I think I can understand why you want a grandchild.
After all, many years ago, you wanted a child. You could picture a baby crib filling the empty corner in the unused office overlooking the driveway. You flipped through magazines, furnishing the room with ideas.
Then, finally, you were pregnant. You furnished the room for real, this time: crib, changing table, soft animals, color.
You experienced the growing belly, the new diet, standing sideways in the mirror, conversations with other women who were pregnant or who already had children about odd cravings, what you should do when little X did Y, who you hoped little X would look like, what little X’s name might be. You knew you would love X so much that you would do anything – anything – to make sure X was happy. Woe betide anyone who dared bring pain or unhappiness to X!
X arrived after a labor experience you’ll never forget. You named X Sam.
Flash forward 20, 25, 30 years: Sam’s room is empty. The crib and changing table have long since been donated or dumped. Sam lives two towns away, maybe across the country or on the other side of the world.
Your dinners are smaller. Quieter. On bright Saturday afternoons, no one plays outside in front of the house. The leaf piles every fall are undisturbed, and Christmas just isn’t the same without sloppy clumps of tinsel clinging to the tree, without torn, crumpled Santa paper and squeals of surprise.
You want another child in your life.
You wonder when Sam will have that child.
Meanwhile, two towns away or across the country or on the other side of the world, Sam is living a lovely life. The job is fulfilling, last night’s squid ink pasta with shrimp was eye-roll, “Holy crap”- good, and just that morning, Sam had eye-roll, “Holy crap”-good sex before the alarm clock even went off (this is not something you wish to know).
Sam’s plans for the day: head to work, have lunch at that new pizza place, and after work, meet Loverdoll Morningsex at the bookstore for coffee and a cranberry muffin.
Or, maybe Sam’s life isn’t some sunshine movie ideal. Maybe Sam works long hours for little pay, but is always excited to get home and spend time with Loverdoll Morningsex. They have a small dinner (always with a salad) at the coffee table while watching Seinfeld reruns, but that’s okay, because it’s what they enjoy.
Neither version of Sam feels incomplete; neither version wants a child. At all.
But you do.
No, no, you argue. I’m too old. I’ve already done all that.
You really do want one.
And not just any baby, but a baby that’s related to you. One you can love and cuddle and hold.
Well, it’s simple, you decide. Sam must have that baby.
The pressure you put on Sam is all just fun and games to you, because, fine, okay, yes, Sam says, “I don’t think you understand – I really don’t want kids,” but of course Sam will eventually want a child. After all, you wanted a child, and your friends wanted children, and your parents obviously wanted children. What’s so fucking special about Sam that Sam can get away with not wanting a child?
If you just nudge and cajole, maybe dangle cute baby socks and those adorable animal-ear hats in Sam’s face now and then, Sam will come around and produce an offspring.
Oh, it’s just one little baby, you think. Babies are easy. Sam can have the baby and experience all the joy and love I felt when I was–er, I mean, that I feel as a parent, and everything will be perfect. I’ll even help out on weekends and babysit when Sam and Loverdoll Morningsex (I do not wish to think of this!) want to go out on date nights.
Because you can’t fathom someone not wanting children, you keep the pressure on Sam and Loverdoll Morningsex to produce one for you. Only, It’s not really pressure, you convince yourself, because Of course deep down they want children. You’re just hurrying them along, speeding things up, reminding them how silly and young they are for thinking they don’t want a child. Who doesn’t want a child?
“I don’t, Mom.”
And anyway, everyone knows Everything changes once the baby is born.
Skip forward to Reality A.
Sam and Loverdoll Morningsex cave. Somebody outside of their relationship wants a baby to love (but not raise), so they have procreative sex in order to produce that baby.
And it turns out to be true: everything changes once the baby is born.
Well, almost everything.
They work harder, longer hours – there’s a baby, now, on top of everyday work. They spend more money, and they worry, now, about money in a way they never did before. No one sleeps through the night. Their morning sex is less frequent, and feels somehow obligatory. Everyone is too tired to make squid ink pasta with shrimp, so mornings usually consist of one person feeding the baby while the other chops crap to fling into a crock pot. Both are stressed in a way they never knew was possible: they worry about future schools, child predators, disease, all that vaccine bullshit, and wonder why play-dates can’t just mean “your kid comes over, you leave, and both our kids disappear in a room with toys, or whatever.” They wonder when they’ll ever get to read another book or watch an entire episode of Seinfeld without cleaning a mess or changing a diaper–or thinking about college tuition or who the new boyfriend is or wondering whether junior’s behavior warrants some snooping in the kid’s bedroom (what if there are drugs? what if suicide is an issue?). Sam and Loverdoll Morningsex don’t meet after work for coffee, anymore, and haven’t for years. All they do when they talk is talk about things a Mom and Dad talk about, and Jesus, they just want a break.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is that, as much as they love the child they had in order to give someone a grandchild, they really wish they hadn’t done that.
Meanwhile, you glide happily around your kitchen with a cup of coffee in the morning, year after year, humming John Denver. You listen to the birds singing outside and smile, excited about the upcoming weekend: you’re visiting Grandchild for the day!
In this reality, you realize you already had your child, and that there are simply some things you can’t get back. You realize you love Sam and want Sam to be happy, that wanting Sam to live a life not of Sam’s choosing in order to please you is the kind of selfish act that you would never want Sam to do to your grandchild, the one that will never be. You would slap Sam for doing such a thing.
How dare your grandchild be treated that way.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the post-Roe v. Wade novel The Age of the Child, called “scathing social commentary” and “a novel for right now.” She is also the author of the novels The Year of Dan Palace and Pretty Much True (studied in Dr. Owen W. Gilman, Jr.’s The Hell of War Comes Home: Imaginative Texts from the Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq). Kristen’s interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.