“Auntie Soo-Zaaannn,” Luke called from the downstairs bathroom.
“He wants you to wipe his butt,” Kristin told me. She continued to work on her laptop.
“Yeah, right,” I said.
“He does,” she said. “You’d better go down there.”
I walked down the stairs, not really expecting to find Luke in need of ass-wiping, but sure enough, he was sitting on the toilet, his ear-to-ear grin like a watermelon rind.
“Wipe me,” he said.
“I want you to wipe me.”
“Auntie Suzanne doesn’t do butts.”
When Luke and I came up the stairs together, Kristin asked “Did you wipe him?”
“No. I supervised. Dry, wet, dry. I’m sure it’s fine.”
Luke scratched at his itchy butt.
Kristin and her three children, a three-year-old boy and two six-year-old girls, came to visit. She had a conference at Harvey’s Casino, and it was my job to teach the children how to ski. It snowed six feet in three days. The fair weather children had no interest in being outdoors at all, so I had to plan for some indoor fun instead.
With a box full of Burning Man clothes, crayons and coloring books, story books, and a sled, I felt ready to entertain three children for a couple of days. The costume fun, coloring, and book-reading lasted all of about two hours, not two days. “We’re bored now, Auntie Suzanne.” I don’t remember my parents constantly trying to find ways to amuse me. Did they care if I was “bored”? I doubt it. But these kids go to ballerina camp, soccer camp, art camp, and swim camp. Entertaining themselves is a foreign concept.
I was doomed.
Plus, the snow was so good that I kept looking longingly out the window as it piled up. I wanted to ski, not entertain children. Because I had run out of things to do, I took the children to get pedicures. I had scoffed at a friend who had taken her five-year-old daughter to get a pedicure, saying, “I was 30 before my first pedicure.” Now, pedicures for children seemed to be a reasonable idea. I had to get them out of the house, away from my furniture, which they jumped all over, and away from my dog who had clearly had enough ear and tail pulling.
I have to come clean. I wasn’t left entirely alone with the children. Thank God. Kristin brought her Brazilian au pair. And still, I couldn’t do it, not even with a nanny. Most days, I look at the clock, lamenting how fast time moves. For those two days, I willed the clock to tick to four o’clock, which was when I allowed myself my first caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil (the nanny did come in handy, but for three children, I needed three nannies, maybe four). Drinking took the edge off, and I could see how naptime could become the new happy hour.
Although the kids wanted to play with Auntie Suzanne, the second morning I snuck out of the house before anyone noticed. I grabbed my skis and fled the screaming children for new snow. As the chairlift whisked me up the mountain, the frenzy of screaming children, with all their “I want, I want, I want” started to fade.
“Don’t you ski every day?” Kristin asked. “What’s the big deal? And you hardly ever get to see the kids.”
“Yes, but not every day is a powder day.” It is pointless to explain this to a non-skier. The old saying “no friends on a powder day” isn’t meant to be ironic. I have spent my entire adult life living in the mountains so that when the perfect powder days arrive, I’ll be ready. I wasn’t about to let a pack of wild children keep me from skiing fresh snow. The only parallel I can think of is the day of perfect waves for a surfer.
Before their visit, I had thought about having children, but always in the abstract, and not as the loud and messy and demanding little people that they are. And planning for them always came down to how I could get pregnant without missing a ski season. A girl’s got to have priorities. My mommy friends just shake their heads. Kristin and I have obviously chosen different life paths—hers has been full of diaper bags and ballet lessons, princess birthday parties and Disneyland visits. Mine has been full of travelling to remote places and skiing, hiking, and biking trails—not better, just infinitely different.
But before I knew it, I was looking at the reality of 40-year-old eggs. It took me until 40 to find the right man, and soon after we married, he announced one night at the dinner table that he would like to “start a family.” I choked on my wine and then proceeded to drink the rest of the bottle.
“Do you know how old I am?” I asked.
“You’re 40.” “Do you know what the chances of a 40-year-old woman getting pregnant are?”
“You’re healthy,” he said.
So, I went to my gynecologist and had my hormones tested. All that skiing and trail running has not changed the fact that I have a 40-year-old body complete with 40-year-old eggs—41 if you count gestation. The tests showed that menopause is not far away. Coupled with a fibroid tumor and some ovarian cysts, it seemed that I am not a very good candidate for pregnancy, worse in fact, than the average 40-year-old woman.
“So, I know you don’t have a crystal ball,” I said to the doctor, “But if you had to say what my chances are of getting pregnant, what do you think they would be? One percent?”
“I would say less than one percent,” she said. I could see her stiffen, perhaps ready for the tears. “Well, that’s a relief,” I said. My reaction surprised me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what I had wanted. I didn’t want to find myself with regrets later on, and I didn’t know anyone who regretted having children, or at least admitted to regretting it. It seems to me that the only thing in life you can’t undo is having a baby, yet most people do it without thinking too much about it. At the same time, for women, there’s a window of opportunity, and once you miss it, you either have to forget it or pay the thousands of dollars to endure the physical and emotional rockiness of in-vitro fertilization. My husband and I both agreed: no fertility specialists, no invasive procedures. If we had missed the proverbial boat, then so be it. But, here I was, being told that my ship had sailed.
Often, we don’t know how we feel until we are really faced with a thing, and having the doctor, with her white coat and degrees framed on the wall behind her, made it all seem official: I would not be having children. I felt relief without the hint of sadness I’d expected.
“This is usually a much more difficult conversation,” the doctor admitted. “Many women are baby obsessed, and all of this can be quite upsetting.” She sat back into her chair.
“Why force my body to do something it doesn’t want to do?”
When I returned home, I relayed the odds—less than one percent—to my husband.
“But not impossible,” he said.
“I guess not impossible,” I said. “But unlikely.”
“I guess we’ll have to wrap our minds around that,” he said.
“Yes, I guess we will,” I admitted, though I knew I already had.
It wasn’t without guilt that I left Kristin’s children and went skiing, but the new snow, that certain slant of morning light through the lodgepole pines and the muffled silence of snowfall, allowed me to return to my thoughts, to myself.
When I came home, and the children jumped around and screamed, “Auntie Soo-Zaaannn,” I felt something close to glad. In truth, when they packed up and drove away, I waved to them and blew them kisses, but I was more than glad. Happy to have them, but happier still to have back my quiet, childless life.
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