I never wanted kids, so I never had them. I prefer dogs and cats. Well, any animals really. I dated, married, divorced and dated again, and have successfully managed to avoid children throughout my life. But then something terrible happened: I fell in love with a man who has kids. Lots of kids. (Three is a lot.)
I found Ian online. I was searching for a Friday night date and he seemed funny, fit and quirky. From the photos, I couldn’t tell how attractive he was but he liked running, his music taste was good and, well, we were both free that weekend. He liked my cheekbones, was impressed that I run cross-country but fixated on my hatred of bananas, in case it revealed something Freudian. He chose one of my favourite restaurants and we met and fell in love.
No, dear reader, that is not how it happened at all.
Ian had got used to being economical with the truth when he met women. The less he said about his complicated personal life, the better his dates went and a succession of women made this easy for him by not firing questions across the table.
It turns out that I am not most women. I could see Ian try to deflect the conversation away from himself and I smelled trouble. I launched an interrogation that stopped just short of waterboarding and which forced him into lie after lie. I knew he was lying; he knew I knew he was lying. But he has gorgeous eyes and so we met again.The truth emerged over the next few turbulent weeks as I continued to press for information and pointed out the discrepancies in his story.
Eventually, little by little, he was forced to come clean: he still lived with his ex and their three children because their house had so far failed to sell.
Ian knew that if he mentioned any of this, his chances of another date with me would be slim. But, as each of these facts emerged, I blew into a frenzy, but somehow he managed to talk me round. It is safe to say that none of my friends wanted to meet him. Most still don’t.
We have been together for five months now. It doesn’t sound a lot, I know, but it feels right. It always did.
Even during the “revelations phase”, we somehow felt that we fitted and that gave us both a reason to keep on trying. Perhaps if the sex had been less good, I would have walked away. (Oh, come on, don’t judge – good sex is hard to come by.) It’s true that our first month was spent largely in the bedroom, but then we emerged and realised we had other things in common too.
As long as we didn’t mention the kids, we got on great. Yet at the back of my mind lurked an inconvenient truth: if we were to have a future together, I would have to learn to be around children.
I don’t have kids. My friends don’t have kids. My brother has a grown-up one in Germany and two babies in another country, whom I have never met. There are no children in my life at all and that, to me, is a good thing.
Babies make me nauseous. I don’t like the way they look, smell or sound. It’s not my fault. No one in my family – including my mum – likes babies. Puppies, on the other hand, are playful and adorable and can be easily forgiven for pooping on the carpet. There are no such redeeming features about babies. None.
One friend, many years ago, got pregnant accidentally. Before she moved away, she insisted on bringing the baby over to meet me. I faked my own death but she came anyway. I ignored the baby in her arms. The conversation went like this:
“How are you? What have you been up to?” (Stupid question.)
“Why don’t you hold her?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Do you want to hold the baby?”
“Go on. It won’t hurt.”
“I’ve never held a baby.”
“In that case, you must.”
And with that, baby was shoved into my arms and a photograph was quickly – and, I might add, without permission – taken. The image shows a baby whose expression confirms she has seen into my soul and found me seriously deficient. As for me, the fake smile and panicked eyes say it all. And I was still clinging on to a rabbit. That’s right, I hadn’t let go of my disabled rabbit, Stanley, who appears to find the whole clumsy scene adorably amusing. You see, I am utterly maternal – just not with my own species.
I don’t hate babies, but I really don’t like them. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t hurt one and would never want to see one harmed or neglected but I do not want to be around them. The closest Ian and I came to parting was the “final revelation”, forced out of him when I spotted a highchair in his house.
“How old is Betty?” I asked. He squirmed visibly.
“Not yet two.”
My bullshitometer went into hyperdrive. “How far off two?”
“Ten months off.”
Oh, crap. A baby.
I had fully expected to go to my grave saying, “Well, I tried holding a baby once, didn’t like it, didn’t do it again.” Then, out of the blue one Sunday morning, Ian suggested we take his two younger kids – the girls – out to feed the ducks. Together.
And so three hours later I climbed into his car, to find Emily and Betty already secured into their seats in the back. With some trepidation, I looked round. Betty was tiny, beautiful and singing away; not in real words but in deliciously sweet sounds. I looked across at Emily, who fixed me with an unwavering death stare.
“This is my friend, Kate,” said Ian.
“Nice to meet you,” I said for want of another phrase. At least I didn’t try to shake their tiny hands. Betty gurgled and crooned. Emily stared in silence.
At the duck pond, Ian took his elder daughter’s hand, leaving me to push Betty’s buggy. I clutched the handles with my clammy hands, took a deep breath and just pretended it was a shopping trolley. All I had to do was take it wide round the bends and not spill the contents. Simple.
At the cafe, I must have seemed like the world’s worst mother. I had no idea what the girls liked to eat, if they could use a straw or even whether Betty was capable of standing up unaided. While Ian took Emily to the toilet to clean her up after she had covered herself in chocolate cake, I was, once again, left holding the baby.
As Betty looked inquisitively at me, out of a place I didn’t even know existed came this thought: what if I grow to love this little girl, and Ian and I don’t make it? Already, that thought is unbearable.