Chapter Six, Part One
“Margaret, may I talk to you?” Susanne Timmons, my supervisor at work, poked her head into my office during my prep hour Monday morning. Fortunately, I was prepared for the day so I didn’t have to panic about chatting with Susanne. I nodded and motioned her in. Susanne was a middle-aged woman with salt-n-pepper hair who didn’t wear any makeup. She had a homey look to her which the kids loved. She was like the grandmother many of them never had, but she was much stricter than your average grandma. She cared about them, but held them accountable; it’s what made her so good with our population. I was learning by emulating her, but empathy was something that didn’t come naturally to me.
“What’s up, Susanne?” I asked, setting some papers aside. I had asked my kids to write an essay on what they would tell President Bush if they ever met him, and as usual, they’d surprised me with their insight and passion.
“Margaret,” Susanne hesitated, fiddling with her pen. “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed preoccupied the last couple of weeks. The other teachers have commented on it as well. You’re more forgetful, and you’ve been late to two meetings. That’s not like you. Is there something you want to tell me?”
Caught, I didn’t know what to say. I still hadn’t figured out a cover story for my impending pregnancy as I didn’t want to use the ‘one-night stand’ tale with my coworkers. However, I couldn’t say that I had a partner, either, because they knew better than that. I supposed I could say it was Gary’s, but even pretending that lech was the father upset my stomach. Come to think of it, I couldn’t even say I was pregnant because I wouldn’t know yet if it were a normal pregnancy. Damn. Could I get away with family issues? Maybe. Or generic dating issues? I hated lying, mostly because I wasn’t very good at it.
“Susanne, it’s not something I feel comfortable discussing at work,” I said carefully, not wanting to offend my boss. “However, I sincerely apologize that my personal problems have spilled over into my work performance. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“It’s your fault for being so superlative the rest of the time,” Susanne smiled, standing up. “If it were anybody else, I wouldn’t even have noticed. I’m here if you need to talk to me.” I nodded as she left, dropping my smile the minute she was out the door. I knew I’d have to be more careful, and I knew I’d have to come up with something soon.
My college friends couldn’t understand how I could be a teacher, for at-risk youth, no less, when I didn’t want children. It’s a common misconception that all women who didn’t want kids didn’t like them or weren’t good with them. Not true. I liked kids a great deal, and they liked me in return because I treated them like adults—no matter the age. I didn’t pat little kids on the head or talk down to them, nor did I lord my authority over my students. That didn’t mean I didn’t set boundaries because I did. I just didn’t automatically assume I was better because I was older as so many adults did. So why didn’t I want to have children? There were many reasons, but the number one reason was because I didn’t want them. Period. I didn’t see why that wasn’t enough of an answer, but most people needed something more.
While I was in my first serious relationship at age eighteen, I came upon the realization that I didn’t want children. Not only that, I realized that I didn’t have to have them. There was no law saying to a woman, ‘Thou shalt bear children’ except for the social stricture, but I was adept at ignoring those. People had varying reactions to my statement of not wanting children ranging from condescension—‘oh, you’ll change your mind later’—to anger—‘you must think I’m an idiot for wanting them’. Most of all, however, people just didn’t understand how a woman could be so sure she didn’t want children. I’d been ask time and time again how did I know I didn’t want children. I was always tempted to ask how they knew they wanted them, but I never stooped to their level.