Most little girls at around five years old set out their plastic doll children and play house. The girls tussle over who will have the coveted position of "mommy" and that mommy will drive the doll around in a discarded stroller or feed the baby with a bottle. I never was one of those girls. Maybe my mom remembers differently, but I don't remember ever lining up my dolls for diaper changes, feedings, or nap times. I played teacher and school with my dolls and occasionally interviewed them for my "stories," and, in one particularly harrowing incident, I decided to be a hairdresser, to the demise of my doll's golden curls.
I never saw all that much fun in being a mother and, as time went on, the girls became women and everyone else around me started talking about having kids and taking that next step. In the eleven years of our marriage, if we had a dollar for every time a family member, friend, or random stranger has asked us when we're going to have kids, we could have funded our whole round the world trip on that money alone. You see, it's expected: first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That's what people do. Me, on the other hand, well, I would shrug my shoulders and ignore the expectations.
There were lots of reasons I didn't want to have kids but, essentially, it boiled down to one thing: I didn't think that the world was a good enough place to bring a child. Having a child is hard, what with the nine months of pregnancy, followed by grueling labor and delivery, the sleep-deprived first months, and a lifetime in which you are responsible for another human being. Why should we go through all that work and lose our freedom and independence to bring a child into a world where rapes, murders, and thefts are commonplace? As an attorney, I did a lot of pro bono work and represented indigent children whose parents didn't know how to provide, while the kids' primary ambition was to achieve the age of sixteen and quit school. I watched an eleven year old boy walk out of a courtroom in handcuffs and shackles, while his mother cried beside me, though the child's truancy was largely due to her own neglect, and I thought to myself, "Is this it? Is this what it means to be a mother?"
Now, of course, the decision to have children is one made by two people and Patrick wanted kids, largely because he believed procreation to be a necessary and important human function in order to continue the species and pass on our gene pool. After spending summers in India, I never felt that the human race was in much danger of extinction and I never thought so importantly of my own genes that I felt the human race needed them to carry on. The truth is that, at thirty, when my biological clock was supposed to be "tick, tick, ticking" --- as Marisa Tomei so eloquently put it --- I hadn't felt a single tick.
So, we left the United States for our round-the-world trip, childless by choice and happy. I remember Patrick saying a few weeks before we left, "You know, I didn't agree with you at 22 when you weren't sure if you wanted to have kids, but looking back at it now, I'm so glad that we haven't, because we wouldn't be able to travel like this if we had children." We had Chewy and Abby --- our canine kids --- and they filled all of our maternal and paternal instincts, without the problems that human children would have occasioned.
And, then, something happened. This is the point where the biological clock should have started up . . . but it didn't. No, what happened instead was more subtle and beautiful than anything I had ever expected before we started traveling the world.
I discovered that the world is a good place and there are good people here.
Yes, I could have discovered that same fact in the United States because there are very good people in my own country, but, in the U.S., I don't NEED people. I understand my own country, its intricacies, and its fallibilities. But, when abroad, we were reliant on the kindness of strangers because we knew nothing. And, though people could have conned, cheated, and hassled us, instead, there was the:
- Thai people who welcomed us with huge smiles into the funeral and feast for the main Buddhist monk
- children who followed Patrick like the Pied Piper as he and our tuk tuk drivers blew balloons for them in Kampong Chnnang and Battambang
- joy and fun of cramming eighty of my family members into one house so that they could all visit with us in our short time in Chennai
- Chinese schoolgirl who saved us on our worst travel day ever
- news reporter in Japan who stopped Patrick on the street and videotaped him "sumo wrestling"
- and the Japanese girls on the trains who shyly giggled "hello" to us and practiced their English
- gate attendant at the Cotswolds Wildlife Park who reassured us that "all dogs are welcome" so that Chewy and Abby could see rhinos, zebras, and lions
- friends and family who, though long separated by time and distance, welcomed us into their homes in Asia, Australia, and Africa
- Chinese tourists who found Patrick and me to be superior attractions to the majesty of Huang Shan , and took pictures of themselves standing next to us, as we took pictures of the scenery
- looks people gave us as we danced around the Party Tree in Hobbiton , like Bilbo and his friends
- roasted kangaroo tail shared with the aboriginals in Australia
- white glove treatment of our pups on the Queen Mary 2 and the very kind heart of the pet steward who ensured that every dog on board was happy and healthy
- exceptionally patient divemasters who calmed me as I overcame my fears of scuba diving
- heavy guys who snuck us in on the local's route to the Great Wall of China
- knowledge of how far South Africa has come in interracial relations and how far it still has to go
- friends and family who came to celebrate our little man turning 10 years old at a grand silver screen soiree
- locals at the only two restaurants in Radicondoli , who soon got to know us at the couple who sits in the corner on their laptops
- Hare Krishnas who welcomed us, but didn't proselytize, at their beautiful temple in Durban, South Africa
- Zambian woman who taught us how to cut vegetables like a Zambian
- welcome our dogs received at the monumental Biltmore Estate in Asheville , continuing their long history of doggie love
- tomato poet, who has over 100 types of tomatoes in his stall at the Testaccio market in Rome, and will tell you which tomato to buy based on what you plan to cook that night
- many Britishers who frequently asked "what sort of dog is Chewy" as our American Cocker Spaniel invaded England
- landlady who brought us warm soup on a freezing cold day in Pula, Croatia
- locals who welcomed us at the Barcelona dog park and in Madrid , despite my halting Spanish
- baklavaci owner who invited us into a behind-the-scenes tour of his factory in Istanbul, simply because the he saw Patrick taking pictures and his enthusiasm for baklava
- sweet house dog named Arres in Zagreb, Croatia , who gleefully decapitated one of Chewy's and Abby's toys and never failed to greet us with a grin and a wag
- man who purchased dessert for us on our first night in the small untouristed town of Ivailovgrad, Bulgaria, to welcome us to his country
- Bulgarian landlord and his mother who invited us to their home for her homemade fig preserves and beautifully sweet red peppers
- and, our landlord in Turgutreis , who brought us gozleme, sweets, and watched Chewy and Abby when we went sightseeing
There's more. So much more. We have stories from every day of the last three years where people have helped us, calmed us, reassured us, and welcomed us. Sure, there are bad stories, as well, of cons and rude folks and people who didn't want us to be there, but that's a teeny tiny portion of our travels. Instead, we have discovered a world where there are as many ways to live a life as there are people in it and people doing genuinely good things --- even if it's little things like bringing dessert to a neighbor or smiling at a stranger --- to better all of humankind.
And, so, we are very happy to announce that, in March 2013, we will be welcoming a new little traveler to our family. We don't expect our child to share our same optimism, joy, and love for this amazing world because we both had to learn this lesson ourselves, regardless of our wonderful childhoods and families. Our child will have to explore and come to his/her own conclusions about life, the universe, and everything. But, I'm not worried now: I think that if our child digs a little and looks around a bit, he/she will find, as we have, that this is a good world with good people in it.