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Guest Column — Spring 2003 [ARCHIVE]

This season's guest column comes to us from Meredith Elkins — feel free to talk about it on the message board once you've read it.

If you're interested in taking a turn as guest columnist on the topic of your choice, please email Julianne.

Becoming a Parent: How Do You Decide that If Should Become When?

I was buying the John Lennon Imagine layette set. It was adorable. Baby animals frolicked around lines from the song Imagine. So tiny, and available in "gender neutral" yellow (don't even talk to me about pink and blue.)

"Just in case," I explained to Cathy, my partner of eight years, who looked at me like I was nuts. "In case they don't sell them anymore when ... if ... the time comes." I am a huge John Lennon fan, and have already suggested the name Lennon (and Pace, and Nathaniel, and Zachary, and Schuler, and a host of others) for a boy when ... if ... the time comes.

Which brings us to the real question: How do you decide that if should become when? And of course, when is when?

The litany in my head begins the same way every time I let the topic surface: I'm not getting any younger (and fertility really starts to decline around 27, I'm reading now), but I like my life right now. I drive a little too fast, spend a little too freely, and can pick up and go away for the weekend at the drop of a hat. Sort of. See, Cathy and I already have a "baby," a three-year old start-up business that might just be starting to walk on its own.

So then it becomes an issue of do I have time? Can I do everything I want to do, and do it all well? Will I regret it if we do? Will I regret it if we don't? Am I finished playing? Episioto-what?! And of course, there are the issues surrounding just getting pregnant for us: artificial insemination, anonymous versus known donor, second parent adoption laws, moving out of the commonwealth of Virginia. And pretty much the thinking stops there. Plenty of time, I always think. Way too much to resolve at once.

I half-joking told Cathy one day that I had taken the first step towards making us mommies (I had made an appointment for a physical) and I thought she was going to get out of the car. Luckily, we were in motion, so she stayed put and I was able to clarify. Too big, too scary, don't know were the highlights of the rest of that conversation. And that's the weird part for me. Cathy is a child magnet. Kids in malls want to play with her. Our friends' kids are instantly in love with her — no crying, no squirming, just bliss. Our niece and nephews (aged 4, 12, 3, and 1 year-old twins) can't get enough of climbing on, clamoring for and cavorting with Aunt Cathy. She says it's because they know she's really a 6-year old in a 33-year old body.

Those nieces and nephews make me think that I could just be the spoil-'em-rotten aunt. Need advice? Aunt Meredith is here to help. College funds? Already thinking about 'em. Mom and Dad getting in your face? Come visit the aunts, we'll play, have cake for breakfast, and then send you home!

Don't get me wrong — I love kids. Babies are fun, but I really like the little buggers when they can talk, and reason, and think. We'd be good parents, and we certainly can provide more-than-adequately for a child. I can categorically state — and please, please, please no offense intended to anyone who does it — that I could not stay home with my children. For short periods, sure. From birth to kindergarten, no way. I'm not on some kick-ass career track or anything, and I'm not really using my graduate degree anyway. So it's not that I'll lose my "place in line" or those years of student loan bills. I just don't think I would be happy, and I think that would do more damage to the kids than daycare. (Note: I was a latch-key kid, out of single-parent necessity. My mom was always there when I needed her, and I never felt neglected. And I'm a great cook because I started learning kitchen skills so young ...)

So what it really comes down to for me is: is it possible to make an informed decision, really? Of course not. But look around at the abused, neglected, homicidal, and disenfranchised, and you can see the havoc that can be wrought by bad parenting. Scary.

But isn't that the point of having children? To change the world for the better? Emerson said it far better than I can:

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or an improved social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier, this is to have succeeded.
I won't resolve the issue in my own head in 500 words or less. I know I'm never going to have a block of "free time" long enough to cause me to think, "Ah, now I can raise that future president/rocket scientist/Nobel-laureate/grounded human being ..." It's not my nature to not be busy. I started a business because I was bored with my job (I know, I know, most people just change jobs. I've never had a problem with thinking big, either.) I think this is a decision you just make, for better or worse, and spend the rest of your life hoping, praying, and working to make it "for better."
Meredith is Manager of Communications for AT&T Government Solutions, as well as co-owner and VP of Publishing of the independent press, Women's Work Press, LLC. She resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

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