on Unsplash

I wrote a short story, in college, about an old woman. A well-traveled, childless woman who had a nightmare. There was a dead pay phone, a crying baby, and a lingering question about motherhood. A now-deceased literary magazine (Pindeldyboz) published my story, and for a few years, it was the only evidence I existed, online.

The old woman “knew” whether she made the right decision, by not having children. She knew, but the reader didn’t know. And the writer didn’t know either. I didn’t know if the woman’s loneliness could have been soothed by offspring. But I knew what crying babies sounded like, and I knew the inconsolable child represented the old woman’s fear of death.

Having just read William Faulkner’s Light in August, I brazenly adopted his style of compound words. I came up with “oldwomanbody” and “fetuscurling.” I liked the smashed aesthetic. I thought the lack of space between the letters created a visceral effect. Time was running out for the protagonist, and her memories crowded the darker corners of her mind.

The awareness of death has been with me for as long as I can remember. My first vivid memory is of me, underwater, drowning. My second vivid memory is of me, alone in a room, crying. At four years old, I remember closing my eyes and being mesmerized by the yellow and blue images behind my eyelids. I remember thinking, Is this where God lives? The play of dark and light seemed endless and all-knowing.

For some people, having kids isn’t a question of why or how; it’s only a question of when. Some people want a house for their children, before they get pregnant. Some people plan to have at least three babies, or more. Finances become a factor. Also, partnership.

When my first love had his first kid, he described his daughter as angelic. And he asked me, When are you going to start a family? I gave him an unexpected answer. I told him that I didn’t want to pass on my genes. That I worried about passing on my depression to my kids. You would be a great mother, he said. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

My father drinks, and he says that if he didn’t drink, he would have died a long time ago. I’m not sure what he means. I think he means the stress of sobriety would have killed him. I don’t know if my father realizes how sensitive he is. He calls himself “creative,” and he says he’s a “survivor.” In practical terms, my father is also delusional and narcissistic. Depending on his mood, he can be generous. He will pay for a stranger’s bus ticket. He can’t, however, engage in a two-way conversation. He knows how to talk; he does not know how to listen. And when Dad talks, he says hurtful things. Like, he tells you that you’re dumb, and you don’t know anything. I suppose those words wouldn’t hurt an adult who knows better. Someone who recognizes the fragile ego inside the man-shaped facade.

Sometimes I wonder why my father is so disagreeable. As I get older, I notice his way of being, surviving in me. My creativity looks a lot like his creativity. We take old things and make them new. (Dad sold obsolete electrical parts for a living; I sold vintage dresses.) We revive trash and turn it into treasure. Our objectives differ, though. Dad measures his success by profit. He’s transfixed with the notion of exponential growth. From one item, he can produce many dollars. This satisfies him. Me? I’m not interested in multiplication. I like patterns and repetition. Finding beauty in the chaos. The gem in the junk.

Having kids is creative. There’s the creation at the beginning, the pairing of sperm and egg. There’s also the creation of childhood. Telling stories, providing food and shelter, giving your time and attention to a vulnerable dependent, a malleable entity. I’m baffled by the confidence with which people approach this huge undertaking. Throughout my life, when I pictured having a kid, I saw more blue than yellow, more dark than light. I saw sad, disappointed faces, asking me to explain something I could never explain.

I’m a lot like my father, actually. Only in reverse. I’m great at listening; I’m not much of a talker. We both have one-sided conversations. I try to make up for that imbalance in my writing. I write stories to contract and expand life. As an old woman dies, she also remembers. There’s her childhood on the diving board, her vanilla-scented husband, the time she stole a hat.

My college writing professor said his novels were his children. He also said long-dead authors were his friends. I didn’t know what he was talking about back then. He was an old man. I visited him during office hours once or twice, where he said to me, One day, you won’t need anyone to tell you to write. He said this, as if it answered my question. I wanted to know if my writing was any good. You have read more than the others, he said. By “others” he meant my classmates.

One day, I didn’t finish reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for a class discussion, and I made a smart-ass remark about linear time. Like, if you accept that we’re living in a non-linear reality, I’ve already read the book. The class chuckled, but my professor merely raised his eyebrows. It wasn’t even my joke. I stole the phrase from my then-boyfriend.

I did eventually read To the Lighthouse, more than once. I was never worried about writing enough. I was always worried about reading enough. My professor thought my slow reading was fine, though. He said it didn’t matter that I couldn’t finish Woolf’s novel in the two-day window he assigned us. I remember trying to finish the book in time. I took the paperback into the bath with me. The words were dense, and my body felt heavy.

Woolf’s story is also about a dying woman, but she’s younger, and she’s a mother. I couldn’t tell if her offspring soothed her loneliness, either. Woolf didn’t have children of her own, unless you count her novels.

Why do people have kids? It’s natural, you might answer. How do they manage being parents? Some do a fine job; others, less so. When am I going to start a family? I already have one. My partner, my cat, my siblings, my parents, my close friends. I am maternal, on some level. I take care of my loved ones. I’m okay with not being a mother, in the traditional sense. No, I’m happy about it.

No one ever told me to write, before, during, or after college. There was never a question of why or how, for me. It was only a matter of when — and for how long. (Always, until the end.)

Stories connected by personal experience

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