May all your decisions be litte ones.

Posted: May 12, 2013 in life
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In my early-30s world, a world which is a city wide and as tall as a Twitter feed and smells of cut grass, three attitudes towards babies appear to be forming. The first is the kind you see sometimes on TV, that all-encompassing yearning for a child that overrides the senses and causes people to cry at adverts. This is less common, in my experience, than we may have been led to believe. The second is the steely argument against reproduction, presented with noise and politics and a confident shake of the hair. These people do not want children, but they do want to tell you why they don’t want children. And the third, one that I can relate to, is one that comes from the head, not the heart. The idea that, given the choice, we’d prefer to have a child rather than not, for reasons like: my old neighbour, whose husband died in his 30s, never had kids, and so there was nobody committed to taking her to Sainsbury’s, nobody who was obliged to phone on Fridays or have her round when the power failed or listen to her tell the story about when the block got central heating again. Reasons like: it might be cool to have a gang, mightn’t it? A little gang of funny, tiny dudes? Reasons like: it’s better to do something than not, in general.

But what I’m learning, as more and more friends reproduce, their flats becoming sticky, their eyes becoming dark, is that the first and second – those wanting desperately and those desperately not wanting – are closer than they appear. They both know. They’re both sure.

How? I am never sure. Ever. Of anything. Whether I’m hungry or angry or sad or bloated. Every time, whether it’s a question of having an Aero before dinner or handing in my notice at work, I will weigh up the pros, weigh up the cons, torture myself a little and groan at the sky before making yet another hell of a decision. Another decision to add to this growing collection of decisions that I dry like flowers, pressed in a heavy book. These people’s sureness is enviable, but when their feelings leak out into friendly conversation, I’m pleased to be less invested.

When a new mother (who, days ago, was just like us) talks about her baby, the correct thing to do is to listen, laugh, wince when appropriate. The appropriate thing to do is, even if you’re the yearning sort, to stay, to avoid crying or walking out, to avoid mistaking their confused joy for an attack on your womb, their sleeping baby as a shrivelled, dribbling taunt. And for the unparents – those who don’t want kids (a choice that, in May 2013, is only as controversial as, say, going bare-legged in the office) – the appropriate thing to do is to be nice. Be polite. They’re the same person they were before you got that excited text at 7am, but with another, bloodier, more loving set of stories to tell. We shouldn’t glaze over or ignore them – we should allow them to fascinate us.

The problem with both positions is when the listener unconsciously inserts themself into the narrative. When the mother is discussing the way she felt upon first being handed her child, the yearner slides into bed beside them but is handed nothing. When the new father is discussing how he saw dawn break for the third time that week because his daughter never sleeps, the unparent hears her screams. When, ideally, it should be possible to empathise with your friend’s experience without responding through a veil of your own decisions.

It’s in this short sleeve of time that our friendships are tested, not by the new babies, often, locked on to their mother’s cracked nipple, but by our reactions to them. Our own decisions, smudged across the screen of their tired tableaux. And it’s on these occasions that I’m relieved to live in my forehead-wrinkling grey area, my decisions too amorphous to affect anybody else.


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