Sunday, April 29, 2007

Changing the balance

Tonight's dinner was a very unique one. We met with my in-laws to celebrate my husband's grandma's 82nd birthday.

The first thing I noticed was the coldness with which my mother-in-law greeted me. She didn't even rise to give me a hug, even though I'm currently walking with a cane due to a serious knee injury two weeks ago. She didn't look me in the eye; she just seemed cold. I couldn't help but wonder if hubby's step-brother spilled the beans about our childfree-ness, if she was just having a bad day and feeling especially sour, or if she was still mad that we skipped out on the family photo on Easter to visit my family.

Also present were his aunt & uncle (childfree after infertility), and two of his late mother's cousins. Carol, the younger of the two, is a former nun who tired of the misogyny (good for her!) but never married. Susan, the eldest, was a scientist who didn't marry until well past her childbearing years.

It was incredible. We were surrounded by the childless.

I truly believe that Susan & Carol's presence was the only reason the topic wasn't approached for the first time in ages. Still, it was such a pleasant surprise. I also realized, however, that Susan & Carol's lack of offspring made my husband the last of yet another line of family blood. My husband is the end of the line for both his grandmother's mother and father.

It hasn't been talked about, but surely it will be. Until then, I think I'd like to bring Susan & Carol to family dinners more often. They really tip the scales and make it infinitely more comfortable to spend time with that side of the family.

Oh, and I'd like to find out what crawled up my mother-in-law's butt, because at the end of the night I didn't get a hug either. Oh, and we got the implication via a short conversation between hubby and his father, that she was upset with us because we don't call enough and we seem ungrateful. She's a sour woman anyway, but this was excessive.

Gee, could it be because every time we call we're doing something that makes you all unhappy? We're not getting that house in the suburbs yet; I'm not barefoot and pregnant yet (she hates that I'm career oriented); A doesn't make enough money, and hasn't gone back to school yet (even though his application is in). And no, we're not going to her daughter's 40th birthday surprise party. She doesn't like me anyway; she'll be glad we're not there and so will we.

Now I just need to think about what sorts of plans we have for Saturday, May 12...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Here Kitty Kitty

There's a reason why we never got another cat. For almost as long as my husband and I have lived together, we've mused about picking up a new furry beasr. We've visited the Humane Society, even picked one out — twice. The requirements weren't strict: likes other cats, preferable a fat cat breed (hubby wants a big fat lap cat), poops in the box, and is declawed. It hasn't been hard to find a cat that fit the bill.

But we always back out.

Romeo, our current cat whom I've had for 10 years, is awesome. He doesn't gorge on food, deals well with what is all too often a dirty litterbox, is playful and affectionate even to strangers, and was likely reincarnated from a flamboyant old queen who trolled around San Fancisco in the eighties. While he's not without his annoying habits, he's about as perfect as any can be for me. Another Romeo would be beyond awesome. The question that plagues us is this: what if the new cat weren't like Romeo?

The topic came up as I was reading a post a friend made about her teenaged daughter. Robin is the total package kid. Bookish, pretty but not in a slutty way, into, for the most part, the same things mom is into but not in a creepy way, straight A's, literally top of her class. She's a good kid. Whenever I hear stories about Robin, I'm tempted to say "wow, if I could be guaranteed a kid like that, the prospect of parenting isn't quite so scary." Which is true, on some level, but it's also completely nonsensical. Of course there are no guarantees.

Another friend's 16-year-old daughter Devyn reminds me of Robin, at least from the stories. But then there's her son. 17, rebellious, a poor student (and not always for lack of trying; she's devastated that he just doesn't seem to have the smarts for college) with anger management and depression issues. At 17, he's already announced his plans to marry his girlfriend, and my friend's fear that he will knock up said girlfriend is CONSTANT. But these 2 kids, a year apart, raised in the same house, are totally different. One a deam, one a handful on a good day.

It's the same with my brother and me. You just never kno what you're going to get, even if you do everything the same. There are stories everywhere.

There's the friend with the precocious young girl and the older child with Asperger's; my sister-in-law with the good kid who is only a terror when the middle brother (learning- and sensory-disabled) starts acting up. Then there's the woman in my grandma-in-law's building who is still living with her 40-year-old who acts like a poorly behaved boy of 8.

I have doubts that I have the capacity to love such a child. And do I have the heart not to resent them? Does anyone, really? Life is enough of a struggle without the added stress of an ill or troubled child. Unless I'm willing to take a risk of having such a child, that's not even an option.

No thank you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Just a Shout-Out Full of Thanks

Comments like these, and so many that you all post, are the reson I do this blog. I write to find that I'm not alone, but it's not often I get a comment that is not just so unbelievably supportive and full of great advice (you all do that for me!)... I literally could have written this entire comment. I'm working on a post about the precedence of "changing minds" when it comes to marriage, inspired by Tanya's comments.

Thanks again to all of you. When we support each other, we make it easier for everybody. I know I don't always reaspond to comments because I don't like that it doesn't sent a note to let you know I've responded, but I read them all and am touched often.

------Tanya's comment-------
Join the selfish club. I'm a member too and proud of it.

For many of the same reasons as you, my husband and I do not want kids. Going without a drink for 9 months is not horrible, but why do it if I don't have to?

"You'll change your mind" is getting tossed at me more and more because I always said I would NOT get married and I did. Dang. Changed my mind. If I did it once, I will do it again, right? WRONG! My anti-marriage stance was more "if it never happens, I won't be heartbroken" than "I will NEVER EVER NEVER EVER marry a boy. Ick!" My anti-child stance is definately "NEVER EVER".

At the moment, my husband and I have a "get out of marriage" free deal wherein if one of us gets clucky and wants a baby, the other can leave the marriage scot free. I like my husband a lot. I don't want to be without him. I have a choice...babies or him. I choose him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What do you say…

What do you say to a friend who's facing the decision of becoming a single mother? To someone you love who's dealing with a disrespectful husband whose only good quality left is that, when he's around, he's a really good dad to their kids? (But really, all he does is play good cop to her bad cop and call mommy a poopyhead for giving them a strict punishment for not following the rules.) What do you say when he's stopped realizing that being a good husband is not an optional, but essential part of being a good father, a good person? What do you say when time and time again he's proven he doesn't care enough to change, that he's dismissed her reasonable requests as "impossible to please" and has long since stopped giving the slightest effort?

What do you say when her marriage is over, when she wouldn't have stayed if not for the kids; when maybe if she just had her oldest, just one kid, it would be easier to leave. But now there's two, and they're so little.

What do you say to someone who is so heartbroken, hurting so badly, wishing she could leave but tethered by the children, who are the only good thing she feels she has left?

The kids didn't doom them to this fate. They'd never have lasted this long without them. He's selfish and she needs more than he wants to give her. But she already knows that, has already said that having children with him was probably a mistake, that marrying him was a mistake. The most devoted mom I know, and she's saying these things, feeling this things.

Seriously, I just don't know what to say.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

So… How did it Go?

I'm touched that you've noticed my absence. I'll explain the goings on of the last couple weeks in another post.

So you want to know how the big family weekend at the waterpark hotel was? In a word: Claustrophobic. 16 of us in a hotel suite designed for a maximum of 15 people. And let's not forget the nephew's birthday party, when we stuffed over 20 in only one of the rooms. Yeah, big giant fun.

I will say this: the waterpark itself was a lot more fun than we anticipated. Free from the ball and chain that is a child who wants to stay in the kiddie pool and cannot go on the really fun rides, we were able to explore, to go in the deep end of the wave pool without a child tethered to us, if only by our eyes. We could go down the big giant waterslides, the scary ones, and hide in the blessed "Adults Only" whirlpool. That part was great.

The kidcenticity of the room itself was really more awful than I would have imagined. It was all anyone talked about. Oh, unless they were talking about puppies. Kids and puppies, kids and puppies, while my husband and I sat awkwardly quiet, except for reiterating that a dog just wouldn't fit our lifestyle.

Most of the comments about "when you have your own" fell on the usual awkward giggles. I took the advice of a few lovely commenters on the last post and just let the silence lag, and it said more than we could have said with words. By the end of the weekend, the tone had changed.

The most notable change was when commentary was made about the gift we got for nephew Hayden, the gift that enthralled the boys much more than the blippy buzzy toys, even more than the Nintendo DS games:


That's right, folks, 2-feet wide of big, bouncy blue ball.

I thought the boys' parents were going to kill us. It was AWESOME.

But after a day and a half of awkward silence, their father said "don't worry, you'll have your turn…" and then he paused. "At least we hope you'll have your turn."

This was a big turning point, as minor as it sounds. The addition of an "if"-type statement is a big deal, acknowledging the possiblity that we might not have kids.

The "coming clean" did happen, however, in the form of an awkward conversation with the newest of my sisters-in-law, recently married into the brood. She and I were in the room we shared with each other and our husbands, and an Egyptology documentary was on. We both expressed a wish to visit the Pyramids someday, and she said she wanted to visit the Great Wall of China before she starts a family, but her husband wanted to get started pumping out kids right away. I mentioned a group trip some friends are planning to China in 2009.

"Are you guys going to wait to have kids until after that?" she asked, and I paused. I told her the standard "kids aren't really on the map right now" answer, but added, "and I don't think at this point they will be." I have decided not to rule out the possibility entirely with the family, but it was out there. And then it got weird. And I kept talking. I don't know why.

She said she understood, but "at least you're not one of those couples who like discussed this before you got married and totally are against having children." I couldn't bring myself to say "actually, that's what I just said. And that is what we are." We talked some more, though, and I explained that it was an uncomfortable topic with the rest of the family and she again said she understood.

I don't know how I feel about it, to be honest, but I do feel like I crossed a crucial step. She will no doubt tell her husband, who will tell his siblings. It will get around, and that's a start.

Because I finally came to the realization that the most mommy-centric of the bunch will always consider herself a better person than I am because she's a mom (she's THAT kind of mom), and she'll always treat me like I have no clue about anything because being a mom imbues you with a level of world knowledge unattainable by any other means. She will continue to passively insult me by saying the things I'll never understand until I have children. It's who she is, and I'll always dislike her for it. I'll never be truly accepted by that family, and neither will my husband, and that's okay.

I'd rather be myself than keep pretending. This will get around, and we'll see what happens with it. The seed is planted. I think that's the way this had to happen. I feel lighter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Coming Clean?

So again I enter a family gathering with the in-laws where I’m dreading the confrontation. As I mentioned in a recent post, the family is being brought together at an indoor waterpark for a bit of a reunion. Far flung siblings and their spouses are traveling, some flying in. This is a big deal. And it’s going to be a disaster.

It won’t be a disaster for the families with kids. I’m confused, though, because more than half of the siblings have no children, and this is a place that is SO childcentric, I honestly wonder how anyone is expected to have any grown-up fun.

Surrounded by so many kids, doting non-stop on the nephews and the new baby (now about 9 months old), with all of the siblings now married or engaged, it’s sure to come up. We’ve decided to answer honestly, instead of putting people off with phrases like “oh, kids? The farthest thing from our minds right now ‘til A finishes school!”

This is a huge step forward for us, it really is. And who knows if it will happen, really, but we've decided it's time to come clean.

I do know I need to talk to my husband and tell him to let me handle it. I worry that he will be overdefensive, never giving anyone the opportunity to discuss the issue like adults. People aren’t going to understand, and that’s okay, but we have to give them a chance to open a dialogue, to learn about the childfree choice.

It’s easy to jump to the defensive, to respond with that witty comment.
"Why don’t you want kids?” they will ask. Must resist the urge to snap back,
“Why do you want kids?”

I will admit, I need to practice my responses in my head. So often I end up overexplaining myself, overjustifying myself, and end up damaging my own credibility, giving people too many opportunities to attack. I run it over and over in my head in an attempt to prepare:

Father-in-Law, while cooing at baby Josephine: “I can’t wait ‘til you have kids.”

*Nervous chuckle followed by awkward silence* (we’ve decided not to be the ones to bring it up... usually it ends here, but soon I know the conversation will evolve.)

FiL: “So really, when are you guys making me a grandpa?”

“Actually, Dad, we don’t plan to have any children.”

Okay, see, this is the problem. No matter how many times I roleplay this conversation with my husband, or go over it on my own in my head to try and predict how to manage it that will inevitably happen someday, to prepare how I might keep the conversation rational, this is where I lose it.

This is because my father-in-law is not a rational human being. He is an emotional, deeply selfish man who sees every situation in relation to how it affects him. Will he react with anger? Will he dismiss us? Will he cry? He'll probably cry, and that’s a situation I don’t know how to manage.

I wish like nothing else that I could expect a response like “oh, that’s disappointing. Why don’t you want kids?” Something that could continue the conversation without putting us immediately on the defensive, either out of embarrassment for making my father-in-law so upset, or out of frustration over a selfish, stupid or irrational response—I hate to say it, but all of these are far more likely than any reaction that is not a conversation-ender.

Am I not giving the man enough credit? Obviously this is an emotionally charged issue, especially for someone who’s never been shy about expressing his desire for grandkids of his own (his other grandkids are his stepchildren’s kids), and I would be silly to expect a completely deadpan reaction. He’s all about over-the-top reactions (my husband gets his drama genes from somewhere), and I just see us consoling him, plying him with explanations, justifications, promises that it’s not his fault for being a terrible or absent father, unable to say what I really want to say:

“We’re not having kids because we don’t want to be parents. We love our marriage the way it is, and we haven’t come close to finishing living the life we want to live, traveling, and moving up in our careers. Between my niece, our friends’ kids, the boys, we have plenty of kids in our lives and are really happy that way.”

The conversation needs to be framed not as “we would love to have kids, but…”; we need to frame it as “we don’t want kids. Period.” And that’s the biggest challenge, and the easiest trap to fall into when overexplaining the childfree choice. We have to fend off arguments like “you can still work” and “you can still travel” before they get a chance to be presented.

We’ll never have a good enough explanation for some people. But it’s time to stop hiding and at least give it a shot, even if it means upsetting people we care about. We have to give them all a chance to prove us wrong, to prove us melodramatic, to show us we freaked out over nothing.

Sure, it could happen. I’m not taking bets on us being wrong, though.