THE AUNT’S STORY
It took me four novels before I realised that in almost all my writing I had revealed a fixation with children. Other people’s children.
In fiction, I’ve learned, the themes of your life arise without you knowing it, appearing like a watermark through your books over time. And it seems that children – and on the flipside, childlessness – is one of my preoccupations.A favourite aunt… Rosalind Russell in the Hollywood classic Auntie Mame.
I was a little shocked when I realised this, because I am childless by choice; I never wanted to have kids, and remain glad I chose not to.
I simply never had the urge for babies and, until it came, I couldn’t see a reason to do it.
Unlike those women who reach their 40s and feel they have made a terrible mistake, I feel constantly grateful my luck has held: we made the right choice. Every now and then I feel a little guilty – surely it’s not right to feel this good about it? Surely I should have some regret? But my husband is sure too. It seems the older we get, the more certain we both are that our decision – for us – was the right one.
But if this is true, what are these children doing popping up in my books all the time?
In my first novel a child is saved from her dangerous mother by a childless man. In my second, an aunt takes on some of the care of her young niece, and feels responsible for a tragedy involving another child. In my third novel, the title The Children is ironic – all the kids in that book are adults – and I thought of it as my first ‘childless’ book. Until I realised the image which haunts war reporter Mandy is that of an injured boy in Iraq, to whom she feels accountable. Even my short stories have often involved other people’s children!
In my latest novel, Animal People, the protagonist is a man – Stephen – and the kids are his girlfriend’s two little girls from a previous marriage. Stephen loves ‘his girls’, understands them better than their own father does, and knows that if he dumps Fiona he will miss them as much as their mother.
So what do these fictional half-parents in my books say about me?
One answer is that perhaps that I am playing out the part I have denied myself, trying on the role of parent. But another might be that all this time I’ve been unconsciously cheering for those of us who are rarely mentioned: the childless-by-choice adults who love other people’s kids.
My husband and I sometimes confuse people when they find out our childlessness was a choice.
“But you’re so good with children!” they say to us, over and over.
Between us we have 19 beloved nephews and nieces, as well as being godparents to a few other children of friends. We adore spending time with any and all of these kids; we love to have them stay over, watching movies, cooking, hanging out.
|Page 1 of 2||next >>|