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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 3, 2003

You can add meaning to the world without adding children

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

Something happens to me around babies and little children — I can't help it. Their fat little legs and bright eyes, wild energy and easy laughter turn me into a lovestruck fool.

Biological clock ticking?

The guys always think so.

In fact, what makes it possible for me to be enchanted by children is that they are someone else's job to direct and mold.

I don't ever have to be the mom shrilly ushering them into the minivan, or be like the dad reaching to turn a spanking into a valuable life lesson. I can like the little munchkins — or not — for who they are, and not who I need them to be.

There was a time, certainly, when I was struck by the timely revelation that it would be tragic never to give birth. Having children makes you give up selfishness, my baby-hungry friends would tell me. If you don't have a child, you remain one forever.

And so it is, in my case. Not everyone is suited to be a parent, and some of us have the good sense to know it. Maybe we never finished raising the child in ourselves, because something in our past made us adults too young. Whatever the reason, I love the righteous spirit of the child too much to ever want to control it.

It has been hard enough to manage my own childishness, to keep my mouth shut and follow rules, not burst out laughing when kids spit in the face of authority. But when the natural age for motherhood passed, the child that I am took over.

Being a good Asian girl, I naturally took counsel from the ancestors. There they were, rows of grandmothers all nodding sagely as in some Amy Tan novel, speaking to me of generations who could run farms and bring babies into the world, but who did not have what I have: a voice.

The family does not need another wife and mother, they told me. You try something different.

It's because I had no children that I could travel, tinker and write. I know it looks to most adults like a selfish, unproductive life. But in some ways, so does theirs to me.

I am thinking of those idealistic young women I knew who showed a wonderful maternal compassion for every living thing, from stray cats to political prisoners, and turned from the moment of pregnancy into obsession over theirs alone.

Their fretting over their children's future, as well-intentioned as it may be, often masks a demand that the whole world now conform to their expectations.

The rest of us don't have that luxury. We know we owe back rent on the space we're taking up.

A bachelor friend kindly suggests that we childless adults may be the feedback loops in evolution, the mutation that moves the whole species forward.

I take a simpler view. Those of us who do not go forth and multiply may yet set an example that bears fruit as other people's children grow. The characters of a time and place are also the offspring of a culture, leaving behind stories and deeds that feed and shelter — equally — the dreams of the next generation.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.