i'm doing this right now

"I feel like we're done having babies."

Ryan shook his head and laughed. We were halfway up a mountain, hiking through ferns and moss and tall tall trees, swallowed up in the permanently dusky gullet of the damp forest. 

He laughed because not two weeks ago we were cleaning the kitchen and talking about whether we should have another baby. I leaned against the counter and crossed my arms. "Who the fuck knows. Yeah, probably.”

I reserve the right to reverse my position on the size of my tribe.

Sure, it seems like we should know how many we’re shooting for. Having a plan for the number of nuclei in our family seems like a critical cornerstone of life, as deep in the blood as belief in a higher power, as natural and deeply ingrained as my taste for olive bread. Some things are just a part of who you are.

But as it turns out, “how many kids are you going to have,” is a tougher question to answer than “would you like some olive bread.”

Here's how the "how many kids" conversation went, at least for me:

Before I had any:

"I want at least three. Because I come from a family of three siblings. So. Yeah. AT LEAST three."

After I had one:

"One." 

After I had two:

"Jesus, I don't fucking know."

The conversation changes depending on which direction I’m facing that day, how far along this switchback I’ve traveled and how tight that boot is pinching the top of my foot.

I can think of a million great reasons to be done having babies. But the tricky thing is that I can also think of exactly a million great reasons to saddle up and go again.

I swore I would never drive a minivan
I like the new hybrid SUVs
I want to be a grown-up again, in charge of my life, able to travel or stay up late or go to the movies on a Tuesday night.
I love being a kid again, making blanket forts and toppling Lego towers, laughing at Bugs Bunny on Sunday morning, tasting peas and seeing stars as if for the first time.
Every day there is a moment in which I want to escape from my life. Consider the word I chose. Escape. Like a trapped, caged animal. Yearning to unfold my cramped-up body and run, run forever.
Every day there is a moment in which I want to hug my family so tight that they fold back into my body and stay just like this forever.
There is never a moment that someone doesn’t want something from me.
My heart hurts when I think of a time when my sons will not want anything from me.
I miss sleeping in.
You can sleep when you’re dead.
I miss looking cute and going to happy hour.
Babies are cute. You can bring babies to happy hour.

If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, then the two sweet birds in my hand are worth like WAY more than some flock of other birds in the bush who will keep me awake all night forever and want cars on their sixteenth birthdays and POSSIBLY get suspended from elementary school for biting.

But on the other hand, Chicken touched my cheek yesterday, smiled, and said, “you cute mommy.” And Buster? His head is shaped like a pumpkin and whenever he smiles the little pink point of his tongue slips out to touch his chin. He looks like the cutest little Rumplestiltskin Jack-o-Lantern you ever did see.

My problem is that when I look at Chicken and Buster, I’m staggered by of all the things that had to go perfectly right to deliver these two people, these two unique, exact combinations of cells, into my life. If Ryan and I had conceived one day later, we would not have a Chicken. We’d have Who the Fuck Knows Who. He’d probably be quieter though.

I can’t help but feel uncomfortable wielding the power to decide whether or not to make a person. I think it’s okay for us to take this power seriously, to heft the weight of our clout, to think twice before signing up for another tour of duty.

So 600 words and one hike later, I still don’t know if we’re done having babies. But I do know this:

A couple of years ago Ryan and I did a punishing, steep hike to Mailbox Peak. On our descent every crazy-eyed group we passed asked if they were almost there. We didn’t lie to them – our responses faded from, “yes! Keep it up, you’re so close!” to “you’ve got a ways to go, but you’re getting there!” to “Seriously? I can still hear the highway. So… no, you’re really not close at all.” We were 75% of the way down when a couple asked us how much farther they had to go. I turned around and looked up at the way we’d just come.

I couldn’t even begin to explain how far they still had to go, how many steps they still had to take, how many times the trail would rise up mercilessly and they’d have to rise up with it. “Pretty far,” I said to them. Poor bastards.

Yesterday, we walked up a mountain. A kinder one than Mailbox to be sure.

As we ascended, we passed a pudgy, bearded computer programmer-type walking down the trail, alone with his ear buds. We nodded hello to a breathless fifty-something couple laughing and cracking jokes about needing to take a reeeeally close look at this one tree while they rested.

As we crossed paths with these people I had the thought, as I always do on the way up, that they knew so much more than we did. They knew exactly how much farther we had to go.

We didn’t ask them. It didn’t really matter. A thousand switchbacks later, we’ll eventually get where we’re going.

If these kids have taught us anything, it’s that yes, you can make plans and plot out your course. You can budget and set alarms. You can wake up in the morning with the intention of hitting every checkpoint on your mark.

But to move through life with every turn anticipated and plotted, there’s no fun in that. There’s no fear. No risk. No thrill. No surprise. No fucking life. And besides, only a fool actually believes that this world will serve up what he's ordered.

How many times have we started out with one intention with Chicken and Buster, and ended up doing something completely different and vastly better? How many times have we thrown away the grand design and leaned into the moment? 

We go to the zoo and spend an hour playing hide and seek behind a tree 100 feet from the entrance. We do not see so much as a squirrel.

We lay out a fisherman costume for Chicken to wear trick-or-treating. Chicken spots Buster’s Nemo costume hanging in the doorknob. Miraculously, the Nemo costume fits Chicken perfectly, and every kid we pass calls out “Hi Nemo!” One kid starts singing, "Just keep swimming." Chicken is radiant. It is the best first Halloween ever.

These are the switchbacks, the owls that brush your shoulder in the middle of bright day. These are the felled trees that reveal chanterelle mushrooms and columbine blooms.

We might summit. We might not.
We might have another baby. We might not.
We might buy a fucking pony.
We might move to Poughkeepsie. Probably not though.

We’re on our way somewhere. And while we are on the way, we’re also exactly where we are, right then. Right now.

Chicken has begun to say, loudly and often, “I’m doing THIS. Right NOW.”


Exactly, my love. Exactly.

2 comments:

  1. The chart is helpful though, so good call on that. You're right, it is The Impossible Question. So much amazing and so much terrible wrapped up in the result.

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  2. This is beautiful, so true and EXACTLY how I feel. Well-said and well-written. Thank you! Especially for Row 3.

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