I am 18 years old, and I am sure of one thing: I never want to be a mother.
75% sure with a 10% surcharge fee for overthinking.
Maybe it’s silly to say something so concrete at eighteen years old. At seven years old, I accidentally ate part of a rubber band and thought I would die two months later. (Two months came and went, and I amended my death sentence to three months, and then four, and then five. For all I know, the rubber band is just waiting for me to let my guard down.)
At twelve years old, I thought “depraved” and “deprived” were synonyms. (I proudly said “I’m just depraved like that!” in front of several of my favorite teachers during the crowded rush between fifth and sixth period.)
At sixteen, I thought my biggest point of pride was being able to differentiate between Jacobins and Jacobites. (And I’ll still pretentiously lecture about both to anyone who will ask; you, dear reader, could be the inaugural requester.)
But I make do with what I have, and what I have is the experience of an eighteen-year-old who knows that children feature nowhere in her five—or her ten—or her forever plan.
I like children. I like them in an abstract they are our future”way, in a No Child Left Behind idealistic way. But raising them myself is a completely different discussion. Involving myself in a lifetime of whining and pooping and screaming doesn’t appeal to me. I’m eighteen—teetering on the slim picket fence between adolescence and adulthood—I remember my whining and pooping and screaming.
I look to my elders, the Millennials, for justifications. Climate change—imagine raising a kid in the era of fiery hurricanes and melting icebergs. Economic inequality—imagine raising a kid in an era where Jeff Bezos owns more wealth than he’ll ever use while college graduates get turned down for McDonald’s positions. Racial discrimination—imagine raising a kid in an era where if they look different, if they love different, they’ll be targeted. I don’t want to raise a child in these situations. I’ll live through them myself, and they’re experience enough without forcing someone else to share them with me.
But I don’t pretend that my desire to avoid motherhood is wholly rooted in a concern for the future. I’m selfish by nature—everyone says so—and so are my decisions. If I become a mother, I’ll be a Pygmalion. Of course, there’s philosophical debates that could be had about whether children’s minds are truly tabula rasa or if they’re born with predetermined traits. But children, in my own child experience, are deeply influenced by their parents and the situations they live in. Mothers and fathers take chisels to their pristine block of marble and chip away.
Sometimes parents have discerning eyes and gentle hands, and the sculpture wins awards. Sometimes parents chip too much, and the sculpture cracks on the inside and crumbles.
Sometimes parents chip just enough to avoid the crumbling but not the cracking.
I feel the smooth handle of the chisel in my hands every time I think about children, feel the coldness of the metal against the ridges of my soft palm. The last time I had a callus was six years ago, the last time I dangled from the monkey bars near my home. I am not built for holding tools, for hard labor, for sculpting, for motherhood.
At least when you seek a partner, when you swipe right on Tinder, or maybe when you give someone attractive at your local coffeeshop the ol’ up-down, you rest safe in the knowledge that you will meet someone fully formed. Someone whose qualities will little budge with your influence, and someone who will little budge your qualities. The two of you will complement each other.
But children come to you just-formed. And when you stroke your rough human finger—because even my bourgeois hands are too rough for those just-formed children—against their cheek, you will give them their first touch. Now your touch is theirs—your touch is their first definition of so many things.
Your touch is human.
Your touch is skin.
Your touch is mother.
Or your touch could be disgust, could be bitterness, could be scorn, could be regret.
Forgive me for dating myself, but there was a popular TikTok trend circulating a few months ago: “I love being your mom,” the women in the videos said, “but I miss her.” “Her” being the women before they were mothers, the women who dressed up and went to clubs, and saw their friends and thought of their children as abstract little twinkles in their eyes, not seven-pound babies in their arms in a sterile hospital bed lit by fluorescent lights demanding to see every little flaw.
I love my child enough never to have them.
Kathryn Lee is a freshman at Binghamton University. Her work has been previously published in Binsey Poplar Press, Paper Crane Journal, The Augment Review, and Halfway Down the Stairs. Along with writing fiction, she also runs her own book review blog, le livre en rose (lelivreenrose.weebly.com).