“Do you ever regret having kids?” my daughter asks as she continues scrolling through Instagram posts on her phone. She’s sitting in the passenger seat as I drive to pick up a teammate to take them to practice. She has asked me this question countless times and I’ve always answered the same way, “No,” followed by one of my ridiculous reasons: I wouldn’t have a social life; I don’t like to eat alone; the dog needs someone around to fill his water bowl. She rolls her eyes and then I add, “Oh, and I love being a mom.”
I’m sure she asks it, not because she doubts it, but mostly to fill the air around her with positive, lighthearted words. Like when she asks me if I think she’s beautiful. Sometimes I answer with, “Yes, but I have to say that because I’m your mom.” We laugh silly, but it doesn’t keep her from asking it over and over.
This time when she launches the regret-having-kids question, I don’t reply immediately as I typically do. Now that she’s 14, maybe I have a different answer for her. She stops humming to the music on the radio. I glance at her and notice she has also turned her phone screen down in her lap. I look ahead at the traffic light a block ahead, wishing it to turn red and slow time.
“Yes,” I answer, braking at the yellow light. “Sometimes I do.” Out of the corner of my eye I see her tilt her head. I know that she knows there must be more I need to say. Certainly something funny to make her laugh. I wait for it too.
“Mom!” Her exclamation begs for an explanation. After all, mothers should not regret having kids; in the very least, they should not admit to it within earshot of their children. The light turns green and I move forward, with the car and in my thoughts. I look down the road and wonder what is around the next corner, what will spill from my mind. Even I do not know until I speak it.
“I do regret having kids,” my words are set free into the shared air of my small car. She takes a deep breath, inhaling my confession. I keep talking. “Actually, I think it’s more like I regret having kids that have me for a mother. Sometimes.”
Another red light grants us more time. I look back over at my truly beautiful daughter and I tell her she is extraordinary and that I’m glad she’s mine. I do not regret her existence. She grins, though her hazel eyes still hold questions.
“You kids are the best part of me,” I say, blinking back a tear or two and grabbing my sunglasses from the console. My happiest place in this whole world is sitting around a kitchen table with my four children. My second happiest place is being anywhere in the world with the means to communicate with all of them in the same day.
“We’ve had some rough times,” she replies to me in a mature awareness of the challenges we’ve faced through the years – cancer, divorce, long distance moves. “But you’ve always done the best you could.”
The driver behind us honks. I press on through the green light, driving and confessing. “No. I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve been too tired to do my best. Sometimes I’ve chosen to do just enough to get by. I regret those times.”
As I say those words, regrets over the years flash across my mind: Serving up Ramen for dinner two nights in a row even though I know it’s unhealthy – or maybe it was three nights. Not seeing my kids play in out-of-town sports competitions because I was afraid to ask for time off from work. Spending end-of-paycheck money on wine and M&Ms when the second youngest was begging for movie tickets; it’d been a tough week at work, so I guess I should’ve asked for a day off and gone to a movie with her instead.
“Mom, remember she lives down there.” My daughter’s voice jolts me back to the present.
I turn on the street where her teammate lives and slow the car down a few houses away. “Wow. I gave you a loaded answer. Are you ever going to ask me that question again?”
“Good,” I say smiling, at her. She smiles back, giving me the assurance that we can keep talking about the tough, and even silly, stuff. It’s a big part of what drives our relationship. And it is good.
Regrets and all.