Monday, November 28, 2005


My freckles will conceal my liver spots. I’ll worry less about a flat stomach, and more about my knees. I’ll have a nest egg and struggle to keep my teeth. I’ll have laugh lines.

But, in the meantime, I have to decide what to do with my womb.

You’re young. There is still time, say my parents.
I am nearing thirty, I remind them.

What is your plan? Where is your security? ask my parents-in-law.

What is my plan?

Mourning for the world, weighed down with a responsibility beyond choosing UNICEF greeting cards and buying fair trade coffee, I reasoned it would be irresponsible to procreate.

How, I asked myself, can I introduce another soul to the world in a time when the neighbouring superpower detains people without trial, when my own country is rumoured to do the same? How can I intentionally subject another child to global warming? As infants develop bed sores in group homes, how can I consciously decide to not choose one of them? How, when hordes of parentless children are placed in foster care, only to be subjected to further abuse, can I give my maternity to someone who doesn’t yet exist?

Besides, I might be infertile.

I have two sisters. The eldest once declared she'd never marry, and never have children. Her son came as a bit of a planned surprise, and is now a beautiful and agreeable eleven-year-old. The junior sister by one year, demonstrated far greater interest in reproduction: a degree in early childhood development, tolerance of me (the littlest sister by thirteen years) as her shadow, and a declared desire for several children. She had one, now also eleven. Two, if you count the amount of time she babysat me, now twenty-seven. Three, if you count her ex-husband, now forty. Today she battles, via lawyers, to do what she believes best for her daughter.

Where is her security?

If I were to have a child now, it would be a bastard. I would have no maternity or insurance benefits. It might bear my imperfections. But, I don’t think I am supposed to think about that.

I shortlist names. I don’t think my spouse likes any of them, but I’m not ready to compromise. I suppose with children I would learn. I suppose, if I did carry full-term, I would celebrate that 1970s medications administered to my mother to prevent miscarrying the foetus destined to be me, don't apply their now-known side effects to my particular reproductive organs.

But, first thing’s first.

On a strategic path to a career with maternity leave, keeping my options open, I sit on several committees with a particularly strong-minded, socially-conscious childless professional. Occasionally, she asks personal questions that can’t be answered without careful consideration.

What do you want? she asked.

Feeling particularly vulnerable, made sensitive by my in-laws’ prodding, I justified my decision to probably not have children by recounting the ongoing collapse of civilization and environmental ruin. She listened, entirely unconvinced.

When I was your age, she began (as many advice-givers do), I felt the same way. Her hand was nestled in her grey curls, absently scratching at her head.

Vietnam. Pol Pot. Agent Orange. Thalidomide. The Cold War. I was convinced, she said, as many were, that the world was ending; that it would be unfair to bring children into the world as it was. Thirty years later, and we are no better or worse off, but now I’m fifty. Had I known, my choices would have been different. Happiness for me now, is being a really good aunt.

I thought of my sisters’ children. And, of how we live a thousand kilometres apart. And, that there will always be drought in the Kalahari.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good book times three

The bibles came into my possession by their own devices. Occasionally, small red testaments travelled home with me from school, delivered by nameless laymen spreading God's word to all the little children. Separation between church and state be damned.

My mother's advice, gospel at the time, rang in my ears. One must never destroy or defile a book of God, for fear of burning in Hell for all eternity. And so, I carried each little red albatross home, and cared for it.

The secretive black leather bible sealed shut, cover to cover. The zipper caught on the corners, and I cursed its design. I zipped and unzipped to alternately admire and protect the onion skin paper. I wondered what "begat" meant. That's as far as I'd gotten.

My God was a very large man with long grey hair, armed with a scowl and lightening bolts. My relationship with him was rooted in fear. I had somehow confused the Christian creator with Zeus. And, so it was.

I compensated for my lack of faith, trust and Jesus-love with rituals to help protect my family from God's wrath.

Perhaps for my mother it was merely an anecdote. Or, perhaps it wasn't her who told me at all. Maybe it was a movie or a book or my own terrified child mind, but for reasons that made sense at the time, I began hiding the bibles under the mattresses to protect the sleeping from evil and death and anything else God might have slated for them.

Under my parents' mattress, I slid the fancy leather bible. It seemed superior to the free versions and more suitable for the heads of the household. I imagined a force field surrounding the bed, and conducted tests to ensure the holy book wouldn't cause discomfort. The little red versions found resting places on my and my sister's box springs.

I felt sneaky, forcing religion on my father like that. He was never much of a theist. I rationalized that my actions were for the greater good, and I slept better, knowing that a force field protected my loved ones. That is, until my mother changed the sheets.

I hadn't thought that far ahead. Wide-eyed and embarrassed, I squeezed my arm between the mattress and the box spring of each bed, as far as it would go, all the way around. My mother had removed the bibles. Although she said nothing to me about the find, I suddenly felt powerless to protect my family from fires, robberies, murderers, ghosts or tidal waves---all things I worried about extensively.

If my mother didn't think it could work then perhaps it couldn't, I decided. There was only one way to find out. I held my breath knowing that I risked burning in Hell for all eternity and tore a page from the red book. To my surprise, I didn't burst into flames. The book was impotent. Felt that I was forced into it, I developed more effective means to protect all that was dear to me.

One. Two. Three. Four.
I started counting, silently and compulsively. Four was safe if my eyes were closed. Multiples of three were always bad. Thank God I knew my multiplication tables, and that my family survived my childhood without being involved in the battles between good and evil that were so very commonplace in my little pink bedroom.