In my first ballet (or, uh, “ballet”) class, when I was three, the teachers once told us that our dancing task for the day was to become butterflies.
“What color butterfly do you want to be?” they asked each of us.
“PINK!” said every other three-year-old there.
“Beige,” said Little Kate.
That’s basically all you need to know about the kind of kid I was. If you asked me now, of course, I would elect to be a hot pink butterfly with sparkles, but at three, I was a far less frivolous person.
And I’ve been thinking about that, both because I just told that story to New Boy for the first time the other night (his best childhood story: telling his mother he wanted to be a garbageman when he grew up, because he thought they only worked one day a week), and because these days, I’m constantly struggling with the question of whether I ever want to have kids.
I spent much of the weekend trying to collect all my current thoughts on this matter in writing, an endeavor I’ve since decided is absofuckinglutely impossible. But here’s what it comes down to, sort of…
Until I hit puberty and all hell broke loose, I was exactly the kind of kid any parent would want to have. Bright, mature, easy-going, extremely independent, patient, thoughtful (the last two are straight from my mom’s mouth—I have no actual recollection of being either), cute, skinny, popular, ridiculously well-behaved. As far as anyone who knew me then can remember, I never got out of my seat in a restaurant (I have no doubt that my mother truly would have ditched me at the Humane Society on the way home, as promised, if I had), talked back to a teacher, or threw a temper tantrum. I had a zillion friends. I got straight A’s. The worst thing I ever did at home was poke my sister M. until she lost it and beat the crap out of me, then angelically claim her attack was entirely unprovoked. (Okay, I did that, like, every day, and it probably accounts for a great deal of the therapy M.’s had, but that’s beside the point.) The worst thing I ever did away from home was throw Jonathan O.’s ballpoint pen out the schoolbus window. And so help me god, I got home after that, burst into tears and confessed all to my mother, who took me to Osco to buy Jonathan O. an entire new pack of ballpoint pens, which I gave him the next day. I also wrote a note of apology to the bus driver, who hugged me and told me it was completely okay about 450 times. (Jonathan O. was an obnoxious little turd of the first water, and everybody knew it.) That, for real, was the Little Kate version of acting out.
So, between genetics and the fact that, unlike many people of my generation, I have zero desire to redress my parents’ benevolent-dictatorship approach to child-rearing (kids can worry about “expressing themselves” when they get to fucking college) there’s a big part of me that figures, Well, how hard would it be to turn out a kid pretty much like me? And then, how hard would it be to raise a kid pretty much like me? By all accounts, I was extraordinarily low-maintenance, from sleeping through the night almost immediately, to teaching myself to read, to phoning if there was any chance I’d be five minutes late for curfew. (Granted, I only did that because my mom was so grateful, I could often buy myself another hour with that phone call, but we both ended up happy, so…) My most vivid early childhood memories are of hanging out with my extensive posse of imaginary friends (a habit I now refer to as “writing a novel”), with no adult supervision–or, you know, actual human contact. A kid like me would probably not impinge on my lifestyle all that much.
The problem is, I hated being a kid. Hated it like a fish hates land. Like most people, I spent my entire childhood wishing I were a grown-up; unlike most people, I didn’t get to be a grown-up and start wishing to be a kid again. I fucking love being an adult. I love smoking, drinking, having sex, staying up all night watching TV, driving around aimlessly, having two dogs, blasting music, swearing, eating cookies for breakfast, staying in hotels with pools even if they’re more expensive, buying clothes I’ll only wear once, and sitting at the big table. All those things are every bit as good as I imagined; not a disappointment in the bunch. And they’re just the fringe benefits. What I really love is being taken seriously—that is, in fact, why I can finally afford to be frivolous. My very most favoritest thing about being a grown-up is that there are applications for my intelligence, other than acing a spelling test or cracking up my parents’ friends with precocious bon mots. I am never bored anymore. Adulthood is the best ever.
And that, I think, is my fundamental problem with the idea of having kids. It’s not that I’m too selfish to give up the aforementioned fringe benefits—although I admit that would suck. It’s that childhood is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. How could I inflict it on my own flesh and blood?