AIDA AUSTIN: I’m not sure having kids is for me, he says, and it’s not just the worry side

I’m in neurology outpatients. Just a routine follow-up. 

It’s three years since I put my daughter’s future into the hands of a brain surgeon; three years since the hour before her surgery, when the surgeon appeared in his scrubs to settle our nerves — and I joked (for what the **** else are you supposed to do?) that an enclosed order of Irish Cistercian nuns I’d recently interviewed for an article were praying for his hands.

“That’s 22 nuns on their knees right now,” I told the surgeon, “no pressure, like.”

The surgeon smiled, stuck his hands out in front of him. There was no tremor. We all stuck our hands out to compare. I withdrew mine and sat on them hard.

The dust has settled over the feelings that arose around that time but waiting in an outpatients can sometimes disturb it. 

My son — just back from London for a visit — is here to keep me company. He’s sitting beside me now, a welcome distraction.

“Do you want me to get coffee?” my son says. 

“No,” I say, “distract me. Just talk some rubbish, anything will do.”

“Dunno about rubbish,” he says, “but I’ve been reading this book on Elon Musk.”

“Who?” I say.

“Elon Musk,” he says, “physicist. He wants to colonise Mars. His goal is to reduce the risk of human extinction by setting up a human colony on Mars.”

“Now there’s a man with time on his hands,” I say, “or at least no worries to keep him up at night.”

“Nope,” my son says, “the opposite. He founded Tesla Motors — you know, electric cars — and Solar City, Open Al, X.com, Zip 2, Paypal. He’s also a philanthropist — he provides solar energy systems in disaster areas. He’s busy all right. A visionary, really.”

“Still a man with no worries,” I say.

“He has six children.”

“Oh.”

“Actually, his first son died. Cot death.”

I am quiet for a bit; I’m overwhelmed it must be said by Elon, who isn’t overwhelmed by anything but I am also distracted, which is good.

A young couple comes in with a baby. The father takes off the baby’s outer layers. 

“Might sound weird but I dunno why people have children,” my son says, “I mean I know why — but seriously, isn’t it, like, a lot of heartache?”

We look around the waiting room. There’s a lot of heartache in here. And now I am not distracted, which is bad. 

“It’s not all heartache,” I say, looking at the young couple. The baby, a boy, is a perky little thing.

“I’m not sure having kids is for me,” he says, “and it’s not just the worry side of things.”

“It’s not for everyone,” I say, “I mean look at Vanessa and Chrissy, no kids and they’re two of the happiest people I know. Not a worry between them.”

“I mean you and dad, like, made it fun and all that,” my son says, “and obviously I’m glad you had me and all that shit but it must have been like, proper slog too… I mean when you have children, your freedom goes, just like that.”

“The upside of having an unplanned pregnancy at 20 is that you don’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons,” I say, “you don’t discover them until it’s too late.”

The young dad lays his baby out on his back. The back of the baby’s head rests on his father’s knees.

“I mean there are definitely huge cons,” my son says.

“Yes,” I say, “there are huge cons but there are also huger pros.”

“Not being funny,” he says, “but like what?”

“You,” I say.

“I get all that,” he says, “it’s just…”

“I don’t know,” I say, “being a parent is more than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to explain.”

The dad is tickling his son very gently and then going, “boo!”

“Just saying,” my son says, “on the surface, parenting seems like an insane undertaking.”

“It is an insane undertaking,” I say, “but there’s a bit of your heart that you never even knew existed before you had children.”

“I suppose so,” he says.

“And sometimes you 100% wish that bit didn’t exist, because of how it makes you feel when a surgeon holds his hands out.”

“You’re not really selling it to me right now, mum,” he says.

“But the other bit is totally, unbelievably fucking top,” I say.

“What bit’s that?” my son says.

“Look at that dad’s face,” I say, “but wait till just after he goes “boo!”

The dad goes boo!

The baby laughs.

I can’t describe the dad’s face. It has everything in it.

“That bit,” I say.


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