A Few Thoughts About Cats, Dogs, Being 40 and Not Having Kids

The scientists have weighed in -- at long last! at long last? -- to tell us that people without kids aren't less happy than people with kids. Which is good to hear, since it looks like my husband and I are going to go without.

I'm not one of those 40-year-old women with no kids who hates children. Far from it! I adore kids. Not, in general, as much as dogs -- but I always knew I wanted dogs.

When I was very young, I was absolutely certain I did not want children. But you can be absolutely certain about all kinds of stupid things when you are very young. As I got older, I thought that I'd be OK either with or without, though the prospect of going through the actual physical act of labor seemed pretty much like a horror movie.

What I really thought, in my more honest and sentimental moments -- which is to say very late at night, often after a bad date -- was that it would be best to eventually settle down with someone who'd had kids with another woman, with whom he'd then split, amicably. You'd have the many benefits of children in your life while still having plenty of free time. This seemed like an ideal arrangement, even if no one I shared my idea with agreed that this sort of family life was either appealing or realistic.

A few years ago, I got married to a man who swears that there are no rug rats from his past who are going to show up at our door. I believe it, since on top of the other evidence we don't live at the sort of apartment where someone could, really, just turn up. In any case, he's more sure overall than I am that we shouldn't have kids. The expense, the noise; he's just not inclined in that direction. He and I have a cat and a dog together. We let them take up two-thirds of the bed, we love them so much.

But lately, as folks in their 30s and early 40s are apparently wont to do, my favorite people have been procreating. They've made beautiful babies in the last couple of years. Their kids are great. Despite the scientists' reassurances that we're on the right track, their kids make me doubt our choices. My choices. What if our lives get boring without kids? What if we have no one to hang out with once everyone we love has little ones, then bigger ones, to look after? What if one day I'm in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery and I don't have anyone to make sure the nurses are taking good care of me?

There are no guarantees, I know. It's possible to have children and still not have an advocate at the hospital. It's also possible that the people we love having children means mostly just that we will have great kids in our lives. Great kids whose college educations are not our responsibility.

People without kids complain that people with kids say all sorts of insensitive and silly things to them. I'm grateful that by and large, people haven't said those things to me -- though I do have a relative who once asked if I wasn't worried that my cat would eventually eat my face when I died alone in my apartment.

As a neurotic person, there are of course all kinds of things I worry about in my life, relating both to the possibility of having children and to not having them. But I'm actually not worried at all about a cat eating my face after I die. Because one thing I'm absolutely sure of is that I will always have a dog. And no dog of mine would ever let a cat do that to my corpse.