I hold the tiny baby in my arms, feeling how small and fragile he is. He is less than two weeks into life, and I swear, he is the most beautiful creature I’ve loved. He does not belong to me; it’s been several years since I concluded that childbirth and child rearing is not my jam.
Not that I don’t love children — I just don’t have that desire — and, frankly, I think I’d make a terrible mom. However, in recent months, children have kept me going when depression has struck the hardest.
Joseph, or Baby J as I prefer to think of him, is my cousin’s child, the first one in a future generation of cousins and second-cousins. He has a dark, receding hairline, glorious blue eyes, and a sweet, impish smile that steals my breath.
Baby J was born just four days before I left New York. He is my consolation in a time of regretting. Two years ago, I moved to New York City to spend the rest of my life in the metropolis — but “the rest of my life in the metropolis” only lasted two years. Who knew I’d give up, throw in the towel, run off the court in shame merely 24 months after arriving?
The regret punches me in the gut and twists, knives, stabs. It bleeds out of my stomach, infecting every organ. It consumes me. I sit on my bed and rock back and forth, moaning, regretting, mourning.
When I held Baby J for the first time, everything shuffled into place.
"It is okay that I left," I think to him, "because it gave me the chance to meet you. If I had to give up New York for the chance to be your Aunt Karis, well, that’s just the price I’ll pay."
Except shortly after meeting him, I boarded a plane to Italy to spend three months in my parents’ home. I miss him. My arms feel empty, bereft. When I come back, he will be four months old already; he is big and giggly, according to his mother’s Instagram account.
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In the intervening months, I meet James and Michael, five and three, and within minutes Michael has climbed up onto my lap to play a game. At the sight of me, James yells, “Karis!” and runs toward me, crashing into my knees with a hug. I think these little boys are cleaning my soul.
There were few children in my New York life. After working for a few months in a second-grade classroom, where each day I declared, “This is my favorite child,” and each day that changed, I didn’t meet another small one until I began to work at a Brooklyn café. The interactions were short, brief interludes in the midst of long days. Even so, I felt my spirit lifted after those exchanges.
For the most part, my days were filled with peers; fellow grad students or coworkers or church friends or roommates. There were no children. I didn’t realize how much my life was lacking in that respect until I began to meet them again.
I’m leaving Italy soon, and already my heart bleeds at the thought of saying good-bye to James and Michael. They are my light in dark days.
Is it wrong to hang onto life for someone else?
The sassy doctor at the hospital, who told me I must have Borderline Personality Disorder if I relied on others to help me, would probably say yes, that you can only stay alive for yourself.
For the kids, I see every reason to breathe. They love me. I don’t know why; I honestly can’t figure it out. But their love fills me with something good — something worth living for. It’s funny that someone who doesn’t want kids of her own would find children such a comfort. But they tether me to Earth. When I’m with them, it feels like everything makes sense again.
Staying alive for someone else maybe isn’t a permanent solution. But I don’t need permanent right now — I need a Band-Aid while we work on permanent.