Yesterday in one of my classes the discussion turned to children’s books. We’re reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story” during which she talks about the ways the reading she did as a child shaped her view of what could be written about. Yet not one of the books had characters who mirrored her life. The purpose, then, of talking about children’s books in class was to help students she how the books they read as children shaped their view of the world.
I’m not an expert in children’s literature, and I haven’t read many books for young kids since I was one. So as my students talked about various books from their own childhood and reveled in their memories of books that were part of their shared experiences, I began asking questions about the books they were discussing: Who wrote that book? Did you read it in school at was it a book you had at home? Tell me about the main characters. And so on.
I asked such questions for two reasons: I hoped to steer the discussion toward some specifics and away from the kind of “oh, I loved that book so much” discussion that didn’t move much beyond fond memories; I also asked because I didn’t and still don’t know these books.
When I shared that last detail with the class, I knew what would come next: “You don’t have any kids? ” “Why not?” Although such a discussion would lead us away from Adichie’s talk and what she calls the “dangers of a single story,” as I looked at the young women in my class I decided they might benefit from hearing a different kind of story than the one they likely grew up with. So I said,
No, I don’t have any children. I’ve never had any interest in having them. That was one of the early conversations I had with the man who is now my husband. If he’d wanted children, well, that would have been a deal breaker. He didn’t have any desire to have children either, and the rest as they say is history.
Hands shot up and the questions and claims began flying: “you never wanted kids?” “Why not?” “What about when you get old, who will take care of you?” “So you don’t have a family?” “You’ll change you mind,” and so on.
I chose my words carefully so as not to offend (that their words might have offended likely didn’t even occur to them). I said when I was younger I had no desire to be responsible for another human being, and I didn’t have time to do so. I was in college, learning new things, meeting new people, and making plans for my future. I liked being free to choose to sleep in, run off to have coffee with a friend or stay up all night reading knowing I could nap after my classes ended the next day.
While I was in grad school, many of my colleagues began to marry and have children, but I had no desire to do either. I was there to learn, and I certainly wasn’t interested in taking on the additional financial burden of a child or to add more to my already too-full plate.
So no, I don’t have any children, and I am glad I don’t. It’s not that I don’t like kids; I do. I enjoy visiting with my nieces and nephews and their children, and I like interacting with my friends’ and neighbors’ kids, and one of the things I really like about these kids is that I don’t have to take care of them; we play or hang out and have some fun, and then they go home. I’m not responsible for feeding them, making sure they have clothes, they go to school, they do their homework and so on.
So on that point, I said, let’s turn back to our discussion of how the stories we encounter shape our perceptions of what places and people are like, and what possibilities life offers us, including the choice to have children or the choice not to because thinking you need to have children to have a fulfilling life is one of the single stories Adichie points to as dangerous.