Tuesday, September 11, 2012
As eagerly as we soak up little Cleo's affection and admire her boldness, there's a real anticlimax to "Heather, look! We have a kitten." I say it sometimes, just to remind myself that something real has happened. We have an object for our affections. She has toys and doctor's visits and requires a lot of supervision, and we worry about how she'll fit in. We tell the other cat and dog that Cleo is their little sister: she just wants to play with them and that they're still very loved.
Somewhere in the midst of this self-deception, I heard from my mom that the bookstore where I worked in high school might be closing. I worked there a little in college, too, but fell out of touch when I dropped out of college and wanted to disappear. That sense of depression and isolation wasn't a lot different from what I felt immediately after Heather's miscarriage: no one could understand and I couldn't stand to look anyone in the face. It took weeks for me to function after that second ultrasound, but my medications were in order and there was hope for the future; when I dropped out of college, I hid out for months, with uneven medication and total shame about the future I had destroyed. Heather will tell you that I never got past that, and she's right.
I finished my degree, got a job, got a boyfriend, changed jobs, traded the boyfriend for a girlfriend, and things have been going steadily uphill. Still, the sense remains that something was left incomplete, some potential unrealized, some future left hanging. I'm terrified that people who knew me beforehand won't be able to see my life now as a success but only as an anticlimax to my earlier plans.
No matter what Chelsea Handler says about the issue, American culture hasn't evolved past the evolutionary imperative to reproduce. It's like there's a checklist, and you're supposed to get married and have kids. I think people are judged more for just having one kid, honestly, than for being in an unhappy marriage. There are a lot of couples who are much happier without kids than the folks with iffy, unsatisfied marriages and the full complement of offspring, but that box has not been checked.
It's something tangible, right? It's a Facebook picture. "Look, I have a baby. I'm a person!" What if the picture from your wedding only represents a guy who ignores you, or leaves you to do all the chores, or gets you pregnant and ignores the kids? Heather and I have a terrific relationship, but we don't have a wedding picture, and there aren't any baby pictures, either. The American checklist remains unsatisfied.
As we watch little Cleo play with the too-many toys she's accumulated within a week, though, Heather says, "At least we have a baby something!" Sometimes, I guess, it's okay to be obvious if the obvious thing works.