“Cecilia and the Satellite” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

126. Song Nos. 1,715 and 1,716: “Cecilia and the Satellite,” Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
The Canyons EP, 2015; Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, 2014

I have known since I was a sophomore in high school that I am not supposed to have children, and I hate the knee-jerk misconceptions and unsolicited opinions that opting out of procreation still carries.

I could make this about that. Because it’s frustrating to have your self-awareness and understanding of your own incompatible-with-parenthood ways met with reactions like “That’s okay, you can still change your mind” or “But you’ll be missing out on so much!” and other delightfully tone-deaf negations of my life choices. Just like it’s frustrating to know that you’ve put more thought into not having kids than most people who have them do but everyone still responds like you’re the one who’s being rash and selfish.

But, honestly, it’s been a while since someone tried to make me feel bad about being childless by choice, either deliberately or by letting their own assumptions crowd out my explanations. Whether it’s because 36 is finally too old for a first to-term pregnancy in most people’s minds or because the pandemic has nicely squelched those uncomfortable bouts of small talk oooorrrrr because the state of the world has finally convinced everyone that maybe I do know what I’m doing, I find myself defending my (uh, and also my husband’s) decision to remain childfree about as often as I’m suffering those entitled assholes who think they get to tell women to smile (thanks, masks!) — which is to say, hardly ever these days. So I’m a lot less fired up about it than I used to be. Huzzah, silver linings of global health crises, yeah?

And a song as pure and good as “Cecelia and the Satellite” doesn’t deserve to be sullied by societal bitterness over a choice I’ve always been at peace with. I never once met a friend’s or peer’s pregnancy announcement with a bittersweet “That’s great for you but when’s my turn?” that so many other women have had to navigate, just as I’ve never been tortured by a steadily maddening countdown from a biological clock reaching its fevered peak. I always knew that my lifestyle and my wants and, honestly, my personality are all unfit for children, and after 18 years of seeing up-close exactly how much motherhood doesn’t always change someone for the better, I made peace early on with the fact that I would much rather regret not having kids than regret having them. (Also, I’m far more amendable to adopting a child who needs a loving home than bringing a whole new human into the world, which seems to be a perspective not everyone shares…? But that’s neither here nor there.) All my ire comes from people who think they get to comment on it instead of having a conversation about it instead.

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a parent. But I know what it’s like to love someone so much that it changes your life for the better, just as I know how it feels when someone is your heart outside your body or when you realize that there is literally nothing you wouldn’t do to protect a life that means the world to you. Andrew McMahon’s song about how his newborn daughter eclipses absolutely everything else in his life so far — especially paired with The Decemberist’s quiet prayer of a meditation for Colin Meloy’s baby on the way, the astoundingly gorgeous “12/17/12” that came out just months after McMahon’s musical musings about fatherhood — is infinitely relatable to anyone who’s crammed a lot into their lives but found the one thing that gives it all meaning and won’t let themselves dare take this blessing for granted.

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