Last night, I started reading The Merry Recluse, a posthumously published book of essays by an writer I really admire, Caroline Knapp. Knapp was not married and never had children (she died very young, in her mid-40s I think, of cancer). A couple of the essays in the book are about her decision not to have children and the importance of other people's children in her life. Knapp is clear that just because she has no particular desire to have children of her own does not mean that she doesn't like kids, or that she doesn't want to spend time with them. Quite the opposite, actually. She dotes on a niece and nephew in one essay and another niece in another essay, and even credits the relationship she wants to have with her niece as being a primary reason for her decision to stop drinking. The children in her life are clearly very important to her.
And they are to me, too.
Even if I decide once and for all that I do not want my own kids (which seems like about a 50-50 bet at this point), I can't imagine not being very happy to have kids in my life. With me, it's less my actual nieces, who are both too old to want to hang out with me and very far away, and more the children of my friends. Here in Austin, pretty much all of my friends have kids now, and I'm really happy about that. I like hanging out with them and with their kids. They have enriched my life by bringing their kids into it, and allowing me time to spend with them. I appreciate that.
Two of my best friends and their daughter moved away a bit less than a year ago. I miss all three of them terribly, but honestly, I think I miss the little girl the most. This isn't because I love her any more than I love her parents, but rather because I know from experience that her parents, as adults, will likely be very similar the next time I see them to what they were the last time I saw them. She, however, won't. She's quickly moved from a toddler to a little girl, and she'll be a pretty big girl by the next time I see her. She's been potty trained, started school, and I can only imagine what else. And I haven't seen any of it. That causes some pretty big missing. It is also much harder to maintain a long-distance relationship with a child--she's not old enough to email, you know?
My point, such as it is, is just to express my gratitude to my friends and their children for allowing people like Caroline Knapp and me to enjoy and experience children in our lives without having them ourselves. I really appreciate it.