I couldn’t commit or the men I dated couldn’t commit to me. I could have married at age twenty-three. I was in a very serious relationship in college and had a boyfriend and we talked about getting married. He lived in Minneapolis and wanted me to move there, but I was terrified. I just wasn’t ready to make this commitment. Besides, I wasn’t ready to follow a man anywhere. I watched my mom
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follow my dad around throughout my whole childhood. The way my mom coped was to have another kid with every move. By the time we moved to Idaho I was eight years old and Mom was pregnant for the fourth time. We were there five years. Everything was going to be gravy. We kids all had close friends. My two older brothers were playing high school football. We never missed a game. My youngest sister had just gotten into grade school, staying until three in the afternoon, and my mother went back to teach at the grade school, which was close to our house. Our house was paid off. And then my father was restless and asked his company to transfer him to Arizona. When the transfer came through he told us at dinner. He didn’t even ask her or think about us kids; he just did it. I remember my mother being very upset. She did not want to move again, and neither did any of us. I was really angry with my father. It was the only time I ever saw my mother cry. So one summer we were just gone.
And that’s just it about men and commitment. I think there were certain things about my parents’ marriage that bugged me, that I was sort of turned off by. Which is that even though my father and my mother really have a lot of respect for each other, my father is obviously the power. Not that I understood male privilege at the time—I just remember seeing my mother so upset and not understanding why there was nothing she could do about it. And I lost a lot of friends with each move. No one cared that this was really tough for me, to have to start all over. Even though there was a silver lining in that these moves probably made me closer to my brothers and sisters, I remember really disliking my father at that time.
So when I think about why I’m not married, sometimes I wonder if this isn’t part of the reason. Maybe part of it was growing up in the beginning of feminism in the 1960s and early 1970s, so by time I was in college I was hearing a lot of feminist messages. To a certain extent what a lot of those messages distilled down to was “Don’t get married.”
But that message didn’t stop me from dating. I had a series of relationships with men that didn’t work out for one reason or the other. I kept hoping the next relationship would be different. At thirty-six I began to think seriously about the pulls that seemed to dominate my life: I felt equal pulls to be in a relationship and to be a mother. So if I was in a relationship that felt satisfying, it was hard to extricate myself and say, “Okay, now I’m going to be sensible and break up sooner rather than later because I already know that this relationship isn’t going to last. And since I’ve had this other desire, I’m going to go and have a child.” And as I got older, the men already had children or clearly didn’t want them. I was trying to run two races and I was winning neither.
At that time, my mother started having health problems, major heart issues. I think she was really concerned that she wasn’t going to make it after almost dying on the operating table. Still groggy and in intensive care, I can almost remember her exact words because her frankness startled me so much. She said, “I just want to tell you something. Your father would kill me if he knew I was saying
this, but my having children meant so much to me that I don’t care if you don’t get married. You may not want to be married. But you should have a kid.” I tucked my mother’s confession away. Maybe I should have told her then how much I wanted a child. But the scene at the hospital just choked me up too much. No words came out to comfort her on this subject. .. .
It took me nine years to finally put in the adoption paperwork. And the reason I did it then was because I had reached an age deadline, a cutoff point where the local agencies wouldn’t consider me anymore. When I told my parents I had finished the paperwork, they were very nervous about it. When my mom revealed how’ much she wanted me to be a mom, I don’t think she had adoption in mind—for her, the biological thing was really deep.
A few weeks after putting the paperwork in, I met Carl. I told him on the first date I had with him that I really was attracted to him. And I remember thinking to myself, “If I tell him I’m planning to adopt, that will be it.” And then I thought, “I have to tell him. Have to tell him right away. This is me.” So I did. And he was interested in me. So he stayed with me. But he made it clear that he did not want to be a father to another child. He was divorced and raising his two children and that was enough for him. He stayed with me and we fell in love.
At that time, a baby was just a possibility. Who knew how long it would take or if I’d ever get one. However, a few months later I got a letter saying that I would be getting this toddler in six months! I asked a close friend to travel with me to bring home my son. For all my parents’ concern, they absolutely fell in love with him.
That was six years ago. Carl and I don’t live together, although we’re very committed to each other. Still, I don’t feel like I’ve found my perfect mate. And maybe I’m screwed up because I’m looking for a perfect mate. You know?
The first year I had my son, William, it was almost like the relationship with Carl was on hold. It was still there even though the logistics of being together was hard; we’d manage to find a weekend night to ourselves or Carl might stop over to have dinner with William and me. But I needed that intense time for William, and Carl was busy with teenage kids of his own. Carl has always been a part of William’s life. He didn’t say he didn’t want anything to do with the child. He just didn’t want to be a father to him. . . .
Now we’re in contact every day. We may go a week without seeing each other, but we see each other on the weekend. I feel like I have two lives. In one I’m very much a single mother. And then when I’m with Carl, at times I feel like I’m really part of a couple.