My three-year-old (going on four) son began preschool this September. With a part-time writing schedule, I'm fortunate to be able to drop him off some days and pick him up every day. I love the ritual: the walk there, our dog in tow and a beat up umbrella stroller with snacks and water bottle and poop bags stuffed in the bottom. The tree lined streets and funky houses in various states of disrepair in my corner of our adopted city of Vancouver, BC. I love chatting with the other moms at drop off and pick up, waiting for our children with equal parts delight and exhaustion.
But the peer pressure is driving me crazy.
Never before, not in high school when it came to drinking and smoking and drug experimentation, not in college when it came to being arty and cool and having the right boyfriend, not at book parties or housewarming parties or office get-togethers or faculty parties have I ever felt anything like the level of peer pressure I feel when encountering these otherwise lovely mothers.
"You only have one?" they say, again and again, day in and day out, with a pointed look at my finally flat enough belly.
"What, didn't you think to have another?" (This, I'll admit, from a grandmother.)
These moms seem to all -- each and every one of them -- have new babies tucked in their strollers, or in their baby carriers, or in the car seat parked alongside the preschool entrance, or back at home with a nanny or freelancing, film-making husband.
"Where's your baby?" it feels like they're asking me, with more than a little judgment. I realize, of course, that they mean no harm. They're trying to be friendly, polite, even. The judgment is probably all in my head. And so, in return, I do my best to be cheery as I smile and answer their questions.
"He's my only one," I answer.
"We're trying to figure it out," I sometimes add.
When my son was two and all the other mothers were remembering to have a second, I was still exhausted (and breastfeeding) and wanting to find time to write and think and sit down for a minute, I explain. To take a yoga class, to read a novel, to have a bath.
I don't mention that it took us years (and one very expensive, only partially covered by insurance, IVF cycle) to have our son.
I don't mention that my husband and I discuss almost daily whether to try for one more. How far are we willing to go this time? Herbs? Acupuncture? All the way back to our Denver, Colorado clinic?
I don't mention that I'm turning 40 this May.
Instead, I talk about what I like -- love, even -- about having "just" one: The intense bond my son and I share. The hours we spend together reading and tickling on the couch, walking the dog and stopping for hot chocolates. The airline tickets my husband, a professor, and I can still occasionally afford to stretch and buy. The date nights we started going on twice a month once we found our fantastic babysitter. The Sunday afternoons when I garden and read The New York Times while my husband and son do the grocery shopping. Would these things be possible with two?
Maybe I should share more with my new acquaintances about how torn and confused I am. That I'd really, really like to finish the book I've been writing, but that I can't bear to give any of my son's baby things away. About how it totally freaked me out when Tina Fey wrote about her nightly insomnia over this very issue in her memoir Bossypants and then proceeded to get pregnant with her second child by 40.
Or, perhaps, I should let them hold on to their fantasy about the woman at drop off with the empty stroller and all that free time on her hands.