I was speaking on the phone yesterday with a friend who is pregnant with her first child and talk turned to another woman who is getting well into her forties.
“I gather she’s not interested in having kids,” I said.
“Actually she’s thinking about adopting,” my friend replied. “She really wants to be a mom, but she’s not so big on the baby stage because they can’t talk, so she’s thinking of adopting a toddler.”
“Oh … well … I don’t know if that, uh, makes it easier,” I stammered.
And I didn’t mean to sound disapproving, but perhaps I did because my friend rushed to respond.
“Well, I mean, she just thinks she could handle it better if the child could at least kinda articulate what they want,” she said. “And good on her for knowing what she can handle, you know?”
And I made agreeable noises and changed the subject because I didn’t know what to say. Or, perhaps more accurately, I didn’t know how to say what I felt without sounding completely condescending.
What I wanted to say was that once my friend’s baby was born she would likely realize how silly the notion that anyone truly invested in becoming a mother would blithely consider skipping a stage in their child’s development because she’s “not so big on it.”
I wanted to say that if our mutual friend was ever fortunate enough to become the mother of an older child through adoption, it is likely she would mourn every single day she wasn’t in that child’s life, whether they could talk or not. I wanted to say it is almost certain she would ache with the longing to have known and loved that child even one day earlier.
I do not think I have discovered the secret to life because I have borne a child. I am well aware there are a lot of morons raising children and every day I see people who appear not to have had their consciousness raised to any great degree as a result of parenting.
But there are some things that even marginally thoughtful parents cannot escape learning and I don’t know if those things can be fully appreciated by people who have never known what it is like to divert your entire life—every thought, every movement, every last ounce of your energy—to the benefit of another human being.
You don’t get, for example, really get, the complexity of a human being’s physical, intellectual and emotional development until you see it close up, unfolding before you on a daily basis.
You don’t get that parenting is easy and difficult and fun and yet a massive drag, all at the same time. You don’t really understand that mothering a toddler is both the same and different and easier and harder and more fun and less fun than mothering a baby, or a even teenager for that matter.
You don’t understand how it can be all the same. And yet so very different.
I am not the smartest person in the world, but I do know that the care and devotion a child will require at any stage of its development cannot be predicted, compared, or quantified: it cannot even be imagined.
Maybe I am condescending, but I know these things and neither of my friends do yet.
And that does not mean I am smarter than they are, but it does mean that I am a mother.