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Dinner for Two
by Sandra Hurtes

It’s one of those great days when everything I do clicks. I’ve just put the finishing touches on an article, set up an interview for a job I really want, and found the perfect dress in the back of my closet for tonight’s blind date.

Sun streams into my living room and forms an umbrella of light over my plants. The day sparkles. I want for nothing, and I feel deeply in my bones that I will never have a regret for as long as I live. I turn off my computer, reward myself with a trip to the health club and take the steps up to it two at a time. Walking inside I bump into my friend Joan, who is on her way out, pushing her three-year-old Max in the stroller. Is it my imagination or is every woman here either pregnant or attending a mommy and me class?

“Sandy,” Max calls out as I look around for a soul mate, and he spreads his arms wide for a major hug. In his red corduroy overalls he’s sending out love vibrations as soft as silk and plants a wet kiss on my cheek. The contentment I felt only moments ago flashes before my eyes as I ask myself the question I continually believe I’ve put to rest. “Is it really okay with me to be forever the “aunt” and not the mom?”

Before Max was born, one of the things Joan and I had in common was that we were both entering our forties childless. Joan was newly married, wanted to be a mother and felt a sense of urgency about it. But her husband, already the father of two from a previous marriage, wasn’t sure he wanted to start another family. There she was -- married, her biological clock ticking loudly away, having to wait for someone else’s time clock to catch up to hers.

For me the scenario played out differently. Married and divorced in my twenties, I put motherhood on hold as I redefined my life as a single person. Even though I went through stages in which I longed for children, the pieces of my life were never again quite in place for that to happen. In my mid-thirties, when women of my generation were being told that we could have it all, I made myself a promise: if a man who wanted a family didn’t show up by the time I was forty, I would do whatever it took even if it meant being a single mom.

But when I turned forty I experienced a freedom that I hadn’t ever felt before. The “shoulds” that my family and society had placed on me -- marriage, family, career, material success -- were things I looked at from a new perspective. My entire life wasn’t ahead of me, and I wanted to enjoy it without worrying about fulfilling a requirement that wasn’t readily forthcoming.

Part of the difficulty has been that my feelings constantly change. In my early forties I was involved with a man who was already a father and had no interest in starting a new family. I enjoyed what that relationship had to offer without expectation of anything changing. Just when I believed that I had put the “baby” issue to rest, I met a man who I was very attracted to who wanted to have a child. As we began dating my maternal instincts came rushing to the forefront, but then he died suddenly. I was 44. The clock was no longer ticking. The alarm was ringing full blast.

At the same time, I became more focused on my career, and was enjoying the success that tending to my work brought me. As I slid into 45, the words “last chance,” blinked before me like neon lights, and I questioned almost daily if I’d be able to live happily without being a mother. Although I wasn’t sure, I took no steps to make that happen, and spent almost all of my time at the keyboard. I don’t know when I began to equate the writing of the book I’m working on with that of nurturing a child, but I’ve started to feel a mental “fertility” that comes without a clock attached to it. This could be my first “adult-sized” goal for which time isn’t running out.

Still, I often feel something tugging at me, as if something’s been left undone. What I think it is, is that I’ve identified myself for so long as not just a woman who would one day bear children, but also as a woman pursuing someone to make that happen with. Giving up the dream also means giving up the chase. As my life becomes just about living, I feel as if I’m getting a crack at 20 again, unburdened. But I also feel as if something so paramount to my being is missing, that I ask myself, “What am I not worrying about that I should be?” Without the panic and stress of trying to attain the elusive, I’m both grieving for what will never be and ever so grateful that the gig is up.

I finally let Max go, and carry his touch with me into my Broadway Jazz class. I kick up a storm in the front row, imagining myself starring in A Chorus Line -- the Ann Reinking role, of course. The music infuses and frees me, and I think again about the open road I’m traveling. My eyes well up, acknowledging that some of the things I once wanted for myself aren’t on it. But joy overtakes me as I recognize how things I never ever dared to want, are.

“Do you want children?” the man I’m out with on our blind date asks. “No way,” I say, surprised at the vehemence with which the words fall from my lips, enjoying the sound of them so much I want to swallow them up and hear them again. ‘No way,’ echoes so loud in my brain, I almost miss his words, “I don’t either.”

This is such a great day. Not because my date and I are in synch. I’m just so glad I went first. No hesitation, no wondering, Are you the one? Will you be the father of my child? He smiles. I smile back. The stakes are low, and I feel good. So good that I want to turn around and look for what’s missing. But I squelch the urge because I already know. There are no mommy and daddy shadows lurking. It’s just dinner for two.

This article first appeared in The Chicago Tribune July 1998

Sandra Hurtes' articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Forward, New Age, and numerous other publications. She teaches creative nonfiction at Hunter College in NYC.

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