With strangers, the ritual goes like this: I meet a parent at the playground, the market, the park, or at a birthday party. As our kids play together (and they’re playing well), we talk and fall into an easy banter. When it’s time to go, we enter that awkward space where we’re both deciding whether or not we’ll exchange numbers and make plans for our kids to play again.
Sometime before or after this moment, the talk turns to our backgrounds: where we’re from, where we went to school, and the question they all almost all seem to be most overly concerned with: how many siblings did I have, and does my daughter have any?
I explain that my wife and I are only children, and that our daughter is an only child, and we have no plans to add to our family. Well, I usually respond with, “Not even if Jesus babysits will we have another child.” For some reason I cannot figure out, this opens the door to a barrage of questions, judgments and commentary.
“You two are such good parents. It would be a shame not to have more.” “Isn’t your daughter lonely?” “After the first one it is so easy,” they say, with a self-congratulatory tone.
With my own family, it’s a little more blunt: “When are you going to give us a new cousin, grandniece, nieta, etc…” As if my wife has no say in it, or she’s some kind of vending machine, willing and able to spit out a kid whenever they want. Why are so many folks concerned about this?
Some may disagree, but I feel that deciding to have a child (or children) is one of the most political things you can do. There are a lot of unplanned babies out there, and I’m not discounting them, but to make the active decision to have a child is powerful. It conveys a whole lot of things: you value family; you and your partner believe you have something to offer a brand new person; you believe and feel you have the will and the means to give your child a life better than yours was.
I don’t know how others feel, but all this is heavy. Being a parent is more responsibility than I’ve ever had. I’m also raising a Black child, and I’m afraid to bring another Black child into this world, because there’s no real evidence they would be warmly welcomed by anyone other than our family and friends.
The list of things stacked against my daughter is astonishing. There are those things that could directly affect her, like racism and misogyny, and then there’s our larger world that seems to be ripping at the seams more and more each day. An hour before I sat down to write this, I was on Facebook, and a photo of a Palestinian man holding a child whose head was blown into a crater appeared on my wall. I was on my phone and assumed a level of privacy.
“Daddy, what was that?” my daughter asked in voice that shook. I asked her why she was sneaking around and she said she was trying to scare me. I hugged her tight and explained to her that there were a lot of people being hurt and killed, and that she needn’t worry as her mother and I would protect her.
“Kids are being hurt in all that fighting, Daddy?” A whole lot of kids, I told her. We hugged, and I thought about having to have this conversation with another child. I thought about the parents having this conversation in Chicago, Visitation Valley in San Francisco, having it in East Oakland—thinking about how violence and discord is so close to our home.
And for a moment, I felt guilty. Guilty about bringing my daughter into a world I’m slowly losing hope for. Guilty for questioning the decision to have her. But holding her makes it all better, and I reset myself and push through all those feelings.
Maybe from now on, when people ask me about having only one child, I won’t deflect by telling a joke or avoiding their question. I’ll look then straight in the eye and answer: My heart and my mind are already occupied with the one I have. I’m also just too worried about the future to risk my child not getting my full attention and love.
Wonder if we’ll still have a playdate after that?
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.