(as I sit in Busboys & Poets and enjoy blueberry hibiscus tea and a Cobb salad)
Remember that show "Taxicab Confessions" and how wildly successful it was? It's because people will get into a taxicab (or, in my case, a Lyft) and literally tell ALL of their business. The good, the bad, and the just plain weird. I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned it here, but I've been driving Lyft for awhile to supplement my income. I like it. I like the flexibility it allows me. I also like the conversations I have with my passengers; they make for GREAT blog posts.
Kind of like this one.
Late last week, I picked up a young girl (she was about 25) from her home in SW to take her to work. She worked on 16th street, and as we were in rush hour traffic, we had plenty of time to chat. She started talking as soon as we got into my car. She was telling me all about her plans to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend's family, and discussing in detail the incredibly off-putting, borderline racist comments her future in-laws, religious fanatics from middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, For example, she told me that her future mother-in-law believes that Jesus is portrayed as having fair skin, blue eyes, and long hair because all the Renaissance artists who painted him were gay.
I didn't bother to tell her that Jesus wasn't a white man at all... It would've blown her mind. She was one of those white girls with an annoying inflection on the end of every phrase and sentence she spoke, you know? Like everything was a question? You get what I'm saying? Because I can explain more if you need me to? No? Okay. Moving on.
Eventually, we reached the point in our conversation where she stated emphatically that she never wanted children, and the thought of what children do to your body and to your life once they're here absolutely repulses her. She talked in detail about her sister's pregnancy, rife with hemorrhoids, stretch marks, and constant indigestion, and then talks about how her sister, who is awake at all hours with a newborn, is a weird, zombie version of her original self.
"My boyfriend knows I don't want kids and he's fine with it," she said. "God bless anyone willing to throw their lives away parenting. Girls like us (she was referring to me, too) know how to live on our own terms, right? Who needs kids slowing us down?"
Mind you, up until this point in the conversation, I was just interjecting well-timed "uh-huhs" and "oh, really?s" but had not offered any personal details of my life. She went on.
"What are you, like 24? 25? Way too young for kids, right?"
"Well, actually," I said, (and when I 'well, actually,' a read is coming... just wait for it) "I'm 34 with a 14-year-old son."
I watched her face turn beet red in my rearview mirror. "Really?" she said. "Wow. Black really don't crack."
I laughed. (These white women and their attempts to endear themselves to me... they overcompensate and it's hilarious to watch.)
"Yes, really," I said. "I've been a parent my entire adult life. And you know what? For me, it really hasn't been that bad."
Let me say this before I continue in the conversation. I am not one of those mothers for whom the world stops revolving for my kid. He is not the center of my universe. He is not my king, or my world. He's a fourteen year old person of his own, with his own life, his own personality, and his own interests. I love him because he's an individual, my complete and total opposite. I respect him enough to give him the space and opportunity to be his own person, with my guidance and steering.
But ol' girl, as brusque as her delivery might've been, was kinda right.
It's so important to know beyond all doubts that you actually want to be a parent before you become a parent... because parenting is a lot. And no, I don't have an infant who is waking up all night to nurse or a toddler who is writing on my walls. But I have a teenager who plays three sports, is a percussionist, attends school in a different state, and still tries to maintain a social life. He likes girls and insists that we listen to Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert (these are REAL PEOPLE) in the car. There is always something to pay for. Something to buy. Something that's needed. Something that's necessary. Parenting requires commitment beyond that of any other job you will ever have, because it's constant. You're on call always. And when parenting rings, everything else, especially when you're a single parent, takes the back burner.
I had to remove my feelings from the conversation with the girl because she talked about being a mom like it was a disease, something awful and huge and incurable. I just listened to what she was saying, and I was kinda impressed that, even without being a parent herself, she understood that the commitment and dedication good parenting required was something she just wasn't interested in .
It made me think... How much do we really consider the weight of things before we commit to them? And how many of those commitments do we make because society tells us that they're the "right" decisions? How many women get pregnant and are miserable? How many people stay in unhappy marriages for the sake of appearance? How many parents have kids they didn't plan, don't want, and don't really like, but feel trapped in their circumstances? How many people lie to themselves about their sexuality because they are too afraid to be who they really are? How many of us are too afraid to say something like, "Parenting is awful and I don't want it for my life" because we are afraid of being judged?
That conversation stayed with me for the rest of the day. I made the decision to be a mom, and fourteen years later, I don't regret it. I love my son and the joy he's brought to my life. But there are a lot of other decisions that I could make that fall into that same category, and I admired my passenger's candor, her ability to discuss so clearly what was not for her even when she had no idea she was in the company of someone who had a totally different outlook. She was exactly who she was regardless of who was around her or what I thought (even though she assumed I wasn't old enough to be a mom because good melanin genes).
I'm challenging us all to live according to what is best for us. What feels best for us. What we know to be best for us. We all deserve a stab at living the lives we create for ourselves according to our own design. Yes, we have to work. We have to pay taxes. There is shit that is inevitable that we HAVE to do that just come as a part of adulting. But there's also stuff we don't have to do. We don't have to reproduce. We don't have to get married. We can tattoo our bodies, pierce our skin, dye our hair, dress in ways that make us feel good. We don't have to fall into society's definition of success in order to be truly successful. All that matters is that the life you live validates you, your own morals and ideas, and what you want. Happiness is underrated. It's the difference between being alive and living. I challenge you to take the time to figure out what really makes you happy. Make a damn list. What brings you joy? What makes you feel alive? What makes you happy? Live your life in ways that honor your list. If marriage isn't for you, don't get married. If kids aren't your choice, don't have them.
(Especially that. Because you do a child a disservice when you have them and don't want them. Don't mess them up for life by treating them like a mistake.)
Be you, out loud. Be exactly who the hell you are, without being afraid of what people will think. The people who really love you will accept you however you come, and those that don't really love you don't matter anyway. Your sexuality, your body, your work, your self-expression... all YOUR choices to make. Choose wisely. And, by wisely, I mean choose carefully what you want... and don't worry about what anybody else thinks of your choices.
I never once tried to convince the young lady in my car that she was wrong about her idea of parenthood. Not one time. I respected fully and completely that this was her opinion, even though I am a mom myself. She reminded me of something that is easy to forget: that my choices matter, regardless of how they may sound to other people. That my happiness trumps what other people want for my life. That life is uniquely what I make it... so I might as well make it good.
Sometimes I write things that are too short to publish. I needed someplace to put them. Here seems like just as good a place as any...