When I left off, I was talking about my Dominating Fear of ending up in the suburbs. This Dominating Fear is the main reason why I am afraid of having kids.
I don’t even remember when I first developed the Dominating Fear. Maybe it’s always been a part of me. I don’t think about it all the time; it’s not like I drive into suburbia and get a panic attack. I think that’s part of why it’s such a Dominating Fear. It’s an uneasiness, really: a deep-rooted sensation that one day I will wake up and realize that my greatest fear was substantiated long ago.
I am absolutely terrified of ending up in the suburbs with a minivan, being “just like everyone else.” Not knowing who I am. Not REMEMBERING who I am. For a long time, I’ve thought that these fears were just about Suburbia. I really thought that I just didn’t want to end up in Suburbia. Well, that’s easy enough to avoid, right?! Just don’t move to Lincoln*.
So why do I still have that panic every once in awhile?
I still have the panic because I was wrong. The fear has very little to do with Suburbia, and everything to do with children.
This is not like a fear of heights, where you know you’re climbing higher and higher with every new rung on a ladder. This kind of thing happens a little bit at time, over the course of many years, and then ONE DAY you just realize it: Oh crap, I let it happen.
A few years ago, I was watching a sitcom where one guy said to another guy, “Marriage is the death of all things fun.” He was pushing a grocery cart filled with two difficult children and a lot of groceries. I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure that the marriage isn’t what made this guy so miserable: it’s the kids.”
Kids are the death of freedom.
They mean that you can’t live in a tiny apartment in the city. You can’t decide that you’re bored of your current apartment and move. You can’t realize that you’ve always wanted to live in New York for a year and do it. You can’t go out to dinner at a nice restaurant on a whim’s notice. You have to plan everything in advance, because you’ve got to figure out what to do with the kids.
You also can’t decide to take a sick day from work and hang out with your partner. You can’t lay in bed all day and order a pizza for dinner because you just didn’t feel like doing anything. For the next eighteen+ years, you will always have something to do.
Kids mean sacrifice. You don’t get to do what you want to do. You have to do what needs to be done. This is why people give up their sports cars for minivans: because the kids can’t fit in your mini cooper, and you’ve gotta take one for the team.
But I think the scariest thing to me is that kids change the way you think. Suddenly, all you think about is your kids. In the beginning, you’re fascinated by little socks and tiny hats. The decision between cloth diapers versus disposables is very important. Then, before you know it, you’re enjoying things that you once considered a form of torture, like kid’s soccer games. The kids are the most interesting thing in your life, and they’re all you have to talk about. Before you know it, even your answering machine message has been dominated by little kids.
And that’s when it happens. That’s when you wake up and realize that your whole entire life revolves around your kids. You know what they like. You know what they need at any given time of day. You know where they need to be, because that’s where you need to be. You don’t ever think about what you want and need anymore. And then you suddenly realize that you don’t even know what you want and need. Because you stopped thinking about you years ago.
This is what I’m afraid of: I’m afraid of looking in the mirror and realizing that I was so busy taking care of my kids that I let my life get away from me. It’s not even about being one of the moms who “let go” and are in desperate need of an Oprah makeover (although that doesn’t help). It’s about having no more me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think that children are a great thing to contribute to the world (so long as you don’t raise Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly), and I totally agree with Oprah: stay-at-home-moms have the hardest jobs in the world. I’ve realized that I’m just not cut out for it–I don’t think I can make that kind of sacrifice, and I am terrified that I’d feel a major sense of isolation. I get depressed somewhat easily, and I really don’t think I could cope. It’s just not my path. I need other things. Maybe not only other things, but at least other things too.
It’s not like I’m contributing anything major to the world right now. But I have a feeling that I will, one day. I have a feeling that I’ll start some major company that will recycle hazardous waste, or I’ll institute some sort of plan to make a big difference somewhere. The Dominating Fear is that I will forget about all of that.
As kids, we have Big Dreams about what we want to do with our lives. When you start having childen, you put those dreams on the backburner, saying you’ll come back to them when you have time. And then, 20 years later, you realize that you never had time, because everyday life is a bit of a struggle and the years pass quickly. It’s hard enough to accomplish Big Dreams. I’m scared that, if I have kids, I’ll look back on my life and think, “Crap. I really love my kids, but I didn’t accomplish my Big Dreams.”
I’ve come to realize that the Dominating Fear has a lot of truth to it, but that it’s not a given. Just because you have kids does not mean that you’re definitely going to end up a “shell of a person.” It’s not guaranteed that your whole entire life will revolve around diapers and soccer games. Not every mom goes to soccer games, after all.
But more on that tomorrow.
*I grew up near Lincoln. It used to be a tiny, tiny town, but it’s grown exponentially in recent years due to HUGE subdivisions full of houses that all look the same. This is where people from the Bay Area seem to go when they want a big house with a big garage and don’t care about being close to the city anymore.