Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Growing Tired of Disclaimers

It's been nearly a year since I first posted this and started my journal. By request, I'm posting it again. As I reread it, nothing has changed; if anything, I'm more secure in my decision, personally. The only thing that's changed is that I talk about it more… and have alienated folks because of it.

I need this to stop. The addition of the phrase "who knows, we could change our minds eventually" or "maybe in a few years we'll be ready" is beginning to make me sick. The more I say it, the more it nauseates me, because it's a lie.

We're not having children. We are comfortable with this decision. Please stop trying to convince me that I'll regret it.

This is not because:
We hate children. We don't. Yes, we have a low misbehaving tolerance, but we adore our nieces, nephews and the younglings of friends. It gives us great pride to be called Auntie and Uncle. I'm honored when people assume that, for example, my niece is my own child, because I know what a great kid she is. We love the kids in our lives. What we like even more is giving them back at the end of the hour/day/whathaveyou.

We fear losing our independence. I'd be lying if I said this was 100%, but we know that it's possible to live a fun, social life while raising kids. We have friends that do it. We know the birth of a child isn't the social death sentence that it was for our parents. The parents we know get a babysitter or have company at their house, raising their children with half a dozen honorary Aunts and Uncles. I think that's pretty special and helps create a rich environment for a child, filled with role models and, of course, enthusiastic babysitters.

My parents never had friends when my brother and I were growing up. The only time we'd have a babysitter was New Year's Eve, when my mom and dad would go out with their siblings. I know my mom loves me, my brother, and my 6-year-old niece, but she has openly told me she wishes she could hit the do-over button and find out what her life would be like without kids, without my dad. I do not take offense to this because I know it is an issue completely separate from her love for me.

We think we'd make terrible parents. On the contrary. We'd make fantastic parents. We'd read to our kids every night, and give them a life rich with social and educational experiences. We'd take them camping with us and teach them how to fish; we'd take them to historical and cultural places as well as DisneyWorld and the local playgroup. We'd learn all about disciplining our kids and sure, we'd maybe lose our tempers once in awhile, get irritated during the "why" stages, etc. but we could make it through it. We just have no desire to.

There are a thousand reasons that we are making this choice. I am leary to list these reasons, though, for fear of those with kids and the many who want kids accusing me of making generalizations. This is, after all, a public forum and I'm opening myself up to the criticism that I face constantly at work when I show disinterest in the baby stories of strangers (not the people I work closely with -- I like their stories), or when I don't want to hold the baby that's been brought in for show and tell. "SHE doesn't want kids," a co-worker will say in a tone that cannot possibly be conveyed in type but is much like an eight-year-old tattling on her classmate, opening the classmate up for immediate ridicule. The conversation inevitably shifts, usually to trying to talk me out of the decision by bringing up one of the three aforementioned points.

"It's the toughest job you'll ever love," Eddie, the man going through the nasty divorce tells me. This same man who readily admits that his marriage began going downhill upon the birth of their twins, bringing the grand total to three kids. He resents his wife for insisting on putting her career as an international flight attendant before the kids, putting him last in line for her attention and affection. After the twins were born, he tells me, she took more flights than ever and she'd be gone several days a week. It was as if, he says, she was running from their family. I don't think there are any "as ifs" about it.

"You have such nice things," said my fiancé's stepsister, Joy. "You'll have to get rid of it all when you have children." She told this to me without a hint of humor. "I can't have nice things anymore. I traded all that for my kids." Her kids are three holy hellion boys. No, I take that back. Her firstborn is actually a nice kid. It's his little brother -- the middle one -- who's the troublemaker. He gets his attention the hard way -- he breaks things, or he just screams. The third and youngest child seems to be following, of course, in the middle boy's evil little footsteps.

Is this a parenting issue? Of course it is. But when I saw Joy in this rare moment without her children, speaking openly about how exhausted she always was, how tired she was of yelling all the time, how impossible these boys are to control and how this wasn't what she signed up for when she became a mother, I feel sorry for her. When she says "I never looked past that little baby, and how beautiful having that little baby would be. I never thought it would be this much work," she's not talking me out of having children, but she is reinforcing one of the big reasons why I've made this decision: I already have a job. I love what I do. I want to keep doing it. Joy is miserable since she quit her catering career to be a stay-at-home mom because financially it was more expensive, with three children, for her to work than to stay home. Some people are wired to be stay-at-home moms and I respect and envy their temperament. Joy is not one of these women. Neither am I. But at least I know that now before jumping into having kids.

"You guys have so much fun together," says Mike, my coworker who has two children, one of whom has severe ADHD. "That's because you don't have children." He whines about how we see all the good movies yet he, a huge sci-fi buff, only this weekend finally saw Revenge of the Sith. "You two so need to have children," he says enthusiastically. "You'd be the coolest parents ever." He says this immediately after a story about how his hyperactive daughter's overcommitted schedule eliminates all time for fun in their household. This past weekend, Madeleine's ice skating instructor is on vacation, which left him a rare moment to catch the film. Usually he'll come in on Monday, exhausted, talking of the two birthday parties, flute lessons and four hours of ice-skating preliminaries that he did in one weekend. "That sounds great," I'll tell him. "We're going to have kids right now." I do this because he's the worst of them, the ones who insist I'll be the best mom ever. It used to be cute, a funny game between us and I usually don't mind that particular tactic. I'm usually flattered by it. His tone has changed, though, putting a little too much emphasis on "accidents happen!" and "you two are doing the world a disservice by not breeding" (his actual words), and so too must mine. Listen to me very carefully, Michael. THAT IS NOT WHAT WE WANT.

"I want my life back," my friend Lisa has said a number of times. She was much like me two years or so ago, upwardly mobile in her career with a clear vision of her future that didn't involve children. She was in the middle of planning her wedding when she found out she was pregnant. They moved up the wedding date so she wouldn't be showing too much on her wedding day, and eventually came a gorgeous little girl. First she was forced to give up a sales position that involved quite a bit of traveling for a local one -- one she didn't want. Determined not to let motherhood get in the way of her career, she enrolled 2-month-old Kelsey in daycare. "It's a no-win situation," she tells me. "Either I stay home and become miserable because I'm not working, or I put her in day care and I'm home all the time because she's sick." Her daughter spent the winter in a constant state of illness, going back to daycare for a day only to come home two later with another cold. She and her new husband had to cancel their delayed honeymoon because they used all their vacation time over the winter staying home for a sick little girl whom daycare wouldn't allow through the door. Lisa and her husband got sick too, a result of the lack of sleep caused by a sick, collicky baby. "I love Kelsey, I really do," she'll say. All she ever wanted was to meet the man of her dreams and marry him. "I just want to enjoy my life now, and enjoy my husband. I feel like a terrible mom and a worse wife." I don't doubt that she loves her daughter. She lights up when she talks about her, about her milestones, and when she shares her latest pictures. But Lisa might be the only parent I know who discourages me, for the sake of, at the very least, my career, from having children.


I like when people tell me about their kids. I love stories about how cute they are, and I'm empathetic when the stories turn to how rough a job being a good parent is. I genuinely care about people, about their relationships and their children. It hurts my feelings when people assume we're childhaters and anti-family. When I first met my fiancé, he said he wanted four kids. Seeing how Joy's family has changed since our relationship began has been a huge motivator in changing his mind, especially hearing her talk so frankly about how hard it is, and how hard it's been on her relationship with her husband. Of course there may be three happy marriages for every one that's changed for the worse with the addition of children. Of course many of you are thrilled about the idea of starting your families or enjoying your children you already have. WE BOTH KNOW THIS.

I would love to discuss this with people. Tell me how much you love your families, tell me how happy you are and how your life has changed since you've had children -- I want to hear it. But tell me because you want to share your joy, not because you want to convince me I'm making a grave mistake. And please, for god's sake, don't ask me what I'm going to do when I'm 45 and childless and wishing I'd had kids. (this is what brought on this post). I have strong feeling I'll have no regrets.

Now I just need to practice declaring my upcoming marriage a childfree one to parents-in-law convinced that we must carry on the family name. And I need to learn to deal with the tears, and with hearing the same things I always hear: "It's the toughest job you'll ever love." Thanks, but, as a good friend is fond of saying, if I want a tough job to love, I'll join the Peace Corps.


There's a common misconception, I think, about childfree folk that it's a matter of greed. We want the big house, the big vacations and the luxury car. Speaking at least for us, that is only a small bit of the puzzle.

Of course children are expensive. I can't imagine how expensive my niece is. It's $1000 per month just to put her in private school the only option, really, because her public school friends are so far behind her. Nevermind the schools have gone WAY downhill since my brother and I were in school there. Then there's birthday presents for friends -- about $100 a month, as she goes to at least two parties per month. Clothes, special kid's food, toys, games, etc... children are expensive. Would we be able to live on one less paycheck per month, on 25% less money? Of course... if we had a smaller apartment, fewer luxuries, put less money in savings, and i'm sure we would be carrying balances on our credit cards. Of course money is a concern, but money is something we would figure out.

If we're greedy about anything, it's time. I learned while watching her that my morning started an hour before I was used to and immediately turned into work. Even at seven, she needs to be told what to do and when, in sequence. Take her to school, then it's off to work. As soon as work is done, I'd pick her up, then if her friends were not available, she'd look to me to entertain her; otherwise, I'd have to keep tabs on her anyway. That's 'til dinner. I made two dinners -- one for her, the picky eater, one for me. Then it's bathtime, booktime, bedtime, *poof* it's 9pm. At that point, if I want to keep the house clean, I'm tidying up and doing dishes 'til 10pm. Since I'm getting up at 6 with her now, I have to go to bed if I want 8 hours of sleep, but we all know that's not happening.

Now, granted, I didn't have my husband to help out, which I know he would, but where is the *us* time in that? Where is our time to be romantic, intimate, even just friendly grown-ups? Time to have a conversation by ourselves? And that was with a seven-year-old. Nevermind how it is with an infant, or a toddler, or later when she's a dramatic pre-teen, or a teenager? What happens to our marriage? Where does it go?

I understand that many people view children as a step in the evolution of a marriage, but based on what I've seen it do to my friends and family, I ask "why does it have to go there?" I see moms resenting the dads for not being around, dads working "too many hours" and not spending enough time for the family, arguments over who does more than the other. I see parents who are completely unable to talk about anything but their children, even when the kids aren't around, when they're with grown-ups, people completely unable to relate to the childless people in their company. I see sleepy, exhausted people who complain that they haven't had sex in months, haven't gone on a date or seen a grown-up movie. I see people whose vacation days are used up on sick children or sick nannies, who are depressed that all their vacations are to see far-flung family. The couples I know with children don't get to be husband and wife anymore. They're not friends, they're not lovers. They're parents, partners is a job that will last 18 years.

To that, I say "no thank you."

Oh, we could hire nannies, babysitters, but I don't want to be one of those parents who never ever spends time with their children. I don't want to be a parent at all.

I refuse to believe that my relationship with my husband will stagnate without children. I see A's Aunt & Uncle, both childfree after infertility, and they have the happiest marriage I have ever seen, after 30 years. They love their life, they travel, and yes, they do have the money for things like a vacation home and trips to Europe and luxury items… but their wealth is not why I envy them. It's their happiness, their freedom, and the fact that they are still in love.

I know couples who haven't been married a decade who aren't in love. They're unhappy, and staying together "for the kids", or they just don't talk about it at all. I don't know a single couple whose marriage has not suffered since the addition of children. Does it make them stronger? I don't know.

What I know is this: I don't want to wait 18, 20 years, 'til the kids are "finally out of the house", to experience the joy that I see A's Aunt & Uncle experiencing during their retirement years. I want to have 30 years of that happiness, that love, that intimacy. A lifetime of it.

Call that greedy. Call that selfish.
It's my life.
Don't you forget,.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I've never really wanted children.

That does not mean I haven't thought of names for kids, like any woman might. I think Aubriel (Auby) is a pretty name for a girl, Gabriel for a boy. But I don't want children.

That does not mean I haven't imagined that if A and I had a child, what color would his eyes be, if he would be tall like A or short like me, or fall somewhere in between. But I don't want children.

I'm not sure anyone believes me that I've never wanted children. Wondering "what if" is not the same thing as having the desire to change my lifestyle in the way a child would. I have never had the longing that most women seem to have; any "what ifs" have been tempered by a strong realization of what having that child would mean.
To me, living with children is completely undesirable and always has been.

Today I read someone's intriguing point… no one EVER questions a couple who chooses to have kids if they thought long and hard about it, at least not if they're in a position like A and I are -- financially stable, emotionally stable. No one asks a pregnant woman "what if you regret the decision?" When a woman says she wants to have children, no one explores the emotions behind that decision, yet I have to justify everything.

I'm tired of explaining myself.

I'm tired of trudging out every major and minor life event that I've changed my mind on. So I got divorced the first time -- it was a bad marriage, and even THEN we didn't want children. So I went through a phase during my post-divorce single years where I was coming to terms with possibly never getting married. That didn't mean I *never* wanted to get married again. I wanted to marry A VERY early into our relationship.

What's that you said? A wanted children at one time? Well, gee, I've never talked to my husband about that!

We've talked exhaustively about his motivations to change his mind, from seeing friends and family change after having kids, to the admission that he never realized before me that it could be a CHOICE. Love + Marriage = Children in his very religious upbringing. His motivations are sound -- I made sure before I agreed to even get engaged because I didn't want him to be motivated by getting back at his dad, or if he was just saying it to make me happy...

There are people who will never be comfortable with this decision. The problem is, these are people that I love. I just wish there was something I could do, that there was a way I could say "we're not having kids" and have that be the end of it. I know this is not going to be the case. I just need to vent.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

…or You Could Choose to Have a Career

I've had a great deal on my mind since returning my niece to my brother (who is now entering his fourth migraine-free week, which is unbelievable). Things have been said to me, and there's a purple elephant breathing heavily into the phone every time my best friend and I talk on the phone, but of course we're ignoring it as well as we can. We need to talk about it, we need to talk about A's vasectomy, but neither of us can bring ourselves to start the debate, and I'm tired.

So today I will talk about my in-laws.

We went to lunch last weekend with my in-laws. It was my husband's step-mom's 60th birthday and it was great family-political capital to make the long drive out to Galena, IL to join them. We enjoyed browsing the shops, walked into the glass shop that the family in front of us skipped because little Timmy might break something, and had a lovely time.

When we met with the family for dinner, the three hellions were already at it. Bulky toys that had no business being at the dinner table were flying all over the place, the children fighting over whose turn it was to play with the yellow Power Ranger, and it was loud, so loud. There was a lot of baby talk due to M's very pregnant belly -- she's due any day now, and I sat silent for much of it, as the other sisters talked childbirth and bringing home baby.

After some talk about labor pain being hereditary, I guess I made a face or something, because M asked "are you worried about the pain?" "It's not that bad," said J with a smile. I laughed uncomfortably. J's husband then alluded to A's kids and mine, afterward saying "unless you choose to have careers instead," which I thought was funny. I think her husband has had me/us figured out for awhile -- maybe I leave the room too quickly when his boys are being irritating and loud, or maybe I just never talk about it and that's what did it. However, he's the only one.

I was intrigued, though, that someone recognized my main concern. I want a career -- I cannot do a career well AND raise a child well. It's not possible. After Ron's comment, A immediately launched into telling him about our business plans and made no commentary about babies. But that wasn't enough.

"When these guys have kids" became somewhat of a theme. "Until these guys have kids," we'll never appreciate how wonderful our mothers were. "Until these guys have kids," we won't understand what sacrifice means. "Until these guys have kids..." ad nauseum. To which we replied, "....."

After M's shower, I remarked that J would either get the hint or start pushing harder. Ladies and gentlemen, the pushing has begun. And I can't take much more.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

And She's a Good One!

I propose that Band-Aids be no longer made ouchless or with cute cartoon characters on them. I have given my niece at least a dozen band-aids for non-existent ouches and injuries. I hated band-aids as a child because they hurt when you removed them -- A LOT. Today's band-aids fall off by themselves -- it's ridiculous. So when she just asked me (as an excuse for being out of bed after bedtime) for a band-aid, I was half-tempted to give her a grown-up band-aid, designed to stick until removal, and then they take a chunk of your arm hair and a layer of skin with them. But I didn't, because I am kind, and although I was annoyed and at my wits end after a long day, I love her and would never intentionally cause her pain, I dug around for a crappy Star Wars band-aid that will likely fall off before the end of the night.

Yes we have Star Wars band-aids. Shut up.

It has been an incredibly long day. On the way home on the El from the city this afternoon, I asked A why it felt like Sunday -- because, seriously, this day feels like it has been two.

Like any day I've spent with kids, it started out fine. She's a picky eater, but she ate a Kashi granola bar and was fine with the pancakes we made for breakfast. She was initially annoyed that I couldn't play with her and had to clean the house, but after she kept bothering me I turned it into a game and let her help, which worked out really well. She's actually a very good helper.

Lunch went well, and then it was off to the city to the Hershey Store, her destination of choice. It was, in a word, anticlimactic, but we made it fun. She bought presents for grandma and daddy, and we bought her a sweatshirt because she didn't bring the warm clothes I asked her to bring (I should have double-checked, my bad). She got grumpy, though, and didn't even want to go to American Girl Place because we wouldn't be buying her a doll, so we went immediately home. SOOOOO glad we didn't drive and pay for parking, because the initial plan was to stay and go out to dinner on Michigan Ave.

When we're in the house, she does not stop talking, and I've noticed she's very resistant to getting things for herself. Maybe it's because she's here, but she doesn't understand that sometimes people just won't be able to help her do a task that she's perfectly capable of. I think it's because my mom babies her so much. She also interrupts conversations when she's not the center of attention and can't seem to handle that one bit. This drives Uncle A a little crazy, which is understandable. "Look what I can do!" "Wanna see something cool?" It's incessant and while adorable at first, the things she considers impressive, but near the end of the day it gets really hard to inject enthusiasm in your "wows" and "that's cools". She also tells a LOT of little white lies, and gets mad when I don't humor her like my mom does. She has to learn that even little white lies aren't funny or cute -- lying isn't right.

Overall, though, she is a really good kid, and I love her to pieces. We didn't have her special toothpaste here, but instead of crying, refusing to brush her teeth, or doing a half-ass job, she fought through the minty-ness and did a nice thorough brushing of her teeth. I told her I was proud of her because I was -- most kids wouldn't have been so brave, and she DID hate that toothpaste. She was great on the train, she didn't fight when we said to hold hands, and while she got defiant a couple of times about dressing warm enough and having to wear her jacket over her pretty new hoodie, she's not a tantrum sort of girl. We're lucky for that, even if she is super picky about her food, doesn't like having to get her own Kleenex or come back into the room to pick up her own clothes. And she's adorable -- really a gorgeous kid, and again, so well-behaved. I was proud to walk around with her with everyone around assuming she was my daughter.

But after a day with an easy kid, I'm still so thankful for a little grown-up time at the end of the day with the guarantees of no interruptions. From after dinner to the first bit after putting her to bed, A and I were frustrated, exhausted, and very testy, with her and eachother. She went off with a hug and an "I love you", but A and I needed some solo time (hence the entry), which makes me kind of sad. I don't like this depressurization period, but I know we need it. With work, the drive home, or the cooking dinner is depressurization. She's like having a job that doesn't end until she goes to bed. And now I want to watch television with too much sex and poor morals, I want to stop talking in my over-enthusiastic kid voice and maybe swear a little (A says "fuckin-A!"). I want to snuggle my husband and not be concerned that we're ignoring her. Just the two of us. In silence. Sweet silence.