Warning: This diary was written in response to an <ins>extremely disturbing</ins> article about death by hyperthermia—heat death—in children who were left locked in cars.
First, let me give you the backstory very briefly: Have always loved kids … other people’s kids. Have been firmly decided since I was about 6 that I did not want any of my own. Expat and I had not planned to have any, and certainly not by any means other than adoption.
Funny thing, biology. You hit 30, and … Anyway, the line I’m using nowadays is that “we’re less against the idea than we used to be” although once I get around to admitting it to myself, I’ll probably admit the truth is I expect we’ll have our first in the next 5 years or so. (Good Lord, did I just type that?!)
There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want kids, but the one I haven’t gotten over yet (because of course like any good, well-bred young woman whose mother came of age in the 60s, I believe I am Superwoman so the fact that I have a Very Busy Career is no impediment*) is that I am sure I will be a Bad Mother. You give me a baby to hold, even a baby I love and see often, and it will certainly start crying, and beyond bouncing it around I have absolutely no clue what to do with it. I’m not one of those women who immediately grabs the nearest baby and won’t let go, so I don’t tend to have them passed to me too often. I don’t know how to talk to kids; I want to talk to them the way I wished adults would talk to me and then I find myself talking to them in the same baby talk I use on the dog and one of the cats. (Weirdly, I have adult, albeit one-sided, conversations with the older cat.) I have nothing to discuss with teenagers except the same very dumb questions about school that people asked me when I was one. Heck, half the time I don’t even know what to say to my own sister, who’s (barely) an adult but as firmly entrenched in the Millennial Generation as I am in Gen X.
So, the long and short of it is that beyond ooh-ing and ah-ing and an occasional stroke of genius in present-giving (went 3 for 3 with gifts to my best friends’ boys this Christmas!) I have no idea what to do with a child of any age and am convinced I will do the wrong things most of the time, a doubt not helped by the fact that of course I don’t want to grow up to do all the wrong things my mother did, half of which I see myself doing anyway.
And then, and then, I read this article by Pulitzer-winning journalist and erstwhile humor columnist Gene Weingarten in this week’s Washington Post magazine. It’s about parents who have killed their children by leaving them in cars. He screened carefully and reported only on parents who were otherwise known to be good and loving parents who adored their children, but who do to stress and changes in routine and environmental factors simply forgot that their children were in the car with them. It’s quite an article: he interviewed families; he interviewed prosecutors (both who prosecuted the parents and declined to do so); he interviewed neuroscientists about how we can forget our children and psychologists about why we need to hate parents whom this happens do. I have not quoted any of the article here because there is no part of it that is not utterly horrifying. (He was also online today to chat about his article. I won’t give away the backstory he gives for wanting to write it.)
Here’s the thing: I have no doubt whatsoever that I could forget my child in a car and very little that I would actually do so. I forget things all the time. I have had something on my desk for a week that I need to fax to the city with a copy of my car registration. Every day when I come to work, I forget to bring my registration to my office. Every day at lunch, I forget to go down to the parking garage and get it. Every day when I go home, I forget to take the form with me. And if I did, once I got home, I’d forget I had it and/or to actually fax it. I fail to see things all the time, too. I hunt for shoes that are sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor. I have (more than once, no less) spent a long time looking all over for the glass I was drinking out of until someone pointed out that I was actually holding it already. The reason I don’t have houseplants is that I forget to water them; I’ve never kept one alive more than a month. (And I’m sure the cat, pre-Expat, went hungry more than once because she didn’t happen to meow at precisely a time when I was in range of her food and had nothing more immediately pressing to do.) Or in short, I was already utterly and completely convinced that only by the grace of God** would my children live to adulthood without my locking them in a hot car, running them over as they played in the drive way, letting them fall into a swimming pool, or otherwise being negligent at a time when it was the difference between life and death. (Not to mention, of course, my more minor worries about teenage rebellion, learning disabilities, potty training, and all of the zillions of other things parents have to cope with, all of which I’m sure I’ll get dreadfully wrong.***)
So, in my first diary I’m sorry to be such an incredible downer. But I guess I wrote this to ask you-all a couple of questions: am I the only one who felt this way before having kids? how do you get over it? (did you get over it?) how do you avoid becoming one of the parents in the story?
(*) Said tongue in cheek, of course … intellectually I know kids + career = mind-boggling, but it’s not what’s holding me back.
(**) I’m an atheist, but “by the amazing fortune of the universe lining up favorably” doesn’t sound as good.
(***) I’m an optimist by nature, actually, why do you ask?