You knew it had to hit a nerve, didn’t you? The title alone – “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not To Have Kids,” edited by Meghan Daum (Picador, $26, 282 pages) – is bound to be a scab that many will have to pick.
Apparently, childlessness is a growing trend, with many of those feeling they are childless by circumstance rather than by choice. For women in particular, it’s a case of going entirely against the grain. Despite some horrific stories of child abuse and murder by mothers – and examples in the animal kingdom that give lie to the idea of “maternal instinct” – we as members of the human race expect women to become mothers. (Men, always granted more freedom, are given a pass on fatherhood, but then their role in reproduction is over quickly. Indeed any gynecologist will tell you we could continue the human race without men at all. Figures that men would invent the technology that has made them obsolete. Talk about shooting yourself in, well, not the foot.)
For myself, I can only say that it was a no-brainer. I wanted to be free to be a writer, and I realized early on that I would never be the writer I wanted to be if I had children (or, for that matter, a husband).
But life has a funny way of confounding and deepening you. Not long after the beloved aunt who raised me – and with whom I lived – took seriously ill, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw myself walking up my steep driveway in the snow, lifting a tow-headed 3-year-old and laughing. I knew right away what the dream meant – that I would take care of my aunt and that I would write books.
I became a nurturer – not only of her and her house and garden, which became mine, but of the writers I edited in my new job at WAG magazine and of the series of novels I began writing, “The Games Men Play.” In so doing, I became more loving – to my neighbors, co-workers, family and friends, to myself.
The four gay swimmers and tennis players at the heart of “Water Music,” the debut book in “TGMP,” aren’t interested in marriage and children. It’s just not who they are. But the gay quarterbacks at the heart of “The Penalty for Holding,” the upcoming novel, are definitely interested. I think this reflects not only the rapid change in attitude toward gay marriage in this country but my own growth as a “mother figure.”
I have become the mother of myself.