Childless bliss

After they find out that I'm married, the next question is, of course, "How many issues"?


I HAVE been working my butt off this past month. Racing in spurts like a wind-up toy, no time to breathe, getting snippy with friends and snapping at strangers, living on Chinese takeout dinners and even the odd lunchtime pizza-at-the-door. And just when I think I'm about to murder someone, a single thought stops me in my tracks.

All complaints freeze in my throat.

And I hear music playing.

I'm not quite sure, but I think it's a gospel number that runs in my head.

Lots of hallelujahs, anyway. Maybe even an "Oh lordy" or two. The rousing chorus goes: "Child-free, child-free-eee".

The single stunning thought that makes nonsense of all my whingeing is: "What if I had all that work to finish, and two children to look after?" It's enough to make me eternally grateful to all concerned for the pleasures of living in a state of childless bliss. What if, instead of the quiet presence beside my chair, I heard a persistent voice butting in each time I wanted to write a line? Let's imagine that I'm reaching for the dictionary to check whether whingeing has an "e" or not. There comes that tug of the hand. "Where's my caterpillar jigsaw puzzle?" It's not going to stop at that. Sundry questions will follow, most of which she already knows the answers to. "Who gave me the puzzle? Was it Somu-uncle? Was it for my birthday? Why is Somu-uncle's tummy so big? Is he going to have a baby? Does he have a cat? Can I have a cat for a pet? Can I have a monkey? Can I have a monkey for my birthday? Can I have an ice-cream now?" In case you're dazzled by my intimate knowledge of the workings of a four-year-old mind, let me inform you that my family and friends have generously kept me supplied with a whole array of children of all ages and sexes. This makes me quite the expert on child behaviour.

I know how an 18-month-old can manipulate you, I know all about frisky three-year-olds and frenetic 10-year-olds, and I know the exact expression on a 14-year-old's face when he's called upon to make polite conversation with his mother's friends. But I can't for the life of me think of one good reason why I should have children of my own. Oh, I love the little creatures, don't get me wrong. I am often moved by their devastating innocence. It's just that it's much less stressful being aunty than being mother. I can play with them for hours when they're in their best moods, and airily walk away when tempers turn foul. Their parents can't afford to do that. They're never free from thoughts about their children. Ever. They keep their ears cocked at all times. Like a shadow play, the silhouettes of their children dance forever on the backdrop of their minds.

This burden of lifelong responsibility, this awareness that my life would inescapably revolve around my children if I had them, is perhaps my strong motivation for remaining child-free. And it's precisely this that makes the world resent people like me. Total strangers' reactions to my state of being never fail to amuse me. After they find out that I'm married, the next question is, of course, "How many issues"? I beam brightly at them and chirp: "None." Immediately their faces assume an expression of utmost concern. They believe that I'm putting on a brave smile to hide my pain. At times I make the mistake of explaining that it was a choice, and all sympathy vanishes to be replaced by suspicion and sometimes downright hostility. "How dare you?" is the silent message. "How selfish of you." Guilty as charged.

I like being able to take my thoughts out for a walk, to dream uninterrupted. I like being able to go to bed whenever I want, get up whenever I want, and get back home at my own sweet will. I don't need to crave a moment to myself - a sea of moments is there for the taking. An image from my childhood comes to mind. I once saw a nest of baby crows with their pink mouths open, cawing incessantly for their mother. No sooner would she feed one and turn to the next than the first one would quickly gulp down the morsel and start cawing again. I remember feeling rather sorry for the mother crow. Not very different for the human being, is it? I don't regret having sought freedom from this, but I also know why millions of men and women don't regret having forsaken this freedom. It's the love that gets them hooked - the unreserved, uncomplicated love that only a child can bear.

I notice the young mother watching her toddler play in the garden. Not really watching, but watching out for him. Absentmindedly she gazes into the distance as she calls out to him now and then. I see him changing over the years. The maniacal tricycle, the fights, the falls, the fevers, the homework, the exams, the loud music, and suddenly, one day, he's just an e-mail message or a voice on the phone. I go back indoors and sit before my computer. Silence. If I need to create anything that I can call my own, it's there right before me, waiting to come to life.

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