It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but it’s only clear to me now that the idea of children means different things to different people.
For me, children have always been kind of like a flowering shrub: Pretty to look at, but I don’t spend too much time lingering. It’s just another flowering shrub. Move on. Plenty of those around.
I just don’t get it when people hover over the pram of a complete stranger’s baby and coo, making mushy gushy noises like someone with a very bad cold.
I tried doing that once to a friend who came into the office with her new baby. Dutifully, I bent over the pram and went, “Awww, she’s so cute!”, to which the mother icily said, “It’s a boy!”
“How was I to know it was a boy?” I later complained to Sharyn who rolled her eyes.
“Aiyoh! How you not know? Nine months she tell us in the office is a boy and when she had her going away party, we all sign a card that said ‘Good luck, Son-shine!’ and you still doh-no! How like that?” she pleaded, her worried eyes huge behind her Coke-bottle thick spectacles.
But my bigger point is that as I bent over the child and cooed, I felt nothing except a mild case of disinterest. Like I said, another flowering shrub.
And then there are people like Amanda who go into hormonal spasms at the merest hint of a baby within 20 metres. She’ll stop and gaze at the child with such penetrating wistfulness that, eventually, the parent will get all uncomfortable and push the pram off hurriedly in the other direction.
My sister says that she could never bring a child into a world as whacked out as this one is. “This is not a safe world,” she said the other day when I told her I was going to write about children for my next column. “You’d have to be criminally negligent to have children in a world that thinks it’s ok to blow up cars and eat whales.”
“So you don’t want kids. Interesting,” I said, as I scribbled into my notebook.
“No, I didn’t say I didn’t want kids,” Michelle said. “I want kids so badly, I sometimes think I could just die from the sheer unhappiness of it all. But I think I’d be so worried for its future, I’d be one of those anal-retentive mothers who has a nervous breakdown when her child fails her Chinese exam!”
“Interesting!” I repeated, scribbling harder.
My mother on the other hand firmly believes that her children were put on this earth to look after her and our father when they get old. “Why else would you have children?” she would tell her table of mahjong-kakis who, as one, would nod solemnly.
“Do you think,” she once asked in a voice that could penetrate steel, “that I endured three years of morning sickness, got all out of shape, and had three epidurals on top of a total of 28 hours of eye-popping labour pain just for fun?”
I remember my father leaning over the dining table and whispering to me, “Do not answer that question! Don’t even look her in the eye!”
Meanwhile, Saffy, never one for toning down her drama-meter, once had to sit down and blow into a paper bag when she made the mistake of walking through the Forum. “All these baby clothes!” she wailed as she puffed hysterically.
By the time she pulled herself together, an interested crowd of Sunday shoppers had gathered around her.
“Ay, what’s wrong, hah?” someone asked.
“Doh-no, I think she lost her baby!”
“Aiyoh, really ah? Where’s my Sharon, ah? Girl? Where are you!”
Later, as she recovered her composure at Starbucks, Saffy said that being in such proximity to all those baby clothes made her realize that her biological clock was ticking very loudly.
“It’s deafening! Can you hear it?” she asked Amanda who actually stopped sipping her latte and listened.
“I think I’m hearing my own clock,” Amanda concluded sadly. She looked down at her bag of children’s outfits that she’d bought while Saffy was having her breakdown in front of Mommy’s Lil’ Sweetheart. “Did I really just buy all these kids’ clothes? I don’t have kids! Is that sad? I don’t even have a boyfriend! What’s wrong with me?”
“I don’t think that’s sad at all,” Saffy said stoutly. “What’s sad is that I actually think just being inside Forum has made me lactate! My bra feels wet! Here, feel this! No seriously, Jason, feel it! Hey, where are you going?”