Monday, June 26, 2006

The Mall

My husband is a rare breed -- he loves the mall and likes going shopping, even if it's just window shopping. So maybe once a month or so, we go mall-walking, browsing the game stores, the clothing stores. We steer clear of department stores, but that's all besides the point.

This Sunday we sat in the middle of one of the mall crossroads at a coffeeshop, and we observed the families wandering about. None of the children around were being anything but kids -- no temper tantrums, just being kids, being THERE, all the time. I watched these kids all over the place and it just amazed me that there are women who look at the moms and covet their babies. But nowhere is it more fashionable to wear a child as an accessory than the mall.

Whether it was a fancy stroller or fashionable clothes, there's nowhere that children and moms are more put-together than at the mall. It's not like that at the grocery store, or even at Target, and it makes me wonder if the mall really does become a destination, a place to show off their beautiful trophies. Perhaps, if a woman will go and desire something from that world, maybe it's understandable that someone could look at that, the perfectly coiffed mom with her fashionable kids, and say "that's the life I want."

But I still don't understand.

Maybe because as a childfree person I allow myself to see past that veil of perfection. Other than the endless supply of Gap babies, there was one other pattern we noticed. 100% of the men who were there with families were visibly miserable. They carried the bags, they were the ones who had to say "no" to purchases, the carried the children who had worn themselves out by running around during what was intended to be a sitting break at the coffeeshop. After I noticed the pattern, I then tried to find a happy dad, and in this crowded mall full of families, the only happy men I saw had no children in tow. It was fascinating.

I tend to actively counter myself when I find myself focusing on the negative parts of families, so I start looking for the positives. And of course they're there. But overwhelmingly I see the things that the parents "didn't sign up for"... the touching of things that aren't supposed to be touched, the begging and pleading for the items they want want want, the uncomfortable apologies after someone wriggles away into oncoming mall traffic, causing a collision. I see the rift between mommy and daddy, who have forgotten why they decided to start a family. And I see the exhausted women trying in vain to control their kids, at their wits end and trapped.

I look at this and I wonder how people miss this. How do women look at this and say "I've always wanted to be a mom", or they look at this and want it so desperately? I truly do not understand their shock that "this wasn't what they thought it would be like" when things aren't always peachy. "What a parent is like" is all over the place. It's the hardest job in the world to raise kids at all, much less well-adjusted, well-behaved kids. Why can't these women who are living this life comprehend why someone might want to follow another path?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


My best friend and I had the much-needed conversation that's been put off for too long. Things were allowed to fester, and there are wounds that I'm unsure will be able to be healed. We both misunderstood each other, but while I thought when we spoke that things were resolved, the more I think about it now the more I think that our relationship has evolved past the point where we can be okay.

I lied to her about this journal, that's the main part, but that's only because... well, I'll give you an example. After a day of watching our niece, my husband and I were worn out from the day, listening to Radio Disney, taking her where she wanted to go, saying "no, that's ok, Uncle A and I really wanted to go to [X], but you want to leave, so we'll leave." We humored her with her video game, endured her constant "wanna see something cool"s. And, at the end of the day, we came to a conclusion: we like being grown-ups too much.

That phrase, "we like being grown-ups too much", left me trying to explain why of course she still likes to do grown-up things too, and yes, I know people go to clubs and whatever less when they're older, but I-- but I--

Yeah, fumbling for words to explain that what I said was not meant as an insult to Parents of the World(tm). This explaining of myself, justifying my feelings and trying to find a way to do so without someone taking offense... THIS is why I have my separate journal, where I can be me and talk about things without everyone thinking I'm attacking their lifestyle.

Yet comments like "childfree people like to think they know everything about parenting" are supposed to be accepted by me. Because clearly when we talk about bad parents we're talking about the normal child who has an occasional tantrum at the store, and the mom who's clearly trying to calm him down. I'm talking about HER children if I say that, not the parents who scold their child for crying with a smack on the back of the head, or threats of violence, or the kids who run amok without supervision. No, it's the normal kid having a normal tantrum that offends me.

I was concerned that I didn't give her enough credit when she started asking a lot of questions about A's (unscheduled, merely discussed) vasectomy, and I probably didn't. But the fact is, she doesn't like childfree people, or at least that label, "childfree", and while I have double-standards for parents and kids I know and love, she has double-standards for childfree folk and me.

The question is, is that really okay? On either side, I mean.

I don't know. I just find myself wondering if I'll ever stop feeling like I can't be myself around her. She asked me what prompted me to think that she didn't support me, and at first I wasn't sure. But I think now I know.

If she saw the things I post on this journal, as innocuous as they seem to me; if she read Childfree and Loving It!, the book that's really helping my confidence with this decision, she would be apalled to think that I agree with many of the viewpoints, that many parents are selfish martyrs that feel the simple act of reproduction should give them more rights than some poor sap who never had children. I wish she would read that book, because then she'd see how I really feel, the things I can't tell her I feel, and then she'd be able to see why I find such a disconnect between us.

I honestly believed when I got off the phone with her the other night that things were going to be okay. But I'm not sure they can be. At least not the way they were. I've known her for 7 years now, and we're both different people now. Her children have changed her, and that's not bad, it's just different. I've wanted to believe we could still be "best friends", but this isn't how best friends make each other feel. I'm guilty of changing as well, and I hate to think we fall into that category of friendships broken because one person is childfree and the other is a parent. I'm just tired of living what I feel is like a double-life -- my politically correct discussions with her, and the way I feel when I write here, when I live in *this* world.

There are many more issues than the kids, by the way, although those issues seem to be influenced by the kids as well. She wants me to be honest with her, maybe I should be. The problem is, I don't know what being honest is in this context. Because I don't really know how I feel or what the actual problem is, and there's definitely no way it can be fixed. I just think we've changed, and a lot of that comes since the birth of her second son.

I want it to be better.
I just wish I knew how to make it so, but sometimes something's so broke can't be fixed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


It amazes me how some folks who are so openminded about alternative lifestyles, accepting the lifestyles of gay and polyamorous friends (some in polyamorous relationships themselves!), even a friend's transgendered sibling... these people would never ever confront one of their friends and tell them they were making a mistake, that they would change their mind later or regret decisions they were making for their relationships. And they certainly don't speak to friends and family who decide to have children and suggest that this desire to have a child is just a phase, that maybe they'll regret this decision.

It's been a year since I realized there was a name for what we, my husband and I, are, for our lifestyle. I've had people say I can not want kids without taking the "childfree" label, I say that's missing the point. Our lifestyle seems to be at least as scrutinized as that of the poly friends mentioned earlier, and I can't explain the power that having a label for it really has had. It's like having a health condition or something, where you have these symptoms but no one knows what it is. It may just be a minor, harmless thing, but until you know what it is, you feel like something terrible is wrong with you. Putting a label to it made me realize that I'm not alone, that this is not such a freakish condition.

I've never thought about myself as someone who leads an "alternative lifestyle", but in the last couple months since I married, I've been trying so hard to find resources to help with the "coming out" to family, to deal with the friends who say they accept my position until I announce plans for A to have a vasectomy. I wonder if those who deal with other alternative lifestyles face similar feelings.

What feelings?

Primarily, the feeling that I am so solid in this decision, but it's the disapproval of others disguised as "concern" that makes me think too much. It doesn't make me doubt myself or my convictions; it's so hard to describe how it tears me up. I just want everyone to be happy, and I want these people who judge me to understand that this is a valid lifestyle, that I'm not running away from something, we're not doing it to get revenge at parents or to make a statement. This is who we are in our marriage.

I can see those who judge me reading Nicki DeFago's book Childfree and Loving It! and telling me it's just propaganda, even though these are the same people who read liberal political books and couldn't be persuaded to read, say Ann Coulter's work. They would say it's not balanced and miss the point that it's a book to support people who make this decision. This book that's changing my outlook on my situation, the book that's really driving the point home that my experience is a universal one, that the feelings I have are real and valid, and that I'm not a part of some obscure "movement"; I'm part of something real, something that 10% of married couples choose for themselves. And most of all, that there's nothing wrong with me that I don't have the insatiable urge to reproduce.

If I had the guts to confront the people who make me feel this way, this is what I would say.

Stop telling me how concerned you are about me, that you're worried I'm getting caught up in some "movement", as if I'm being brainwashed or something. It's insulting to my intelligence that you think I would make a decision this big just to fit in with any group. Stop bringing up everything I've ever changed my mind on. ACCEPT ME. Accept that my husband and I have talked about this, and accept that this is our life. You've been able to accept your gay friends, your poly friends, and I'm sure that happens without a lecture. You don't suspect your gay male friends have feelings for your husbands just because they are gay, why should you suspect that I hate your children because I don't want them for myself? Stop being suspicious about my love for your kids, and stop assuming that I'm overcompensating when all I want to do is love them.

And when you tell me that you accept my decision, please mean it. Don't make it conditional and don't change your mind when I suggest that we might be doing something permanent. We've already said that we'd adopt if we decide we want to raise children because we don't want to bring any more children into this world. There is no "permanency" to that, so comfort yourself by saying we might change our mind and adopt. Or better yet, accept that we can be different, that you are mothers and I am not, and that's okay. It's really okay.

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Childfree Day

My husband and I decided to celebrate World Childfree Day on Sunday with a visit to Wicker Park. It started out as an outing to downtown proper, but we revised it once we got onto the train. Wicker Park is a very hipster neighborhood, filled with countless little boutiques and shops. And while those shops all seem to conform to another standard that makes me angry (no one carries over a size 16, and few go over 10-12), the neighborhood also boasts a ton of mostly childfree-by-chance independent coffeeshops and restaurants. It's not that kids aren't welcome -- they're just not around.

It was intriguing how many times yesterday we looked at each other and said "Happy Childfree Day!" We said it with almost every child (very few) who crossed our path that day, dragged behind a frustrated parent while whining "I don't wanna shop anymore!"; declaring they didn't want to walk anymore by stopping completely, motivating her mother to just pick her up (this was no small child) and carry her to the car in the parking garage; the teenager who spent the entire train ride (where we were hoping to relax -- the ride to our stop is usually quiet since it's near the end of the route) yapping on her cell phone LOUDLY.

We were just so happy to say "we won't have to deal with that". We got to enjoy our day, go where we wanted, linger in the stores we wanted to linger in, avoid the ones we didn't. When we went with my niece into the city, she got tired of walking and bored very quickly. She was completely disinterested in going into a store if she knew we couldn't afford to buy something for her. We had planned to spend the whole afternoon in the city with the reward at the end of the day being dinner at Grand Lux Cafe, but she didn't want to stay anymore, so we ended up going home and eating at the China Buffet. Instead of the day being at all about what *we* wanted to do, there was no compromise (unless we wanted to deal with a public display of "don't wanna be here") -- it revolved around her because we wanted to avoid a scene. It made me understand a bit why some parents just let their kid make a scene, but those never end up well either, because then the focus turns, more often than not, to appeasing the child and rewarding the scene. The mother who picks up her stubborn child who just won't walk the one remaining block to the car, the dad who buys his son whatever he's crying about just to make him stop crying. There's just no way around it, really.

Who wants to be in that position anyway, deciding if it's best for the child to give them what they want or to deny them and "make them stronger". Either way you face public ridicule, and I know I would constantly obsess about what would screw up my child less, how each action would affect the child in the future. Who needs that kind of stress? We don't.

So yesterday we celebrated, and I think we did the pseudo-holiday justice. We ate at a kitchy restaurant with no kid's menu and loud punk music playing, browsed too long in noisy and crowded Reckless Records, bought some artisan soaps and cleansers and chatted with the owner and her father for awhile, and sat outside a cafe eating delicious vegan zucchini bread. It was a great day and it really did serve to remind us of all we have, all that our lifestyle affords us. That's pretty special.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I never wanted to be an astronaut.

I never wanted to be an astronaut.

Sure, when I was younger, every kid wanted to be an astronaut, to do something to sort of honor the victims of the Challenger explosion that we watched on our grade-school televisions. Every girl (including myself) wanted to be Lea Thompson from the movie Space Camp, the accidental hero... every boy went through a phase of wanting to be whomever the famous male astronaut was at the time (take your pick -- they were almost all men).

Oh, if I'd wanted to I could have become an astronaut. I had the brain for science, for sure, scoring above the 98th percentile on my ACTs. But here was the thing... I never really liked science that much. It drove my teachers mad, that I could pick up and do the work if I had to, but I didn't like coming to class, didn't care to spend my time learning that sort of thing. There were better things I wanted to do with my time.

Creative things. Social things. Science just didn't fit into the life I wanted for myself.

Then there was the time commitment. So many years of college devoted to this thing that I didn't really want in the first place, yet people pressured me in high school to go into something more challenging or intellectual because I was smart. Just because I'd be great at science doesn't mean I want to spend a lifetime doing it. I wanted to do something creative, so when I graduated from high school, it was dropped.

I want to be a journalist, I said initially, then a graphic designer. I eventually got my B.A. in both and no one ever questioned it.

When I tell women what I do for a living, they never ask why I'm a graphic designer, a writer, and not an astronaut. I would've been a damn fine astronaut, but that's not the life I wanted for myself.

So why, when I tell women I'm not a mother and have no intention of becoming one, is that so different? Because, in all honesty, the reasons for both why I did not become an astronaut and why I will not become a mother are strikingly similar.

They're both not "me".

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Prediction = Lobster Fondue

We are now aunts/uncles again!
A's stepbrother D and his wife M are now the proud parents of an as-yet-unnamed little girl. I so knew she was having a girl. After all she's been through (4 miscarriages and giving up on being able to have babies altogether), this baby truly is a blessing and I couldn't be more thrilled for her!!! Plus, they needed a girl in that family to balance Joy's three boys. I can't wait to hear what they name her!!

My father-in-law sounded like he had happy tears when he just called, but I couldn't talk because of my client call. I look forward to talking to him tonight and finding out all about this new little girl!!

So my lovely husband and I have a bet going… I bet that tonight will be the night that A's Dad just can't hold in his joy and asks the big question… "So, when are YOU guys having kids!" -OR- he will declare that "now it's your turn!!"

If his dad does this, I get dinner at Red Lobster on Sunday. If he does NOT, A gets to choose the destination. It's a silly bet because it's not like we have different tastes in restaurants, it's just the principle of the thing.

I guarantee it, that his dad will be so overcome with emotion that he won't be able to help himself. Yay for games!!

We'll probably just go with the standard "kids aren't even on our roadmap right now" plan (it's not a lie, we're just omitting the "or ever"…) We don't want to dilute his joy right now. I've just long suspected that the birth of M's baby would take the subject off the "taboo" list (don't want to jinx anything because it's been such a difficult pregnancy for her). Now that little baby girl is here safe and sound, though, I think it will begin. As soon as the shower it had sort of started, but I think now it starts for real.

I hope I'm wrong. Of course it's natural to ask about it; I wouldn't expect them not to. I hope they just respect that it's our business and take what we say and accept it without the pressure that his elder stepsister's already started applying. They're a family of busybodies, though, and I doubt that will happen.