I’m not exactly a young adult. I gave up being young a long time ago, and I’m not especially adult much of the time. So why am I writing Young Adult fiction? Good question. I assume most YA writers came to it by virtue of being fans of the genre. For me it was different. I began building on a number of different ideas I’ve had running around, combining them into something I found appealing. Once it started to take shape, I stepped back and realized it fit the parameters of the Young Adult genre. And it was then that I started to look more closely at what that genre is.
But I think it’s safe to say that my general lack of long-time immersion in the genre does make my decision unusual. Also distinctive is that I am writing for an audience that, in the end, I do not know personally. Yes, teaching college means by definition I deal with many young adults and post-teens. But I do not have children of my own. I chose not to, a decision I made many years ago.
I know I made the right decision to be what some people call “childfree.” People sometimes think I hate children. Not in the least. I love children. I just don’t want any of my own. Much of this came from seeing what becoming parents did to many of my friends. They changed, in some cases dramatically. They were more tired, more frazzled, and they never seemed to have time for rest or enjoyment of the things they had previously liked to do. I am happy not to have gone down that road.
That’s not to say that becoming parents was in all ways a bad thing for them, but while they changed, for better or for worse, it is fair to say that I didn’t change. They were moving on with their lives and, from their perspective, I wasn’t. Their concerns were about child-oriented things, and they related to their peers who had the same focus. And they seemed to feel they had less and less in common with me because I wasn’t on that page and was still focused on things they had put behind them. In other words, in their eyes, I had yet to grow up.
Granted, that was me just as much as them. I sadly watched one cherished friendship become irreparably damaged because of my own foolishness. My friend, upon expecting his first child, did the second stupidest thing in the history of the world: he came to me and told me he valued my objective opinion as he entered this unknown territory called raising children, and so he welcomed my input. And then I did the stupidest thing in history: I believed him. The first time I offered my opinion was also pretty much the last time, and it was the beginning of the end.
But I believe I had grounds for frustration as well. I understood that his children were the most important thing in his life, but they weren’t the most important thing in mine. We used to get together to play cards or go to nice restaurants, and that ended with children. I didn’t always want to eat at places where the menus could be turned into pirate hats, nor have a nice evening interrupted every five minutes with shouting at the kids to get ready for bed. But when I dared suggest that it would be nice once in a while to do something without the kids, he reacted as though I had punched him in the face. That was really the end. And I didn’t understand it.
He told me I had no idea what it was like to have children. Fair enough, but when I told him he had no idea what my perspective was, he laughed and told me that he knew what it was like to not have children, having once been there himself. I pointed out that was not entirely correct; he simply knew what it was like to not have children…yet. But my choice to never have children while everyone around me did was something he could never understand. It became clear to me, however, that the distinction was lost on him and ultimately it was something he had no interest in understanding.
I believe that was an extreme case, and other relationships with friends with children have been less strained. But that may be because I learned from my mistakes. I came to accept that we were going different ways, and to not try to hold onto something that was gone. But as the years have passed, I have gained a new perspective. My friends’ children have gotten older and I have seen the rewards of being parents. I know I made the right decision, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look back and say, “what if?” I don’t trust anyone who’s absolutely certain about how they resolved a tough decision. You can make the right choice, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have moments of doubt. And regret.
In recent years children have become very important to me. Is this my decision catching up with me? Hard to say. But I suspect part of my passion for what I am writing comes from the attachment I feel for the young characters I have created. Nick has turned out to be more autobiographical than I intended. I really feel for Tanya and her struggles. And from the first minute I wrote Robin, she crawled into my heart and latched on and will never let go. They are, I suppose, my children. I know that seems strange, but that’s where I am. We all make our choices on our own terms, and live with them. They are neither right nor wrong, they are simply who we are.