In Case You Didn’t Hear Me

 “You’ve gotta tell him to shit or get off the pot. What is he waiting for?!”

or now, the occasional “Your niece is so adorable! When is it your turn?” 

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Stop asking me.

While your questions or comments about my life and these future events may seem completely harmless, consider what I’m about to tell you. Perhaps you meant it sincerely, or were just joking around. Maybe you were genuinely curious, or were making polite conversation. Regardless of your intention, rethink it.

Here’s why:

1. It feeds into social pressures on females. It also reinforces the idea that marriage and childbirth are not only assumed next or future steps, but almost expected. As a result, we can be reluctant to speak of our different opinion, or choose a separate path than the one that you’re laying out for us.  Furthermore, there’s enough pressure there already.  I remember feeling the weight these types of questions carried. It started with, “What are you going to do after graduation/moving/etc.?” It felt as though my life was defined by this answer. Yes, it’s good to have a plan, and some people need these pushes as motivational benchmarks to figure out where they are at and move forward. But don’t you think I already have these things on my mind constantly? Might you be unintentionally pushing this individual toward something they weren’t ready for, but are now overthinking and rushing into? Whether it be a career, marriage, etc. Life changes take time. Everyone goes at their own speed. And, unless you had it all figured out by your twenties, don’t expect them to.

2. Is it really and truly your business? How does this affect your daily life? I certainly don’t mind telling my close friends and family, but we all know that one person that wants to know just because. AKA a shady individual that does not have your best intentions at heart, only the latest gossip. You must have a dull life if you feed off knowing what’s going on in mine. (Seriously, I wish I had that kind of time to kill.)

3. If the individual is single: asking them when they are going to get a boyfriend/get married is like asking, “What is wrong with you that you don’t already have a boyfriend?” First of all, thanks for the unwanted pity. Second, you are basically implying that they are not good enough on their own. Having a partner will not make someone complete. Believe it or not, some women have other dreams than just to be someone’s  wife. There is nothing wrong with marriage being a major goal, but don’t assume that it is the only thing on every  woman’s to-do list. Let’s set women’s rights back even further, shall we?  We are still  learning to love and know ourselves. That should always come first.

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4. If the individual is in a relationship: Again, a ring on their finger is not going to make someone complete or “better.” Also, don’t assume they haven’t talked about it. You should have faith that the indivudual and their significant other have discussed the future of their relationship and will take that step when they are both ready, either financially, emotionally, or both. Even if they are already there, some couples are truly at peace with where they are and do not feel the need to slap that label on it just because “we’ve been together for ____ years, so it’s just time to take the next step.” Personally, I want my future husband to ask me that question because and only because he wants to marry me more than anything in this damn world, NOT because it’s “the next step.” I have seen so many of my own friends push their significant others toward engagement and it makes me cringe. Yeah, a diamond ring is pretty. But marriage is about SO much more than that. Parents, friends: I know you’re excited and anxious for them. But wouldn’t you rather them communicate about this big decision and take it at their own pace rather than wind up divorced?  Also people- trust me, you will know when they get engaged because chances are if you’re related or close friends, you’ll be invited to the wedding. And if not, I’m sure like 90% of the population, it will be on Facebook for you to creep on.

5. You are being insensitive. Maybe they cannot physically have children. Maybe they are dealing with the loss of a baby that you never even knew about. Maybe *gasp* they do not want children.

Which brings me to the next part of this post…

The definition of a woman is many things. Specifically, Merriam-Webster defines the word as:

woman noun
  1. an adult female human being.

Do you see the word “mother” anywhere in there? No.

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I have the utmost respect for mothers. They are some of the strongest females I know. My own mother is one of my best friends. And if your one and only dream is to be a mother, I think that’s wonderful! There is nothing wrong with that. However, I have never said to any of these women, “Why would you want to be a mother?!”

Yet, it is perfectly normal for me to hear a gasp of surprise or the words “Why don’t you want kids?!” in a disapproving tone when the topic arises and I state that I don’t. Let me make it clear: Not wanting children does NOT make me, or any other female, less of a woman.

*Note: I am not slamming motherhood, or those women who are/want to be mothers.  However, I am slamming those who feel the need to tell people it is their duty as a woman to have children.

So again: NOT WANTING CHILDREN DOES NOT MAKE ME, OR ANY OTHER FEMALE, LESS OF A WOMAN.

And I am sick of brushing these remarks off and allowing them to make me feel this way. It is perfectly fine for a man to not want kids, but not for a woman?  In this day and age, more women than ever before are leaning away from starting families and further into their careers. Yet, there is still backlash. Many of us still don’t feel comfortable talking about it because of the reactions we get. No, I am not a heartless human. Yes, I have a soul. No, I don’t hate children.  And furthermore, let’s just put this to rest.

Please avoid the following responses when someone says, “I don’t want children.”

1. “I didn’t want kids either when I was your age.” I am about to be 26. Yes, I get that at sixteen I didn’t want them, but *newsflash* ten years later, here we are, and I still don’t. This decision can and does change with some women as they age, however, please learn to separate the idea that the more birthdays you have, the more likely you are to yearn for offspring. Furthermore, “Once you find someone you love, you’ll want to create a family with them.” Yes, that does happen! But I have found that person, and my ovaries are still just fine, thank you.

2. “You’ll get out of the party phase, and see that it can be fun.” I can say from personal experience that I do not go bar-hopping every weekend, and it’s been a couple years since I have. My life is currently filled with a full-time job, taking writing classes, working on a future chapbook, and training for a full marathon, all while maintaining friendships, a serious relationship, and fulfilling my passion for traveling.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m not partying, and I still don’t want kids.

3. “Your life will be so dull without kids.” I’ll just leave this here:

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4. “The greatest joy in life is being a mother.” …for you. Does everyone like mushrooms on their pizza? No. Stop acting like every freaking female has the same itinerary as you. I know that I cannot actually comprehend the joys of motherhood since I am not a mother, but I do not for one minute doubt that it is an incredible and amazing journey. However, if I am not entirely sure that journey is right for me, perhaps you should hold your tongue before you tell me what would be the greatest joy in my life.

5. “You’ll change your mind.” You know what, maybe I will. But MAYBE I won’t. And what I can’t fathom (for the life of me!) is why others are so offended by the latter. People do not need to “grow” out of this feeling. We do not need to change our minds to fit a certain social agenda. This is the number one response I hear from people, and sometimes I just want to scream. “Okay,” would be a good response when I tell you I don’t want kids. Or, “Whatever you want is what you should do.” We say the phrase, “To each their own,” to nearly everything- why not this?

6. “Your biological clock is ticking…won’t you be lonely?” Oh, is it? Didn’t know I had one. Guess I better book that trip to Southeast Asia. Guess I better train for my next marathon. Guess I better write that book before my mind goes, too. Guess I better do all the other things in the world that I want to do that don’t include reproducing. For the record, you are never too young or too old to accomplish what you want. And if I really am feeling lonely, I will get a cat. Or a dog. Or a pet dolphin, whatever. I will visit my friends. I will spend time with my family and their children. I will go shopping with my niece. I will take care of my parents. I will go on dates with my husband. I will strengthen those relationships and give more time and attention to those I do have. I have never felt the urge to have a child or give birth. Also, if I can’t hold my iPhone for 5 minutes without dropping it, chances are I probably don’t want to hold your baby.  Some people just don’t have that motherly instinct, and there is nothing wrong with that.

7. “That’s what a woman’s purpose on Earth is.” or “It’s how God intended it.” I honestly have to unclench my fists to type this. Just because I have all the necessary parts to give birth to a child does not mean that it is my sole purpose in life. I AM NOT A BABY FACTORY. While I may not know my complete purpose on this Earth, I do know that touching the lives of others, making a difference, and being happy can be achieved by a wide variety of different things that do not include bearing a child. Maybe my purpose is to be a writer, or a teacher, or a student, or a friend/daughter/sister/aunt/lover/wife. I do believe in God. But I also believe he made us all unique for a reason. Every individual has their own talents, desires, and goals. If it is truly a sin in the eyes of the Lord to not have children, then I suppose I am ready to risk that.

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Get the idea out of your head that not having children is a selfish decision. Although my reproduction organs seem to be in perfectly fine condition, there are others who are not in the same boat. Sometimes it’s easier for them to say, “Kids just aren’t for us.” Those who have had miscarriages, or lost a child, may not want to bring the pain of that loss back to the surface. Maybe they are still struggling with the recent news that they cannot have children.  Consider that before you jump to conclusions. Furthermore, being responsible is not being selfish. I firmly believe that we should let those who want to be mothers, be mothers. Bringing a child into this world when you do not want to be a parent can cause a plethora of problems, including lack of proper care for the child. It is much better to know you do not want children and not have them, than to not be sure and bring a child into that situation. “Is it because you don’t want stretch marks?” Well, I’m not jumping at the bit to get them, but no. Stretch marks would be the least of my concerns. Perhaps my career is taking off and I want to focus on that, or I am always on the go. My boyfriend is in the military, as my brother is, and although my brother and his wife have a baby and are wonderful parents, I am not the same woman as my sister-in-law. She was meant to be a mother, and has always wanted to be one. I love that about her, but I do not share this feeling with her. Plus, being a military S.O. can be hard enough, I do not want to be a military mom and feel like I am raising the child completely on my own. And yes, it’s true- I do like my independence and freedom, but there are more reasons than just that. I can also go into financial concerns, as affording rent and repaying student loans are their own beasts (even without adding the expenses of a child) but I won’t go there. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that despite these issues, it can be done. Schedules can be managed, and you can make it work even when the money is tight.  I can go into the problems our country is facing and how I am reluctant to bring up a child into a world that terrifies me, but again, I won’t go there. I can respond to your claims that I am just being selfish, and my generation is lazy, self-centered, greedy, etc. But I won’t go there, either.

Because bottom line, I don’t think I should have to ever explain myself on this topic.
As long as you are not causing harm to others, be whoever and whatever you want. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.

“Well, you’ll regret it someday.” Maybe you’re right. But I’d rather take my chances than regret giving birth to a kid I don’t want just because everyone else thought it was a good idea for me.

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P.S.

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That Time I Took My Mom on Vacation

My mom gave me life, so the least I can do is take her on an all-inclusive vacation, right?

I’d been pushing her to do a mother/daughter trip with me for quite some time, and finally, the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this month. Last Thursday through Sunday (Mother’s Day), we headed to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for the blue beach, to bask in the sun and bronze burn our booties.

 

Right away, it was an adventure. We were greeted at the airport and escorted to the shuttle that would take us to our resort, where we met a couple visiting Punta Cana for their third time. Turns out they knew my aunt and uncle. You may think, how does that even happen?! But growing up in a small town, and attending a small college, showed me years ago how strong connections can be and how fast they spread. I can’t say I was even fazed.

And then my mom (making conversation, of course) asked them the question: “Are the native people here really poor?” Embarrassed, I tried to shush her, but she went on, loudly. “They seem really poor.” All in earshot of our driver, who was clearly a native of the country. *face palm*

It was like that scene from Mean Girls.

 

 

A small part of me worried what I was getting into, but I just laughed. This was going to be a trip! We got dropped off at our hotel and were greeted with a flute of cold sparking juice and damp, cool washcloths to put on our necks to relieve us from the heat. My mom, as you can see, was in heaven. “I’m never leaving!” she exclaimed. Below, you can see the photos of our hotel and beach areas. (That flamingo was kind of a bitch.)

 

 

Although mom doesn’t drink, she was loving the non-alcoholic cocktails and smoothies. Every day, she’d say, Let’s get a drink. Oh gosh, I sound like such a lush! We spent the majority of our time relaxing at the beach laying out or under the shade of the bed, or hanging out in our VIP pool.

 

 

Steps to vacation: Eat, drink, relax, swim, sleep, repeat.

 

Then my childhood dream came true on Friday- I swam with a dolphin in the ocean. Absolutely everything I thought it’d be! They are such powerful, playful, and beautiful mammals.  Posters and knickknacks of them used to cover my bedroom from wall to wall growing up, and here I was, actually kissing them, swimming with them, having them jump over me. Surreal. Like a true mother, my mom’s enjoyment came out of just watching my excitement.

 

As amazing as the views were, the best part of the trip was the talks we’d have before bed. Mom told me some stories from her childhood, how her parents didn’t have money, and things she had done for fun. I told her my fears, my summer plans, vented about my “problems.” She listened intently, giving advice like only she can do. We talked about my future: traveling, kids (no), marriage. Her regrets, and aging.

We never think about our parents getting older until we notice small things- forgetting something we told them, not being able to walk as far, needing glasses to read, getting frustrated with trying to teach them technology, my mom reading lips because she was struggling to hear me, etc. I have this irrational fear that because my mom handles literally EVERYTHING for our family and constantly has a mind that never stops running, that she’ll develop Alzheimer’s, though I know that’s not how it works.

She mentioned, with tears in her eyes, that her mother would have never done something like this with her. She had died when I was six, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of her. It hit me then that my mother was also a daughter. Crazy as it sounds, I forget that beyond being a mother and a wife, she is a daughter.  She is a woman who does not need to be defined by her roles. A woman who probably, even at 61, still has those empty spaces in her heart from the ones she has lost. A woman who still has dreams and needs and sadness and really tough days where she doesn’t know what the hell to do. A woman who ignores those feelings because so many depend on her strength. That thought made me feel so guilty. I had been blind for so long. So insincere and thoughtless as a teenager, so selfish. So blissfully unaware of how lucky I am to have her.

People talk about how their mother is the glue that holds their family together…mine is the nails used to build us, the glue that keeps us, and the duct tape when all else fails. She has been my backbone in a lot of ways, and I can’t picture a world with her not in it. My parents have worked their entire lives to provide a better life for my brother and I, and even in their sixties, they are moving firewood, taking care of my grandparents, managing three properties, and still picking up the phone when I call. As they near retirement (jealous) my hope for them is that they are able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Now that we’re back in rainy PA, I’m reflecting on this trip and I know that was one of the reasons for going- for everything my mother has given me, it’s always been my dream to give back. Since I can’t buy her a house, or a brand new car, I figured my time and this experience would suffice. Another lifetime couldn’t be long enough to learn from and be loved by you.

I love you mom, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I’m always missing you.

 

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Leave nothing but footprints,

take nothing but pictures,

kill nothing but time.

The Mark I Left

*As promised in my Madwomen In the Attic post, here is my first draft for my creative nonfiction workshop.

***UPDATE: This piece was published in Longridge ReviewCheck it out here!***

 

 

The Mark I Left

I run my hands gingerly over the white and tan splotches of matted fur on my new Calico kitten. We got her a week or so ago, from a woman getting rid of a whole litter. She promised she had all her shots but she just couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. The kitten was thin, probably sick. But that would change now that she was mine.

She squirms in my arms, escaping. With hesitant steps, she explores her new jungle of four acres of wide open land. She darts around my bare feet, pawing at dandelions, and then lowers to the ground, ready to pounce. As I watch her hunt, I think back to last week when I held her alone in my bedroom. She would not stop crying. She meowed relentlessly, and when I tried to pick her up, claws extended and sharp teeth sunk fast and hard into my sensitive skin. Red lines rose, etching marks on my hands.

I did not think, She was just scared.

I did not think, It’s okay, it was just self-defense.

I did not consider the condition of the home the kitten knew before mine.

Furious, I opened one of my empty dresser drawers, plopped that stupid kitten inside, and slammed it shut it. That’ll show it. I pictured it in the dark, afraid and deeply regretting it had ever thought to leave marks on me. Well, good. The kitten had to learn that I was in charge. If she didn’t behave, I would punish her. That’s just how it works.

I left the kitten there for a few minutes until my rage abated, and remorse quickly washed over me.  I didn’t want to hurt her, that was never my intention.  But I couldn’t deny how powerful it felt to be in control for once.  It was impossible for her to get out of the drawer without me. She needed me.

In a way, we were the same. She was small and helpless, and I was accustomed to that role. The baby of the family, I was always being told what to do, forever a puppet on a stage with an older brother or a parent pulling the strings. My parents had my brother, Ryan, and I to attend to, full-time jobs, and bills to pay. Ryan had dirt bikes to ride, a punching bag in the form of a little sister, and better things to do than be bothered with some “dumb cat.” But forget any of that. This living animal was mine. I alone held the power. I knew that I was the stronger, bigger one.

Her fate was in my hands. For the first time I was the one to restrain, not be restrained, and it felt good. I could see why my brother liked it. The thought sickened me as I stared down at my hands in disbelief.  Even at eight years old, I knew that feeling was wrong. My mother would never do this kind of thing. Only bad caretakers would. Fear plummeted to the pit of my stomach.  What does this make me?

“Come on, we are going to be late!” my mother calls from inside. I hurry to climb shotgun into our sky blue Plymouth Voyager, leaving the kitten down in the grass. We are already late for a meeting at church, and I can hear the stress in my mother’s voice rising as she rushes down the stairs, carrying so many bags over her shoulders and under her eyes. She held so much of my world together. If that’s what being a mom meant, I don’t believe I could ever do it.

The sound of the ignition interrupts my reverie as our old van springs to life, and my mom flings her purse in the space between our seats. She puts it in reverse, steps hard on the gas, and that’s when I feel it. So fast I don’t even have time to process what the bump meant, then so painfully slowly, leaving me breathless as if my own lungs are the ones being crushed. Tiny ribs collapsing, the weight of an eight passenger van and two human bodies, alive and breathing, as life is sucked from a kitten, not yet one month old.

My mom quickly jams it into park and falls silent with the realization. It’s almost as if the world stops and gasps, watching, waiting.  I throw open the passenger door and scream, seeing the tread of the tires imprinted on the patched white fur. The mark I left. I know I am going to be sick. Bones and blood and whiskers and more blood. Blinded by hot tears, I go to hold the limp head in the palm of my hand but stop when I see its pink pearl nose. Just minutes ago it was wet and soft. Now, guts gush through nostrils. They push out, pouring red and already caking over in the hot July sun.

I realize I am still howling. Was this because of me? I know things about accidents, a little about death, some about pain. I know bodies have spines and heads and hearts and bones, and blood. There is so much blood. I wonder if this is God’s way of punishing me. I wonder if God will pluck me from this driveway and shove me in a box and slam it shut. That doesn’t happen, but I feel the guilt just the same. Death doesn’t care what mark it leaves.

Although numb, I force myself into motion. I stand up with skinned knees, spinning around wildly to face my mother, and choke out the words,

“You.

Killed.

Her.” 

I am hysterical, repeating it over and over again, wailing so loud I’m sure the Kilburn’s next door could hear, despite the overgrown fields between us. Everything inside me breaks. My mom is at my side instantly, smoothing my hair and whispering apologies. We don’t say it, but I think we both knew it was my fault. We lived in the middle of nowhere and left our pets outside all the time, but this was different and I knew it.

Why did I leave the kitten so close the driveway? I should have kept her inside. Why didn’t I check to see where she was before getting in the van? How could you be so stupid? Good job, moron, I could already hear my brother saying. I block out his voice in my head. I can’t think of that right now. Forget this church meeting, I don’t care. I insist we hold a funeral for her right then and there. We can at least give her that. My mom obliges, albeit reluctantly, and disappears into the basement, emerging with a cardboard box for a coffin.

“We have to put holes in the top,” I say. I had learned this is necessary for creatures to still breathe. She doesn’t remind me that the kitten is already dead and this is useless, but instead pokes holes through the top of the box. And then my mother, still in her black pumps, follows me to the woods. She carries the kitten’s lifeless body in the curved belly of one of my father’s shovels. I choose a spot next to one of my favorite trees, feeling the heavy box hit against the side of my leg as I walk up the hill. I tell her we should pray, or give a speech like I saw them do at my uncle’s funeral last year. She bows her head to pray, but I hear nothing.

My head is spinning. I am wondering if Jesus will forgive us. For how I kept that kitten trapped in my dresser drawer, for making my mother late for her meeting, for not paying attention to where the kitten was, for everything.  I look down at the dandelions I’ve picked to cover the grave, and realize I never even named her. Perhaps I knew, even at that age, that she wouldn’t stay with me for long.

Seventeen years later, when my mind has a better understanding of motherhood, and my hands know how to hold something fragile, I still feel my lungs give out at the question, “When are you having kids?”  Distant family members will ask me, trapping me at the dinner table during holidays. It is suffocating. I wonder sometimes if God forgot to poke holes in the top of my box.

When I try to explain to people that I just don’t want children, I give them reasons like finances and freedom. I don’t say how I am afraid of what my own two hands could do, or how you can love something so hard and still not keep anything safe in this world. I do not reveal my choking insecurities and how I feel unfit to care for another. Nobody asks. I know they label me heartless, but it seems easier to ignore that.  Because it’s hard to explain how when love and death and fear gripped the axles of a four door van, and guilt flowed freely into the four chambers of my heart like blood out onto hot asphalt, this decision buried itself in my womb many summers ago.

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