Every hand in the audience goes up except mine. There are knowing nods, eye-contact acquiescence that yes, we have the “special connection,” the misery-loves-company camaraderie among a group of people who share a common, poopy ground. They have children. Young children, old children, children who have children. Adopted children, children from other countries and other cultures. Children on the honor roll, children on the naughty chair, children who don’t have a clue, and children who tell them, the parents , what to do. Mom or Dad roll their eyes and grin at the others in the room. I go along with it until someone asks sympathetically, “How many children do you have?”
I look at them and sigh.
No speaker ever asks, “How many of you have cats?
As soon as the question is asked, “How many of you have children?” I know the rest of the speaker’s comments are for everyone else in the room, not the nameless, invisible, pitifuls in the same room. We are the ones without baby food stains on the hem of our sweater. We are the ones who don’t have to bolt out of the room at 2:30pm to pick up kids from school. We are the childless, marginalized anathema to the continuance of our species, which, as far as I know, does not need any more help in the procreation department. But we vanish from the speaker’s radar, no longer part of the group’s identity. The next set of remarks are for those who understand what parenting is all about. Not just understanding from a book either, but from countless nights walking a crying infant or wiping up the bathroom after three days of stomach virus.
I have no experience with childbirth or snotty noses. There are no hand prints on my refrigerator door. I do not lie awake worrying about MySpace pages. I am not setting up play dates or saving for college tuition. The jokes about motherhood (supposedly) go over my head. You can put a stopwatch on any informal group of women. Within five minutes, the conversation will be about children, their children and your children. Boys, girls, sons, daughters. Soccer teams, baseball coaches, playdates, diapers, doctors, ear infections. It is the grand common ground women are so good at discovering.
“How many children do you have?”
“I have six cats. All rescued”
I used to get annoyed when people suggested, kindly, that my cats are my children. But I’ve gotten used to it. I understand they are trying to level the field and bring me into the fold, now awkward. But I know the difference between a kid and a cat.
This was never part of my plan, though I confess there never really was one. The stars just never aligned themselves that way. The experience that would bond me with women from all of human history has eluded me. The one thing that women have in common in all cultures: past, present and future, is childbirth. That singular ability to bring forth life (which one of my sisters describes as “s…….g” a football) has passed me by. And now it’s too late. I am in my 50’s and childless. I slept through Christmas. But I still love. I still love.
So abandon me on the ice floe. I still don’t have enough money for college tuition.