So, yesterday was a whole lotta suck. I want to thank everyone who reached out and offered support and love, on this blog and in the physical world. I also want to make sure everyone knows that I don’t usually sit around and contemplate my own grand awfulness. I mean, not all the time. Mostly not. Only in those dark, dark catbox moments when the helplessness becomes so overwhelming that I’m slam-dunked right back into the darkness and helplessness of my childhood and all those cruel, chittering demons come crowding round to fill the silence. A lot of people wanted very much to remind me of what’s awesome about me, and that certainly never goes amiss. I’m very touched by and grateful for those words. But that’s not really what it was about. Self-hatred is just what comes up in that moment.
And as it turned out, I ended up having kind of an awesome evening.
After sitting on the couch staring at the wall for what seemed like days, trying to figure out how best to take care of myself or what would make me feel better, I came to the realization that since actually NOTHING was likely to make me feel better, the best thing I could do would be to lay down arms and submit to the awful and just see where I ended up. My husband wanted to go hear some music and had been kind of waiting to see whether or not I would be in the mood to go out, so I toddled downstairs to his practice room and let him know that I was willing.
We had a lovely and utterly ridiculous dinner. The spot that we had picked at random off of Yelp happened to be hosting a benefit concert for Autism that night, and we got a table as far away from the noise as we could manage. The first band was insipid but largely innocuous, and we ate delicious things with cheese and talked about childlessness.
Ok, I realize how depressing that sounds, but it really wasn’t. We talked about what we might want our lives to be about if we couldn’t have our own children, what kind of presence we would want to leave with the world if it wasn’t our own genetic offspring. A big part of the conversation was about our niece and nephew, the boy/girl twins that my beautiful sister has been generous enough to allow us to help raise. They are about to turn 12, which is about a nanosecond away from becoming entirely alien creatures who erase us from their lives for a period of six to eight years while they focus on the incredibly challenging work of figuring out what the fuck they are. And also who, but mostly what. My husband is betting that we will remain cool for a longer period of time than their parents, based on the fact that we will not have to ground them when they become assholes. This may be true. Right now they genuinely love hanging out with their grown-ups, parents and aunties and uncles and grandparents all, and look forward to Sunday nights when we all have dinner together and get silly and make inappropriate jokes at the dinner table. There will likely come a time in the next six to eight years when we are not their first choice of recreational activity, when complicated and confounding other things become more pressing on their social calendars. But maybe my husband’s right, and maybe we can eke out a few extra years of coolness by virtue of our dual citizenship of “Adult” yet “Not Parent”.
So what will we do in those intervening years, if our own children aren’t ravaging us and turning us into zombies?
I’ve brought up the idea of fostering in the past, and we got a bit farther into the nitty gritties of it last night. It is a slightly terrifying yet insistently compelling thought. As a child therapist in community mental health I work with lots and lots of kids in foster care, and they can often be an incalculable handful. The foster care system is broken beyond my ability to describe to you here, and children are ground up in its machinery in ways that can damage them forever. Kids in foster often present with a whole host of extremely difficult behaviors that can turn a home upside down, and the cycle is perpetuated by foster caregivers who are not provided with any kind of education about attachment disruption or the effects of trauma or the tools of consistent, pragmatic parenting. Good foster homes are quite astonishingly rare. Often foster caregivers are literally doing it for the paycheck, and overworked caseworkers load up to six and seven kids into one home if it can accommodate them. And then there’s the fact that under the best possible circumstances, the parents of foster kids will work really really hard and accept a whole lot of really awful responsibility and jump through about a million sometimes absurd hoops to get them back, and then the foster caregiver has to say goodbye to a child that they may have become very fond of. The trauma is sort of built in.
Given all of that, why would we even think about doing this? My husband put it succinctly – when I asked what he wanted his life to be about if we couldn’t make babies, he said “I want to be able to do something for kids.” For him this might be teaching or volunteering or building programs that benefit children. Kids are absolutely enchanted by him and he’s a bona fide internationally famous musician, so the possibilities there are kind of endless. For me it’s a little different. I do that already. I work all day with children and do everything within my power to help improve their lives in anyway I can. For me what’s missing is the intimacy of a child in my home, the small rituals, the bedtimes, the wake-ups. The myriad spiderweb threads of attachment that wind throughout a day, a home, a life. For me it’s about doing more than what I can do in my office – I can’t teach a kid how to make macaroni and cheese, I can’t help them get back to sleep from a nightmare, I can’t make up songs together about stupid things in the car on long trips. That’s what I want. And coincidentally, that’s also exactly the kind of indefinable stuff that’s missing in the lives of kids in foster.
At about this point in the conversation, the bands switched over. As this was an Autism benefit, there were a lot of families there with their kids, many of whom were on the spectrum. For reasons that remain utterly baffling to me, the big finale band chosen was an incredibly loud, incredibly jarring 90’s cover band with the largest drum kit we had ever seen outside of a Sheena E show. It bears pointing out that one of the many things with which kids on the spectrum struggle is a crippling hypersensitivity to loud noises. Good intentions, man. Good intentions.
We had a lovely stroll through the springtime night city to the club. As it turned out the guy who was supposed to put us on the guestlist had failed to do so and was MIA, and we didn’t feel like paying the cover. I was having such a fantastic time that I didn’t care. We were very near a famous strip club, sort of a Portland institution (for those of you who watch Portlandia, it’s Mary’s and it’s in the opening credits) that I used to haunt with a band of lingerie-obsessed gay boys I ran with back in the day. It was a “why the heck not” kind of night, so we went in. We were pretty underwhelmed. I mention it only because both the door girl and the floor waitress were hugely pregnant, which was at that point in the evening totally fucking hilarious to both of us.
Which sort of brings me to the loveliest moment of the whole night. Back at the absurdly orchestrated Autism event when I had posed the question of what might bring meaning to our lives should they be childless, my husband said something that took all my fears, all my existential anxieties and wrapped them up in loving arms, pulled them out of their madly spinning orbit and set them down firmly on solid ground. “We’re going to be fine Kitty,” he said. “You and I will always find a way to be happy together. Between the two of us, we’re never going to get stuck for long in the darkness. We’re always going to find the light.” And in that moment it finally dawned on me that he is right.
It’s a damn fine man I married. There’s a twinge of sorrow there, too, because I want so badly to see him go on and on in the faces of children we make together. But if it never happens, I know that we will find what we need in each other, and in doing so we will find the strength to create something that will go on and on. Just in ways that we can’t yet see.