Navigating the inherent autonomy of a toddler (“I can do it!” “I don’t want that!” “I’m done!”) requires expertise in negotiation. To respect my daughter’s growing sense of self, I try to let her choose as often as I can. I provide the choices, usually no more than two. She can wear these pants or those. She can eat noodles or rice. She can have her bath before bed or early in the morning. I’m becoming a master of benign manipulation, but she sometimes beats me at my own game, always finding the famed feminist “third way.” Spiderman pajama pants instead of these pants or those. Cookies instead of noodles or rice. No bath at all and mud pie fingernails instead of night or morning baths. On these occasions, I have to explain why I can’t honor her choices. “But why?” is my new favorite saying of hers; it reminds me of myself.
I hope that her small choices now will build the kind of confidence it takes to make hard decisions in adulthood. Don’t let the political jargon fool you; choices are for dinner. Decisions are for adults who have the cognitive ability to weigh outcomes, accept answers to the hard questions, and materialize the lives they imagine.
The screaming women of Texas gave me hope, if only momentarily, that that state might be a place where women could safely be adults. Although the language of choice in terms of reproductive rights is complicated by socioeconomic factors in this country that despises the poor it creates, I am grateful for even the semblance of agency that Roe v. Wade provides. My story is neither tragedy nor fairytale, but it is still my own.
Ownership matters on the days that I consider my single, childless peers and imagine the woman I could have been—the woman who could finish her doctorate on time, put together a few hundred dollars and fly across the country, wear expensive clothes or do adult things with abandon—unworried about waking an inquisitive toddler. Friends who have made other decisions also consider paths not chosen– especially when the imagined other woman is raising beautiful, rich children and wearing happiness like a Coach belt in Detroit. Like me, these friends entertain thoughts for a few moments, count the blessings of their chosen lives, and are grateful that Texas Republicans are not actually ovaries, though for political reasons they snuggle in the uteri of women.
Agency is one of many paths to contentment. Some people decide to parent well before an egg is fertilized. Others decide after fertilization. Still, others are robbed of this decision—by legislation, finances, or time. Alas, conservative Christian pro-lifers believe that the only choice is God’s—that His mighty hand is in every fertilization (no matter the circumstance).
These same Christians believe that God chose them over his “natural” and unbelieving children. Part of their resolve with culturally insensitive evangelism (otherwise known as “Imperialism”) includes believing that God hand-picked them. In other words, their divine being is a shrewd family planner. Ironically, the chosen children would like to see parenting reduced to the coincidence of fertilization.
There are some coincidences that could use government intervention. Infertility immediately comes to mind. There are people who choose to parent but cannot afford necessary interventions or adoptions. Should all miracle babies be born with silver spoons in their mouths? How about the coincidence of birth into a particular class, sex or race? These coincidence and that of terminal illness make living too expensive for a lot of people in this country. Couldn’t more government time, money and energy be invested in sustaining these lives that we purport to save?
My daughter’s favorite stories are hero or heroine-driven, brimming with magic, difficult choices, and monsters who unsuccessfully try to impose their wills. One day my daughter will wonder how we came to be together and I believe she will be more intrigued by choice than chance, decision over destiny. She will want a story with more weight than a fertilized egg.
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta.