(For Kerry Cohen’s response to this piece, “An Open Letter To Janine Kovac,” click here.)
You know you want kids, but you’re still not sure you’re ready. Mother of three, Janine Kovac, asks: What are you waiting for?
This is an open letter to an old friend of mine. I’ll call her “Doris.” If you’re a mom, you know Doris. She’s in her mid-30s and thinks of herself as a career woman. She knows the clock is ticking. She says she’s not panicking yet, but we know better—she’s freaking out. She doesn’t want to be rushed into having kids (which is why she’s still doesn’t have any) and she’s worried that she doesn’t feel ready. Or worse—what if she finally feels ready at age 46 and it’s too late? What if it’s already too late?
Sometimes Doris reminds me of my kindergartner—“What if I get sick tomorrow and can’t go to school and I never learn to read?” Sometimes Doris reminds me of my toddler twins—wanting whatever toy the other twin has.
Mostly, though, Doris reminds me of myself before I had children. I did the math—kids are expensive! I couldn’t imagine myself having one child, let alone three. And forget about the high costs of college tuition, do you know what daycare costs?
My husband had to talk me into having children. (In fact, he’s still trying to talk me into having more children). And now, here I am, six years later with three of them. And if I’d had just a little more faith, I would have started having kids from the moment I met my husband and I would have never stopped to worry about being “ready.”
Oh, Doris, Doris, Doris. This is what I want to say to your face when we get together for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and you wonder—again—if you’re ready to have kids. I haven’t said anything because 1) I don’t want to hurt your feelings, and 2) you’re always looking at your iPhone. I’m not sure if you’re really listening. But you need to know this, so I’m saying it here.
First of all, Doris, I should have said this a long time ago, but please stop comparing your dog to my children. I get it—puppies are cute and babies are cute and both need to be housebroken. And your dog seems pretty smart, but will never learn how to brush her own teeth or call the vet when she has funny stomach pains. My kids, on the other hand, are going to grow up and vote.
That’s probably the biggest difference. That and the poop. Out of all three children only one child has tried to eat his poop and that was an isolated incident, unless you count the time he found little goat droppings at the petting zoo. Your dog, on the other hand…I rest my case.
There’s something else I want to get off my chest, too, Doris.
I know you’re a smart cookie with advanced degrees. You think of yourself as a mature woman and a kind woman and a compassionate woman. And you are! But you are also slightly short-sighted. You are dismissive of the younger mom and can’t imagine that she could have wisdom beyond her years and beyond your—excuse me for saying this—limited world experience.
And you’re a little dismissive of your own mother. I know she can’t text and she still calls the DVD player “the VCR.” But trust me, one day in your first trimester it’ll hit you that for each of the six billion people on the planet, a mother was pregnant and went through what you’re going through. It’s the most ordinary thing in the world and yet, when it happens to you, it’ll be the most extraordinary experience you’ll have had to date.
I can just see you pregnant. You’ll be one of those people who reads What to Expect When You’re Expecting and you’ll watch the movie The Business of Being Born. After the baby comes you’ll read about the Ferber methods of sleep training and contrast them with the Harvey Karp methods. You’ll read Dr. Sears because you’ve read that attachment parenting is the best and you’d like to get your kids into a fancy school. I know. That’s why I bought an Ergo. It’s the first step toward giving your children the social/emotional intelligence that’ll get them into Princeton.
And you’ll run around like a dog chasing her tail. You’ll panic because you will never feel “ready”—whether it’s feeling ready for your daughter to go off to Princeton or ready for you to go off the pill.
In a way, telling yourself that you’re not ready to become a parent is like saying, “I’m not ready to broaden my horizons.” Or, “I’m not ready to be humbled on a daily basis.” Or, “I’m not ready to feel my heart swell up with admiration and pride.”
I know it seems like a big step. I know it looks like motherhood is giving up yourself. It’s not. It’s just shedding the parts of you that you don’t really need anymore. There’s no guidebook that can prepare you for that; you learn through the experience of it. Motherhood is like boot camp for the soul.
But since you insist on being “ready” first, here are some things you can do.
Be attentive to your own life.
First, recognize when you’re tired—and then rest. The next step will be to recognize when there is a person on the subway who’d like to sit down and even though she is neither old nor disabled, you should offer your seat to her. Look at her face, Doris, she’s had a harder day than you. You can give up your seat. After all, you’re not that tired today. Because yesterday you rested.
And little by little you’ll be attentive to other things around you. You’ll look at the sky and think, “It really does look like it’s going to rain today. I’ll bring an umbrella, even though Mr. Weather Dude says there’s no chance.”
And that’s good training because later when little Connor or Travis or Wilson arrives, (we all know that Doris is totally going to name her kid Connor or Travis or Wilson) you’ll know when to send him to school in his rain boots.
All this being attentive might make you do something about that job you’re always complaining about. You know you work really long hours and you can’t see where you’d fit if you stayed but you’re too scared to leave. If you stopped to pay attention, you might notice how your job is really something more like marketing than paralegal work or maybe you’ll notice that you’d really enjoy event planning and after noticing, you might go to more events and spend fewer nights home watching back-to-back episodes of Friends.
Or maybe it’s not event planning. I don’t know. That’s what you have to figure out. But if you aren’t attentive to what’s happening around you, if you don’t respond to it, you’ll never figure it out. You’ll stay in this job that you hate and you’ll drag me to have coffee and complain. Again.
But Doris—one last thing. This whole idea of “being attentive” is not any sort of guarantee. You still might have miscarriages. The difference is that you might seek the support you need to heal rather than pretending it doesn’t hurt. Or maybe your Mr. Right comes with two kids from a previous marriage. But this way you’ll be able to anticipate what sets off the jealous ex and how to reach out to her. Bad stuff still happens. But the point is, you’ll be ready for anything.
Janine Kovac blogs about her experience as the mother of micro-preemie twins for the science-based parenting site Raising Happiness (http://raisinghappiness.com). She is the program event coordinator for the Write On, Mamas (http://writeonmamas.com) and database architect for Litquake, (http://litquake.org) San Francisco’s annual literary festival. Janine lives in Oakland with her husband and three small children, one of whom thinks he is a kitty cat.