"Did you always know you wanted to have kids?"
A friend of mine asked me that one day, and was sincerely surprised when I answered yes.
It's true, though.
I wasn't much for playing 'house', I tattooed half my hand-me-down Barbies, stole my mom's craft paint to paint designs on particularly interesting rocks I found in the alley behind our house, went 'fishing' for dead leaves in mud puddles in the dead of winter, couldn't be bothered to comb the hair of any dolls I happened to own, all the 'dolls' I played with generally ended up being the terrible villains in the grand story of my herd of plastic toy horses, routinely 'forgot' to put gloves on in the winter, and avoided babies whenever possible for most of my childhood and adolescence.
I can see why it might be confusing.
They tell us women are hard-wired for nurturing.
All the plants I've ever murdered through benign neglect, from the aloe vera plant in college that was supposedly going to be resistant to my variation of forgetfulness, through the basil I planted at work this spring... they'd all argue otherwise. They'd argue that "nurturing" is not something in my bones, or at least if it is, it's buried so deeply into the marrow that it can't find its way out.
They tell us we are the ones meant to stay home and do the cleaning and the cooking and the... whatever, I always stop listening by then. I don't know what comes after that.
My dusty bookshelves, smattering of books half-, partially- or completely un-read scattered on every conceivable surface, mugs half-full of tea I routinely set down and forget until an hour later, unpainted kitchen walls, and unhung baby clothing... might argue otherwise.
I'm good at cooking, though - so I've got that much going for stereotypes.
For all that my housekeeping skills were atrophied long before they could even develop and the amount of plants I've kept alive for longer than six months rests in the single digits... I knew I would be a mother before I knew much else.
Still, it surprises people when I tell them that.
I had a list of things I would do with my life by the time I turned 32. I wrote it down when I was seventeen in one of the few journals I kept, journals whose pages are otherwise filled with terrible poetry written primarily about a perfectly happy, supportive, loving high school relationship that nonetheless melted down spectacularly, as high school relationships are wont to do.
In between the early poems about how cool his blue hair was and the later dramatic gnashing of teeth that took place after the second, final breakup, I had written this list.
(Don't date writers in high school, by the way - we are impossible to have amicable breakups with. Amicable breakups don't make good stories.)
Five things I intended to accomplish by the age of 32 (as written by a seventeen year old me):
1. Get married
2. Have either 3 or 4 babies
3. Become a famous novelist
4. Buy a house
5. Live in the country
Obviously, most of this list just isn't going to happen by the end of my timeline. I'll be thirty two in three years. But I did get married, I do own a house, and we do have a baby. 2.25 out of five ain't bad, right?
I am told often we married young. That may be true - I was 22 and still fighting to graduate college and we took what we had saved up and got married and threw everybody a party to celebrate. In my mind, we would start having babies two years after that. Maybe three.
It took seven years.
Two years in grinding poverty in the little college town we lived in, right down to a lot of spaghetti and black bean and rice dinners there towards the end, when the clock counted down to a cross-country move I wasn't entirely prepared for. Another two years in a one-bedroom apartment saving every dime up for a down payment on a house. One year getting our ducks in a row to pay the fifty million hospital bills that come after even the healthiest pregnancies. And then nine months to carry her.
In the six years between my wedding day and the day I met my baby, there was never a doubt of my mind that becoming a mother was going to happen. Before we even made our vows, Jason and I had already talked at length about what we would do if we couldn't have biological kids for whatever reason. We had walked through a thousand scenarios.
While I bristle at the idea that men and women are meant to do anything at all, that our purpose is anything more than what we choose for it to be, I knew I wanted children before I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Our purposes are entirely individual. A friend of mine is a nuclear engineer, owner of what is rapidly turning into a pile of energetic Australian shepherds, a giant house, a cat who rules them all... and if you ask her about babies, she'll point at the aforementioned pile of dogs and reply, "We're good. Also, ew." Another friend is a high school special ed teacher with more degrees than I have pairs of shoes, cares for a Great Dane who originally came to her with a limited lifespan and who has blossomed with her careful attention and outlived all the projections she was given... and considers the concept of adoption, from time to time. Another friend has two children under three, bookshelves taller than my husband lining the halls, a complex garden, and should probably have her own cooking show.
If you asked any of us what our 'purpose' is, odds are we would all have provided different answers.
Mine was never to stay at home. You might think it'd give me more time to clean, and I would probably hurt myself laughing at the idea that more time at home would do anything other than get me to think up more reasons to visit Starbucks. The dust on the bookshelves would grow just the same.
Mine is not to keep the home and garden. All those plants would still die without Jason remembering to water them first. I'd definitely remember to make soup. We'd live in a dusty hovel with dead things everywhere around us, but we'd definitely have soup.
The cabin fever would set in within two weeks or so. I'd end up digging a tunnel out of my house with a spoon just to escape and find a job somewhere.
I'd be on the side of the highway wearing yoga pants and an old T-shirt holding up signs that say "Will Work for Personal Fulfillment Outside My House".
I would happily tell you, though, that my purpose was almost certainly always going to be to be a mother. Having children and being a mother are two entirely separate things. One happens by a certain kind of biology or medical help or a signature on adoption papers. Becoming a mother is what you set yourself to afterwards, what happens when you and that child regard each other at last.
Ask me what my purpose is in this life and I'll probably tell you a few different things; to read all the books ever written about the bubonic plague, to drink every single type of pumpkin beer known to man, to test out just how much coffee can be in my system before my eyelid starts to twitch. I might answer that my purpose is to be the hypochondriac constantly checking her symptoms on WebMD, to be a writer, to be a Christian, to build my life with Jason day by day and year by year until we turn into those ancient married couples that annoy everyone by finishing each other's sentences and being sappy without apology.
I was meant to be someone's mother who reads books, a writer who fights to scrape ten minutes to write a blog post at the end of the day after the baby's in bed, a working mom who found the right daycare, half of a marriage and half of this parenting team, a mom who used to sing her newborn to sleep with "Father Abraham" because I forgot all the childrens' songs I used to know except for those I learned at VBS...
Woven in and around all of the things I am and have been and am meant to be in the future is this motherhood thing.
I bristle when told what I have to do, what I'm supposed to do - no one outside of me can tell me what kind of person I am supposed to be. That sense of purpose never came from other people, and the second you try to demand I must be a certain way I will fight with all my breath to make sure you understand that I don't operate according to anyone's demands. My sense of purpose is inside of me.
It's a purpose that came into sharp relief when Audra and I looked each other in the eyes for the first time, when her very dark eyes held mine for what felt like forever and like a milisecond and no time at all.
I don't know if I was meant to be a mother. It's a choice I made, one I knew I wanted to make from a young age.
Maybe not a mother. But the moment I met her I knew. She is inevitably mine and I am irrevocably hers.
So maybe I cannot say my purpose was to be a mother... but I was always meant, from my own first breath, to be her mother.
The best one I can be.
The best way I know how.
Even if it means that one day she has to explain to her friends why her mother has so many books on cult religions and infectious diseases.
#WholeMama linkup. You can find the linkup for this week's theme, "Purpose", on Erika Shirk's blog Overflow. More information on what #WholeMama is all about can be found here. My other posts as part of the linkup or just inspired by the theme are On Reading and Peace, I Lay You Down to Sleep, My Love, When It Rains... Celebrate, Parenting is Silly, Anything But Ordinary, Space, Prayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom.