Friday, September 29, 2006

Secret's Out

...and it's time for the gossipping to begin!

Last night my husband and I joined his family for the rehearsal dinner for his stepbrother's wedding. We had the unfortunate seating arrangement of being surrounded by (a) our nephews, who were tired, cranky and fidgety and (b) the notorious Aunt S (the one who cornered us on the boat at the reunion and spent half an hour on a rant about couples who get married and "waste" too much time having fun before doing what's important -- starting a family -- and how parents who only have one child are horribly selfish), complete with three glasses of wine before we even arrived. Luckily, Aunt S was next to my husband -- I had to help watch and discipline the middle nephew, who adores me but is nonetheless a giant PITA who doesn't listen and is in his mockery stage where he repeats everything anyone says. FUN! But again, I had the easy job.

Aunt S's daughter was getting visibly annoyed by the boys. While she's got a case of the baby rabies herself right now (she recently issued an ultimatum to her husband -- they either start trying in one year or it's divorce), she wants girls and only girls. A houseful of girls. Well, Aunt S taunted her and said "you're going to have all boys," which set her off. It wasn't a pretty scene.

She then asked A, "so when are you two going to start trying?" I was busy wrangling the two oldest nephews when I heard "…if we decide to have kids," followed by Aunt S's loud gasp. "If? DECIDE? What do you mean, IF?" Now, I'm all for being honest and opening up with the family about this, but S +4 (she's quick) glasses of wine is probably NOT the best test case to try this out on. She got very very flustered and only dropped it when her sister (A's stepmom) told her to stop making a scene. She was getting very defensive and A had tried to lighten it with comedy, but she was getting more and more defiant.

A prelude, perhaps? Who knows. S is a big lush and gets very boisterous and opinionated (her opinion = she is right) after the wine starts flowing. (I learned this the hard way at my first Christmas with the family.) I know this conversation with her isn't over (it never is), but maybe it will lead to finally coming out and dealing with the problems.

But at least it's out there. Although we *have* decided for certain, it's probably best to open the discussion with the notion that we're still making up our minds -- give them some time to get used to the idea before we come out and say "we're sure about this".

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's Only Fair

I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a professional women's magazine that was doing an article, so I thought, on childfree women in the workplace. Because the writer flaked out on me and didn't call for weeks, only finally reaching me near the end of her deadline when i was unavailable, I was not interviewed. After reading the article, which came out this month, I am SO happy I was not interviewed.

Had I been interviewed, I surely would have become the "bad guy" in an article about the "Opt-Out Revolution." The article ended up being about women who return to the workplace after having children, and I can see it now. I can see my quotes about how I've been made to take on extra work, to work extra hours while the people with "real" families went home, being taken in a horrifically negative context. I really want to write the journalist and ask her why she changed the focus of her article. I want to know what questions she'd have asked me if we were able to connect. I want to know what she'd have done with an anecdote about my boss treating my goings on as far less important than the activities of the parents in my creative team, volunteering me to stay late because everyone else had families to go to, and my plans were just with friends and my husband.

It makes me sad that the article took this turn, that perhaps her editors intervened and said "let's make this from a mother's point-of-view because more women can relate to that." Or maybe she's a mother herself, unable to handle talking to childfree women who have chosen to focus on their careers. I'd like to know, but I'm afraid to ask.

I've had this discussion with my parent friends, those who've "opted out" of professional careers. While I'm not in the camp that thinks mothers are "ruining everything" for childfree women, I have felt the discrimination. I've felt self-conscious about letting potential employers know that I'm a newlywed. My previous boss had spoken out and actually said ih he had his way he wouldn't have women who were planning weddings working for him because they spend all their time focusing on the wedding, then as soon as they're done they start having babies, stringing the company along during the maternity leave, then quitting entirely as soon as the baby is born. While this sounds like a heartless thing, it's often very true. It happened with several coworkers throughout my 18 months with the company. I found mysef wondering if I would hire a newlywed, or a new mother, as a business owner myself, because of all the missed work, the inflexible availability that a mother has, and I hate myself for thinking that I might discriminate, even if it were subconsciously.

I do have a problem with parent-friendly rules in the workplace when they don't make equal concessions for people with alternative families -- couples with friends who are family, in my case. Sure, allow flex-time, but allow it for everyone, not just because someone has a sick kid. If I have to take my cat to the vet, allow me the same rights. If my husband is sick and needs someone to help him at home, allow me to work from home if Annie with the sick baby can do the same.

And yet if I suggest things like this, people act as if it's unreasonable to expect these things. I don't appreciate being treated as less deserving than a parent, that my relationships are less valuable, that putting family before work doesn't count if it's managing my close personal relationships that do not involve kids.

All I want is equality, but I fear that if I were to interview for that magazine, or any of the others that might come my way as a result of this blog, that my message will be miscontrued. Do I think that women who choose to leave their careers to raise children are "ruining everything"? It's not a black & white thing, so it's hard to answer.

I once said to my sister-in-law who was quitting her job to raise her kids that I don't believe it's possible to have a full-time career, a happy marriage, and still raise well-adjusted kids. She fired off that it's because companies won't let mothers have the flexibility they need. And while that is true on some sense, it's also true that workplace flexibility needs to be approached not from a parents' rights position, but as a people's rights issue in order to maintain fairness.

Why is that such an inflamatory idea?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Saddest Thing I've Ever Read

Well, of course that's an exaggeration, but this morning I came across a statement that really affected me and I had to write about it.

I spent my morning being a MySpace voyeur, peeking into the lives of people I went to high school with, or maybe the friends of friends of friends. I came across the profile of a girl I went to high school with -- didn't know her, wasn't her friend, but because I was the yearbook copy editor, I know names, I know faces -- it was my job. So anyway, I recognized her.

Read a bit in her profile, and landed where the "Interests" tag is, where someone would put "I like reading, movies, drawing and animals" or something.

She wrote:
"I used to have a lot of interests. Now my only interests are my 2-year-old son and sleeping. I have no time for anything else."

It just made me really, really sad. I already lack the time to do all the things I want to do -- knit an afghan, make my own renaissance faire costumes, read books, actually complete my NaNoWriMo novel, learn to speak Polish and practice my Spanish, or even keep my own house clean. Another drain on my time would make me miserable.

I would mourn my "interests", my hobbies and passions, if I were her. I'm so glad I'm not.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Rules

A Mom friend recently posted a list in her journal about non-parent etiquette toward other people's kids after an unfortunate confrontation with her mother and little brother who recently moved down the street from them after living hours away, causing all sorts of boundary issues. What got me, though, was that while it was designed toward her parents, she said it was for non-parents. I found this interesting, but I can't tell her that.

So instead, I'm going to express my irritation in this journal by posting a list of my own:
i.e. "Things you cannot say to me if I can't tell you 'I don't know how you do it' without you getting bent out of shape and thinking I'm insulting you."
1. "You don't know what life is until you have children." Also, "life isn't worth living without children," and "children are the reason we're all here." You're not doing anything but insulting me, telling me my life is worthless. Do you know how it feels to be told your life is worthless? We are happy, we are happy with each other and in our lives.
2. "I didn't think I wanted kids either, until I had my own." I think I speak for much of the childfree community when I say that we believe that if you don't want kids, you have no business having them. It is irresponsible to risk that you might not like it once you have the children, and it's unfair to the children. Not ever woman can be a mom. Not every woman wants to be a mom. Deal with it. Oh, and ditto on "it's different when they're you're own kids."
3. "You're going against God's plan!" This one is up there with the "why did you get married in the first place" commentary. I won't even go into all the reasons this is inappropriate, whatever religion you subscribe to.
4. In a nutshell, comments like "you'll change your mind", "you'll regret it later", and "you don't know what you're missing" are also off-limits.

Ask me questions, be open-minded, open a dialogue with me. I want to talk about it with you, to help you understand my side of the story. But if you enter that conversation with the intention of changing my mind or convincing me that I'm making a horrible mistake, we'll never get anywhere. Understand that this is horribly disrespectful to me.

I promise to never try to convince you that having children was the wrong decision, that you made a huge mistake, or that one day you'll end up regretting your life and wishing you could go back in time and do it over without the kids.

Open a dialogue. Don't lecture. Don't judge.

That's all I ask.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Snuggle Time

This is sort of a personal post, but it's a big part of the decision my husband and I have made.

My husband and I are big snugglers. Every morning we set our alarm for half an hour before we need to get up to build snuggle time into our mornings. It's an important part of our day, ridiculous as it may sound. When we started out four years ago, everyone told us that this part of our relationship would pass, that we wouldn't always want to snuggle up on the sofa, that we'd tire of sleeping wrapped up in each other. But, if anything, we love it even more. It's who we are as a couple.

It didn't take long to see when we stayed at my best friend's house, to see that children make that incredibly difficult, if not impossible. We lay in bed that morning, and even though we had nothing to do with the kids, who were corralled upstairs and away from us, that peace would not come to us and it was time to get up. We had gone out the night before (Grandma babysat the boys), and we only slept for about four hours before the kids were running about, playing with the dog (named "Bob Barker" for a reason). Breakfast came late, after the kids were fed and cleaned up. We weren't even involved in the care of the kids; we were spectators. Yet our day was still dominated by the kids.

The entire weekend, even though we weren't the parents, we were never a couple. We'd snuggle up on the sofa and the oldest, T, would hop in between us. We love when he does that -- I think it's awesome that he's so fond of us even though he so rarely sees us. And we don't miss couple time when T is around. But it's a moment at a time, it's a day, it's not a lifetime. It's a day that we can leave behind us with hugs and an extended goodbye.

My husband and I sat in our car, leaving their house after that goodbye, in the silent car. The car is never silent; we always listen to the radio, a CD, the iPod, something. But whenever we leave a home with children, the first leg of the trip is always silent. It's something we find ourselves craving. We leave, thankful that the life of our friends, or our family, ruled by their children, is not our life.

If we lost our snuggle time watching TV, or if it instead involved a third party, we'd survive. Might even be nice once in awhile. If we didn't have dinner together, at the table, and instead had a kid to concentrate on instead of each other, a kid fighting for one of our attention, we'd manage. And if, instead of laying in bed together, lazily flopping from side to side, switching between snuggler and snugglee, we were instead deciding whose turn it was to tend to the children, it would be okay. I suppose. I say this with a heavy heart because with each potential "what if", I feel sadder and sadder, with an increasing sense of loss.

When people say that a child brings fulfillment, completes a marriage...I don't see that in our case. We fulfill each other. Anything that comes between us, even something that would be, I suppose literally, a little part of each of us, would hurt what we have. I cherish our time together. It's something that many of the couples we know lack, those with and without kids. But we're happy how we are. That's a pretty big thing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Do the Math

My husband and I have just begun watching Mogan Spurlock's (of "Supersize Me" fame) series 30 Days on DVD. Last night we watched the Minimum Wage episode, where he and his fiancée live on minimum wage for 30 days, and it made me very angry.

Not at the filmmaker — I think it was very important what he did. It opened my eyes to how great my life really is. We have money in savings, we eat what we want, we never have to wonder where our grocery money is coming from or anything. It's wonderful.

I'm not sure whom I'm mad at, to be honest. There was a point in the show where Morgan ran into a 22-year-old man with four children to support on $7 an hour. Why why WHY don't people think about the cost of having children before they actually do?! I look at our life and I wonder how we would ever manage to put anything at all in savings if we had children to raise, and we're comfortably in the middle class.

Glancing at my credit card statement -- my first one since my credit limit was raised and the first with a significant balance on it thanks to a series of plane tickets for two vacations -- I was horrified to see a $40 interest charge for a single month. No WONDER families are in so much debt! If they don't have the money to buy things, they put it all on credit cards. My minimum payment was $10 less than the interest payment. It was horrific to see -- so horrific that I borrowed from my savings account to pay it off. It's such a conspiracy, really.

But I think about all the families that rely on credit cards and end up in $20, $30, $50,000 of credit card debt alone, and it makes me so angry. Does ANYONE do the math?

It all seems so simple. Children are expensive. They need food, clothing, entertainment, etc., all separate from the adults. And let's not even go there when it comes to childcare. There's a mindset that "if you wait 'til you can afford it, then it will NEVER happen!" "If you get pregnant, then it's meant to be. God won't put more on you than you can handle." BULL. SHIT.

I see people constantly with more than they can handle. The only reason they're handling it at all is because the rest of us who pay our taxes and work for a living are handling it for them. I have accepted that when we buy a house, we'll be paying for services like schools and health care for children we don't have. But that people are having 4, 6, 8 children without having the means to afford it, it just makes me sick.

Why does critical thinking go out the window when it comes to pregnancy and babies? Why oh why do people make excuses and call each one a gift from God, even though some parents have children living in squalor, going hungry, just because it was "God's Plan."

It's bullshit and nothing but people using God to make excuses for their selfish behavior. If you can't afford to care for a child, then you have no business having one. PERIOD.

Does that change the reality that children will be born to unfit, unprepared parents? Of course not. But until every child can be cared for and cared for well, I will continue to believe that there are already far too many children for this little planet to handle, and it would be wholly irresponsible for me to add to that burden.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Growing Old Together

It's often asked of childfree couples what we might do when we're older. What about grandchildren? Won't we be lonely? Who will care for us?

Set aside the fact that having children is absolutely no guarantee of future care. My friend's father (rest his soul) was abandoned by all his children but her and her husband, who took him in when he was too ill, and provided him home hospice care when their family, with meager means, could not afford a dignified nursing home. She and her husband lived in misery for her father, sacrificing much of their first year of marriage, caring for him. They wanted to do this, but the lack of caring from her other siblings was constant and palpable. Her father was miserable and knew that only his eldest daughter gave a damn about what happened to him when he became incapacitated.

Many aren't even fortunate enough to have one of their many children care for them.

My husband and I, on the other hand, will have a long-term care plan to guarantee us care when there's no one else to do that. The money we save by not having children will go to our retirement and future healthcare arrangements. We will have this luxury.

Aside from care, there was the question of loneliness. This was answered for us at Dragon*Con, a science fiction convention in Atlanta that we were fortunate enough to attend this past weekend. Throughout the *Con, we saw this adorable little costumed couple -- at least in their 60s, sometimes in full Jedi regalia, other times as elaborate wizards -- having a blast. Their love for each other could be felt a mile away and they were so clearly having a blast, talking to other *Con-goers, smiling with each other, posing gleefully for photos. My husband and I mused that we would be that couple in 30 years.

The best part? A dear friend, upon seeing the couple for the first time near the end of the *Con, turned to me and said "that is SO going to be you and A in 30 years".

I don't believe children keep one young. I believe the responsibility for that lies i oneself. In many, I daresay most cases, children make one exhausted, bitter, grumpy and haggard. They turn loving couples against each other, unable to appreciate each other after years of putting the children ahead of their relationships. It makes me sad.

I wish I'd approached the little wizard couple at Dragon*Con. My instinct was that they were childfree, but who knows. In my fantasy, they are, kept young because they never decided to grow up. That's the beauty of remaining childfree -- you never have to grow up. You pay your bills, manage your investments, buy your houses and cars, but there's also no reason you can't have ice cream for breakfast, stay in Saturday morning and watch cartoons while snuggling on the sofa, decide on a whim to go on a roadtrip, or maybe just to the mall.

Sure, you can do this with kids if you put your mind to it. It's just not as fun because whenever you're with kids, you still have to be The Grown-Up. I never want to be in a situation where I have to be The Grown-Up for more than a day or so at a time.