I never wanted children. My dolls were always my patients. I never had whatever piece of a person compels her, arms outstretched, toward any small human in sight. In college, the pool of young men I was around believed every date was an interview for marriage. I wasn’t nearly so serious about the process, but I started every first date with, “I don’t want kids. If that’s a problem, I brought money to pay for my own dinner.” I’ve always been a bit odd, so I didn’t get many first dates. As you might imagine, I got virtually no second ones.
At one point in my late twenties, when most of the people in our social circle were hip deep in kid number two and I still had no inkling of a desire for children, I called my mother and burst directly into the question. “Mama, did I ever want kids?”
”No, I knew I wasn’t getting any grandkids out of you.” She was quick with her answer.
I’ve heard every reason why having no children is a bad idea. Don’t you want something that is uniquely you and your hunny? Who will take care of you when you’re old? But kids are such a joy! What will you do with all your time if you don’t have them? Don’t you want to leave something behind? You’ll regret it when you get older.
Well, I am older. I don’t regret not having children. But I have thought a lot about it. I’ve thought about what part of me must be broken. Surely some piece of my heart isn’t fully formed, or maybe it’s malformed. Perhaps that piece is missing altogether. I’ve thought about what experiences I’ll never have without my own children, and then I remember all the things I have had the chance to do because I didn’t have them. I do look at my other half and think about how having a living thing that is made of him would be wonderful, and I think it’s the one thing that gives me more pause than any other about choosing not to have children. As egotistical as it is, of all the other things I ponder about my child-free life, the thing my brain trips over most often is that I will leave no piece of myself behind.
It trips a little less often these days, though.
I won’t leave behind my DNA. My green eyes will stop with me. So will my fuzzy hair and my freckles and bulldogged persistence. I realized a while back, though, that the most important parts of me will carry on.
The way my mom fixed chocolate gravy for breakfast and Daddy made spaghetti sauce on Saturday nights. They taught me, and I have taught others. More importantly, I have prepared those meals with love countless times and shared tables and laughs and stories, and now a piece of Mama and a piece of Daddy and a piece of me will linger over too sweet breakfasts and slurpy spaghetti dinners for at least another generation or so. And maybe the people around those tables will feel more loved because of it.
Every now and then I get to teach a younger doctor or a nurse a little bit of something about medicine. Most often it’s nothing scientific. Instead it’s usually a little something that’s more the art of medicine, the things you can’t learn in a book. Maybe that tidbit will allow them to touch a life positively. With that, a teeny piece of me will carry on.
I do my best to listen well when others speak, to hear and see their joy and their pain and share in it in a way that makes them feel heard and seen. My hope is that they will leave me feeling lighter and better able to engage with the rest of their world. And having taken a weight from them, I have given them a piece of myself to carry on.
I have shared my love of watercolor and poetry and magic and sparkles and the color purple with nieces, nephews, godchildren, and kids of friends. I like to think some of that got picked up and carried along to perhaps be shared with their children some day.
I realized that one’s legacy to the world isn’t her DNA. It’s her lessons. It’s her love. It’s how forty years from now maybe a little girl will be eating chocolate gravy on her biscuits for breakfast, and her mama just might look up at the watercolor on the wall and remember where the recipe came from.
The recipe for chocolate gravy is one of those classic southern ones with no measurements. It starts with a medium sized sauce pan and a lot of sugar, enough sugar to fill a fourth to a third of the pan. Add a couple of rounded tablespoons of cocoa and a couple of rounded tablespoons of flour. Then stir. Meanwhile, be heating the water. The sugar mixture should have a slightly powdery consistency once the flour and cocoa have been added in. Once you’re satisfied with the mixture, add enough hot water to fill the pot to about half full and stir until the sugar mixture dissolves. (Some folks, a.k.a. My brother, Kevin, add a bit of milk at this point.) Then place the pot on medium to medium high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let it come to a rolling boil while stirring more frequently and leave it there until the gravy has thickened. Kevin throws some butter in at this point for good measure.
Serve over a biscuit that has been cut in half and buttered or one that has been broken into multiple pieces with butter cut up over them. The gravy will create yummy rivulets of the butter.
Also, licking the pan is perfectly acceptable.
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Unless otherwise noted, all material--written, photographic, and artistic--is the original work of Estora Adams. All rights reserved.