December 30, 2016

I May be “Child-Free,” but I’m Not Childless.

I’m 54 and have no children.

I never felt a great pull to have them—except in my late 30s when I was shot through with baby-fever for a couple of years, but the feeling disappeared as suddenly as it arrived.

After spending most of my life neutral about kids, I’m suddenly kid-crazy. Maybe now that there is no risk of my getting pregnant, my biology has given my psyche a green light to enjoy children like never before.

And, lucky me, my husband and I moved to China only two years after the end of the One Child policy, meaning there are babies everywhere. It’s so fun to fawn over all the cuties. The language barrier becomes a non-issue; everyone loves it when you love on their kids.

My maternal instincts are also blooming because of my relationship with our teaching assistant. She was assigned to help us with everything from buying needed items to figuring out how to get around the city. We’ve spent hours with her, constantly amazed at her ability to translate, solve problems, and remain upbeat. Soon we were attending her dance performances and helping her with her homework.

A strong feeling coursed through me as she danced on stage or practiced a speech in front us.

I realized the feeling was this: I adored her and was proud of her. The feelings seemed a little out of proportion, since we’d known each other only a few months, but they surged every time I saw her.

Once she saw me across campus and came running up and threw herself into my arms, and I felt what I can only describe as motherly.

After her bike was stolen, we bought her one for her birthday and took her out to lunch. At the restaurant, she launched into what seemed to be a prepared speech about how much we mean to her.

She had barely begun when tears started streaming down my face. She thanked us for being friendly and patient. She recounted fun experiences we’ve had and said, “You have taught me things about life.” She recalled when we went to the bank one day and it was so crowded that we decided to leave and come back another time.

“You said when things are ‘chaos’”—she remembered learning that word from my husband—“that it’s better to go away and do something else.”

She also said she has learned from us how to appreciate small things in life. She was especially touched when one day I told someone she was like our daughter in China.

Now I understand how parents feel when their kids come home for the holidays. I’m always happy to see her and spend time with her. During the semester break, we are going to travel together.

Just when I thought these feelings might be an anomaly, my 17-year-old nephew sent me the manuscript of a novel he wrote. I was only a few pages in, reading it aloud to my husband, when I burst out in tears.

His writing is good. Really good. And the narrator is a loving, observant, smart young man whose philosophy of life deeply resonates with me. For instance, after one dicey adventure in the book, the narrator says, “No longer did I fear death; I feared that I wouldn’t truly live.”

We’ve messaged back and forth about the book. As a writer, writing coach and aunt, I am thrilled to be having these conversations with him. I still remember once when he was little he’d said to me, “You know what I love? Big fat books.” And now he’s doing what he loves. He’s become the other writer in the family.

When people called me “childless,” I used to say, no, I was “child-free.” But now, I’m not so sure.

Children, from babies to young adults, are touching my life. And I’m touching theirs.

I know it’s not the same as having raised a child, but these kinds of connections are somehow creating a legacy.


Author: Kate Evans

Image: Author’s Own

Editor: Toby Israel


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