Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Best Friends and Deception

The guilt is starting to become overwhelming. I’m speaking of the guilt about keeping this blog a secret from my best friend, especially since she and her family are mentioned anonymously on occasion. However, as this blog seems to be gaining more readers every day (for which I’m very touched), it’s inevitable that she or someone who knows us will stumble upon it.

She and I have had many disagreements on this issue before, over perceived or actual misunderstanding, but we have both come a long way. She’s struggled to understand the things she says that make me feel small or like she doesn’t understand or support me, and I’ve given her a lot more credit than I have in the past. She comes to me for the brutal truth about potentially touchy comments to childfree friends and asks me to honestly point out anything she says that may come across as condescending or unsupportive. We’ve come to an understanding, but I still don’t feel I can share this blog with her.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, although I leave her anonymous I don’t exactly have a common name. Anyone who knows me will put 2+2 together easily and know both who I am an who she is. I am terrified that she will think she’s the reason I don’t want children (a concern she’s voiced in the past, of being afraid that any negative thing she might say about the parenting experience might convince a fence-sitter not to have children). And in this context, she might justifiably take these writings as a breach of confidence. There are still things she says – the occasional blanket statement about the childfree, the loaded (though unintentionally so) statement of how much richer, fuller, more fulfilling her life is now that she’s a mom – that still get under my skin. We’ve talked about it a bit, but I prefer this topic to be the elephant in the room than the catalyst for an argument. I have said it before: We have a fundamental difference in how we think and perceive the world around us, and that’s okay. If something bothers me enough to make it worth talking about, I’ll bring it to her. Overall I know much of it is me being overly sensitive so I prefer not to take issue with every single thing that might bug me but soon will pass.

I’m also concerned that she’ll think I don’t trust her. I’m still trying to figure this one out, quite frankly, because while I do trust her she is highly sensitive like me. I don’t want her to interpret this blog or the secrecy surrounding it as some sort of statement against her. I do trust her, but I also know that I say things in here that will hurt her feelings. There are older posts from a time when we didn’t understand each other as well as we do now that I worry will reopen wounds. I fear she’ll take things personally, because I realize I *do* have a double-standard for moms I know and care about, just as I have a double-standard for babies and kids I care about. And, lastly, I worry that she will see herself in some of my rants (whether real or perceived) and I will lose her because of it.

I don’t know what to do. I’ve been approached to write and be interviewed in articles for magazines that my friends surely read. I had an editorial for what I thought was an unknown magazine spotted by a friend. I want to take this blog to the next level, but I’m afraid. I don’t want to edit her out of my posts because she is an important window into parenting for me, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings either, and I know she’s going to find this site one of these days.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Working

Something broke my heart a little last night. My boss darted into my elevator at the end of the normal workday with me. Because this is so odd, him leaving at 5:30 when the rest of the office clears, I made a note of it. “Wow, leaving at a decent hour today! Good for you!” I said to him. He looked at me with a half smile, then said in a defeated, deflated voice, “yeah, it’s my son’s birthday and I’ve got to be home early." He spoke as if his son’s birthday was this horrible inconvenience, keeping him from his work. This wasn’t the first time he spoke of his family like this. He came in late one day last week because his daughter fell ill at school and it was “his turn” to pick her up, and he grumped about the mess it had made his day all day long.

My last boss was like this as well. They both took vacation weeks not during the week their kids and schoolteacher wives were home on winter break, but the week before or after. They complained about family tasks, preferring to stay at work for all hours. I often thought that if one of the lobby sofas were a convertible that my old boss would choose to sleep at the office rather than at home with his wife. Both men hung drawings from and photos of their kids in a manner that smacked more of obligation than love. I was shocked to find out my current boss’s son turned 14 yesterday; the photo in his office is of a little-league playing boy of 9 years, tops.

And then I compare this to the problems a friend is having with her workaholic husband, distant and disinterested in the family, working 70-hour workweeks because he feels obligated. And, granted, he’s in the process of building his own business, but even when he IS at home he’s checked out and picks fights, never appreciating a thing his stay-at-home wife does, sometimes coming home so late he’ll go days without seeing his two young boys. He doesn’t spend time with his family; he does time with his family and it breaks my heart to see what she goes through.

And then there’s the flip-side to this. In my decade of professional experience, I’ve never had a superior who has put their family first. Family folk seem to come in two extremes: either work or family is viewed as a necessary evil. Those who appear to view family as an unfortunate obligation (usually men) make their way up the ranks while those who work to pay the bills and have little other motivation never seem to get ahead.

I will be the first person to label myself as a workaholic. I think my addictive tendencies inherited from my father manifested in my work instead of drink. But while I’ll be the first to volunteer to stay late when there’s a big deadline looming, I also strive to work as few hours as possible to get my work done. Since my career is a major factor in my decision to remain childfree, I often wonder what I would do in a similar situation to my current and former supervisors.

It's no secret that my husband wanted kids when we met, and during those conversations when I was inclined to consent, figuring by the time it came up in our lives I might be okay with it, I told him that if I had kids with him that he would be the primary caregiver. (Eventually, obviously, I came clean with him and told him how I really felt.) I've always known, since before the day almost 8 years ago when my mom said "you're more of a career girl, aren't you?", that if I didn't want to reevaluate my career goals a kid would make things incredibly difficult.

I knew before I had spent much time at all in the type of office where I'd spend my career, before I saw the coldness of the successful parents or the stunted careers of the good parents. Even aside from my lack of maternal desire, I've known that a career and a child wouldn't mix. As Oprah has said, she didn't feel that she could do both as well as she'd feel comfortable with. That sums up my thoughts pretty accurately.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Little Sister

It seems to be quite bizarre that my group of friends are entering our thirties without children. It's something that has made my life, up to this point, easier. I knew the tide was approaching, but I didn't expect the tides to change quite so rapidly.

While I still have a handful of childfree friends, they do seem to be dropping like flies. My childfree sista, the girl who gave me a word for what I was, the one who started a controvery with a mutual mom friend by joining a community that was labeled a "hate group"... she's dating a man with kids, something she swore she didn't want to ever do. But you can't help who you fall in love with, I guess. But that's not even that big a deal.

The bigger deal is Lori, who just announced her pregnancy. All of my other parent friends are people I've known only as adults. My best friend was a newlywed when we became friends. But Lori… I've known her since we were 5 years old, she's my not-my-sister, my lifelong friend. The fact that she's going to be a mom… It's just especially weird.

I am ecstatic for her, but there's something about this pregnancy that's affecting me more than most, making me feel more out of the loop than most.

It reminds me of high school… wanting to be popular, but having no desire to do the things that were required to be popular. Shallow, vapid, slutty… words that I used to describe the "cool" kids at school. I never wanted anyone to use those words to describe me, and yet there was something about the acceptance that I always wanted.

All of my other friends with kids — or friends who are trying to have kids — are people I've known only as adults. But Lori is different. She's like my sister. Knowing that she's going to have a baby is like a reality check that I really am growing up.

I'm okay with that. Relationships change when kids come into the picture, and I see the end of my relationship with Lori as I know it. Hanging out with Lori is drinking and dancing and getting crazy. It's an excuse to deal with Wrigleyville bullshit. It's high-end martinis, the expensive restaurants that her husband works at, it's partying but in a different way than my other friends party. It's watching her kick ass at roller derby and impress boys with her muscles, talking like a sailor, sharing Army stories and shooting the shit with her union buddies (she's an electrician).

And she's going to be an amazing mom. But this is necessarily going to change a big part of who she is. She plans to stay at home, and I anticipate Lori's rough edges that make her Lori softening. I miss her already, and she only announced that she was pregnant this afternoon.

And I see this world that she's approaching, the world other friends are in or dying to be in, and I wish there was a way to join the club without joining it. I think about Lori & Jer's baby and how I want to be a part of its life, but at the same time babies make me so uncomfortable. This child will be my niece, if not by blood, and it's taking me back to when my oldest niece C was born, my first husband and I looking at the child terrified, knowing that we loved her but saying my god, who would do this on purpose when no one could get her to stop crying or she threw up all over the backseat of the car and started choking and I had no idea what to do and I was screaming at my mom to pull over NOW because I can't handle this. It's things like this that force me to admit it: I don't like babies. I may love the child, but I don't like babies.

Why do I feel this horrific rush of guilt by saying that? I already feel inhuman enough when people at the office bring in new babies. The women hear the words "baby in the office" and they coo and giggle and rush off to wherever the baby might be for the chance to hold it, to smell it, to nuzzle and cuddle with it, and I can't get far enough away. I don't see a new baby, even my newest niece Josephine and say "gee, I want one of those." Family looks at me strange when I say I don't want to hold her. And while I loved touching my best friend's newborn's soft little head, as soon as he started crying all I could think is "get it away from me". And it's not the child's fault. I'm just not maternal, not wired that way.

I feel like accepting this as fact, that I'm just different, makes me a freak. I'm back in high school and I'm the freak in the flannel shirt and the heavy metal t-shirt and the combat boots beside the girls with their cute hair, expensive shoes and Guess? jeans. I'm the smart kid who finds high school boys annoying and immature, and the girls too for that matter. I'm the yearbook geek.

But I took some pride in that identity. In this identity, this childfree woman who doesn't like babies and is creeped out by the idea of touching your pregnant belly and feeling the alien baby kick… in this identity, when I'm surrounded by these thoughts as my little sister begins softening and becoming "Mommy"… I feel only shame. A fleeting moment, to be sure, but still...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bright Lights, Big City

It’s hard to say when I became enamored with the city. Was it as a child, on rare outings with my parents when we’d go shopping in Chicago? More likely it was in high school when having fun meant a 45-90 minute drive to either Milwaukee or Chicago and out out out of my hometown of Kenosha. 45 minutes past farmland (which has now largely turned into condos) and subdivisions; out of hell and into a place where I felt I could be myself. If it was your average night out, we’d go to Fuel Cafe; if we were skipping a day of classes, it was down to Belmont & Clark in Chicago. Surrounded by punks and hipsters, goths and art freaks… that was where I fit in. Even though I’m not any of these things (I flirt with them all on any given day), I felt welcomed, no longer too lame to hang with the “cool” kids in school, who I cared little about anyway. It was nice.

But the bright lights big city, I’m not sure where that love affair began. I’ve always loved the architecture, the sounds, all of it. Now that I work in a high-profile high-rise downtown, a part of me feels like I’ve arrived. I live only minutes away by train, close enough to see the Sears Tower down the train track straightaway on a good day, far enough away from the city’s heart to pay a reasonable rent and acceptable parking fees. This is where I want to be.

When we mentioned to my in-laws that we wanted to buy a house in our little neighborhood (I just can’t call it a suburb), they extolled the virtues of the schools, then wondered why we wouldn’t want a bigger house in a “nicer” (read: newer) neighborhood where the schools were even better. We just left it as “we like it here”.

It’s a very real thing to us, though. At our current income level, we simply can’t afford anything in our area yet, where the home values put a $350,000 sticker on a crappy 2-bedroom ranch. Sure, we could afford it, technically, but then say goodbye to our retirement savings, our lifestyle as we know it as we scrimp and scrounge. We refuse to buy a condo just to say we own property (especially when condo values are stagnant), so we’re stuck.

Unless we move to the ‘burbs.

I’ve never been one to dream of the white picket fence, the 2.4 children scampering around the neatly groomed backyard with a golden retriever puppy. My dream has been the city house, perhaps a smaller yard, but a yard nonetheless. No neighborhood covenants for me, nosiree; if I want to paint the trim on my house plum purple, I will. Want to restore that old Victorian to playhouse colors? It’s my prerogative, it’s my property! Of course I wouldn’t have a house that looked ridiculous, but knowing that I *could*… it’s part of the charm. But the most important part of my dream house? Proximity. Location location location, but not in the way our families think about it.

We could buy a good-sized, cookie-cutter house an hour outside the city for a price easily within our budget. We could take the advice of our families and set up roots near the good schools filled with perfectly coiffed and pressed all-American white kids instead of the dirty Polish immigrants and the Mexicans. To us, this sounds like living in hell, yet it is probably where we’d end up if we chose to raise a family. The fact is, the schools *are* better in the ‘burbs, and if we had kids, that would have to be a major consideration. Additionally, with kids to raise the cost of city living would become even more cost-prohibitive (the great irony – much of the most expensive housing is in some of the worst school districts in the state).

Location, location, location means city living. Minutes away from any ethnic restaurant we can imagine, a cheap cab ride to the arts centres or shopping districts, and a short train ride into work. It’s one of our favorite freedoms in our childfree life. We don’t have to seek out the sterile neighborhoods of Naperville and Wheeling. The Polish deli, the Mexican grocery, the Indian-Pakistani buffet… all of these things are at home in our ideal neighborhood. We’re hoping housing prices start going down soon so we can lay down more permanent roots here, in a neighborhood with a crappy school district (that we will gleefully help along with our tax dollars, even though we will send no child to school there) and a hell of a lot of character.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

When even a dog is too much…

My husband and I were confronted with the prospect of getting a dog this weekend. On the way home from our New Years Eve party, our designated driver nearly hit an adorable pekingese puppy. He collected the dog, who approached him immediately and was quick to snuggle, and brought him into the car. Like most pekingese, he had silky, long fur that had clearly been recently groomed; the pads of his little feet were bloody, likely from walking on the concrete. We weren't okay with leaving the puppy on the street, and the cops would have taken him to a kill shelter (and, quite frankly, we didn't trust their follow-up skills). Figuring this was a puppy who snuck out the door at a NYE bash or simply got out some other way and would be missed quickly, our friend took the dog home after after my husband took one for the team and brought the puppy into the shower with him -- puppy was unfortunately covered in stink and feces in the back, a common problem with long-haired animals.

The next day, when we still had no word back from the police about anyone seeking a missing dog, we wondered what we'd do with the pup, whom we affectionately named Stinky Butt (because OH MY GOD). Stinky wasn't getting on so well with our friends' dog and couldn't be left alone, and they had an engagement they needed to attend. It fell on us to take care of Stinky.

We panicked. We looked at the house -- we can't have a rambunctious little dog in here. What about my art glass? Our nice furniture? Good gods, what if it PEES somewhere... or worse?! Nevermind that our landlord could potentially freak out. It was one thing having their dog visit -- Lily is mellow, quiet and, well, doesn't have stinky gas issues. Plus, her owners are always there with us. This was potentially us, mano a mano, with an adorable, stinky puppy.

"If we're watching the dog today," said my husband, "that's what we're doing this afternoon, period. Forget our plans." I knew he was right. We intially had plans to celebrate New Year's Day with some other friends, but that couldn't happen if we had to monitor Stinky Butt.

We searched for a no-kill shelter who would take the dog until we could find the owners. We prepared to put signs out. And then we got a call from the cops. Stinky's owner had called them. We were ECSTATIC. Stinky was suddenly no longer our problem. As an added bonus, as we walked to the car to go pick up the dog we saw a sad looking girl taping a flyer to the lamppost -- IT WAS STINKY BUTT! We gleefully told her we had her puppy and went to go collect him.

We fell in love with Stinky as soon as we picked him up. He ran excitedly behind our friend and Lily as she was about to take them out for a walk when we arrived. Stinky hopped into the carrier with little trouble and was just remarkably well-behaved. Our friend declared Stinky a diva who followed her around constantly, wimpering at the slightest hint of being ignored. Because of this, and because Stinky is incredibly cute and cuddly, my husband insisted that Stinky, who no longer appeared to be stinky, sit on his lap for the short drive home.

Stinky snuggled into my husband's lap and rested his soft little head in my hand as we drove. It was so sweet, and I found myself saying "maybe a dog wouldn't be so bad", although I knew that with our work and commuting schedule, gone from 8-6:30 on a good day, it wasn't something we could manage, especially with something as high-maintenance as a pekingese. But as the dog nuzzled into my hand, I felt a warmth that made me happy…

…and then Stinky reminded us why we dubbed him Stinky in the first place. Luckily it was just gas (my husband was wearing his "good pants" and got very, very panicked), but OH MY GOD again. The warm fuzzies immediately dissipated (unfortunately the odor lingered, even with the windows wide open on a brisk winter day) and I could not drive quickly enough. We left the windows rolled down as we took Stinky in to his owner's condo. The smell left the car by then, but we would later find out that it would take nearly two days, a goodly amount of Lysol Disinfectant and open common-hall windows to clear Stinky's stench from our common foyer, where we had the dog until we decided he must be bathed before getting into my friend's car the night before.

I laughed at how quickly our demeanors changed when Stinky went from being cute cuddly puppy to stenchmaster, and it reminded me how ill-equipped we are, temperament-wise, as a couple, to handle a child. "But you guys would make great parents!" people tell us, and all I can think of it the fights about handing off the stinky baby to one person or the other. I picture us playing monkey in the middle with a small child, me with my superhuman sense of smell causing me to gag at the slightest odor, him getting irritated with me because he's always the one who does it because smell and gross doesn't bother him as much. Hell, why do you think he ended up being the one to take Stinky into the shower the night before! I can just see it, and it's not a pretty sight.

A situation like that would make me fear for my marriage. We couldn't handle a stinky puppy for a 20-minute drive home. The idea of something running around and terrorizing our comfortable, adorable home was completely unacceptable to us both, and the thought of giving up an entire afternoon to care for a clingy, stinky diva of a puppy made us angry.

Thoughts like this bring up the question of whether we are selfish because we enjoy the conveniences of our life. I still maintain it's a difference in lifestyle; to say one is selfish is to imply the other is selfless, or at the very least NOT selfish. Many who have children do so because that's what they want for their lives. This is what we want for our lives. It is no different.

We prefer a life where godawful stench and clingy codependence play as small a role as possible. Is that really all that selfish?