Friday, November 21, 2008

Thinking of Thanksgiving

As if Thanksgiving with my husband’s family wasn’t stressful enough, headlined by my husband’s judgemental stepsister, stepmom and stepmom’s twin sister, but babies are going to be front and center; both of my husband’s stepbrothers’ wives are currently pregnant. I got to hear all about it at dinner last week, about how pleased they are that one couple who had a traumatic pregnancy with their first child, preceeded by several devastating late-term miscarriages, finally decided to give their daughter a sibling while expressing that it’s cruel to leave a child as an only child. By the way, finally is relative; their daughter just turned two.

The other baby on the way is the couple’s first child, and it’s coming to the stepbrother who was married about a year after my husband and I were, and boy is everyone excited. Except I recall my conversations with my stepsister-in-law about how she wasn’t ready to have kids yet, how she wanted to travel, to do more before she wanted to settle down. I find myself wondering what changed her perspective so dramatically. She wasn’t childfree by any means, but it appears that the pressure to have as many babies as possible got to them. Who knows, maybe she had a genuine change of heart, but in my conversation with her, where I first floated the idea that my husband and I might never have children, she seemed quite sure that she wanted to wait a few years, or at least until she was able to take a trip to Asia.

The talk of us having babies has slowed significantly while my husband is in school, with everyone knowing that I’m the sole breadwinner in the house. But the dynamic will be changed with two pregnant ladies in the house. It’ll be interesting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sanctity of Marriage

While at dinner with my husband and my in-laws the other night, my father-in-law dropped a bomb on my husband. While my stepmother-in-law and I were at the buffet refilling our soup bowls, FiL blurted out to my husband that “oh, by the way, you have a half-sister. But don’t tell ‘the women’, we’ll talk later.” We then returned to the table to hear the last part of that statement and were none the wiser until my husband and I were in the car on the way home.

We’ve since learned that FiL had an affair on my husband’s late mother shortly after they were married, and a child was born. While the babymama denied that FiL was the father, he always sort of knew. He found out about three years ago and apparently decided that the time to tell his son, who had grown up as an only child, about this secret half-sister, over soup and salad at Sweet Tomatoes. She’s about 8 years older than my husband, is married, and lives in North Carolina. But the thing that FiL keeps bringing up over and over, is that she is married to a black man.

My husband quite literally could not care less about this qualifier, and yet his dad keeps referring to him as “her black husband” and that my husband has “three black nephews”. It’s especially striking to me that someone in his line of work, teaching in an ESL program, would continue to make this distinction in every reference, over and over.

The whole situation has me thinking about Prop 8 and other hate legislation for many reasons. First it’s the whole “sanctity of marriage” crap, expounded loudly by this man who created a child with a woman other than his wife while they were married. Then it’s the fact that my husband’s half-sister would never have been allowed to marry or have children with her husband had the laws been decided.

I am a happily married straight woman, and my marriage is as sacred as anyone else’s. That sanctity is not threatened when people who love each other are allowed to get married to the person of their own choice.

It’s been proposed by some that same-sex marriage is unreasonable because they cannot create life, and then I wonder what these people think about childfree marriages like mine. But then again, I know what they think. By and large they also feel like my marriage is less sacred because we are choosing not to create life for whatever reason. And yet they would never question the sanctity of a marriage where a man and a woman choose to adopt a child after a bout with infertility.

We’re going to make plans to meet my husband’s newfound sister in the nearish future, and it’s kind of exciting. It’s got us thinking a lot about family and what it means. Hopefully we’ll get along with her family because I know they’re both very excited to meet each other. I get a warm feeling when I consider her, which is really nice considering the apprehensiveness I feel with FiL and my husband’s stepfamily. I get a feeling of warmth and accepting based on early communication, and I think that acceptance and openmindedness is what family should be based upon. That acceptance should exist without qualifications like “my black grandchildren” and “my childless son.”

I'm hopeful that this might be the first member of my husband's family with whom we feel totally and completely accepted for who we are. And that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Weekends Away

We spend about one weekend a month with our friends who live downstate, and while the country life is so not for us we love the change of pace once in awhile. It’s quiet there, mellow, and visits to their house are often filled with great cooking and fun crafts. This time, however, I kind of wish we hadn’t come.

Our mutual friend and his wife decided to drop by with their three rambunctious kids — the manic twins and their alpha dog older sister. They were loud, they tortured the dogs (unintentionally — they called it playing), they ran around and completely changed the energy of the house. Our quiet weekend sanctuary was instantly transformed into a den of chaos.

The mother of these youngins (Momma) and I have never gotten along. She’s one of those super-judgmental moms who brands me “childhater” and inhuman because I don’t want children. I’m a bad influence on friends who have come out as childfree or settled upon a childfree lifestyle after me, and a bad person in general. I think she’s judgmental and mean, treats her husband like a slave who can do nothing right (he’s got his flaws too, of course) and I really am not fond of her. The kids are fine, just hyperactive, and that’s only exacerbated by the fact that we were down there to RELAX.

Because she’s hypersensitive to any signals I might send that confirm her opinion of me as a childhater, it of course bode well for me when all the chaotic energy and shrill noise left me with a massive headache not an hour after the group arrived. To her credit, Momma did try to keep the kids out of the room where I slept it off and sent them outside to play. When I woke up after the meds began working and went to join her and my friend in the other room, though, she retreated. While we hung out in the dining room, she sat knitting on the sofa and watched her kids play in the other room, isolated from us childless ladies. Momma and my friend used to be very close until my friend was diagnosed with cervical almost-cancer and decided after her surgery that while they may want to adopt in a few years, a natural birth might not be the best way to go. As far as Momma was concerned my friend had changed fundamentally and their relationship immediately began going downhill, as had happened with other friends who decided to put off children for awhile. It’s a pattern.

I feel sorry for Momma. Because she fails to realize that women are still women when they are not mothers, that we are worth being friends with even when we don’t have kids in common, she loses out on friendship and affection and has become a bitter, bitter woman. And while I’ve hoped over the years that she would warm up by knowing us, and knowing that my husband and I are good people, I’ve given up on that. We now merely coexist when stuck in situations with each other, and that’s okay with me. That said, if I hear that the whole family’s coming for gaming weekend in the future, I will respectfully bow out. Between the kids' energy and the stress of a strained relationship, that's not my idea of a relaxing weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opting out of fatherhood

A friend of mine brought up an interesting conversation in her own blog: Should a man be able to opt out of parenthood in a situation where he made it clear that he did not want to be a father, took reasonable steps to avoid doing so, but a child is conceived.

This is an issue close to my heart because my niece is one of those babies. Sure, perhaps a little more accountability should rest on my brother’s shoulders for having unprotected sex with a girl he barely knew, regardless of whether she said she was on birth control or not. But the fact is, she said she was on Depo. She was not. She got pregnant. She bailed. Now my niece is 9 years old and living without a mom and while I wouldn’t change that she’s in my life, the circumstances surrounding her existence give me pause.

Take the example of my friend’s boyfriend, who had a lengthy discussion with his former “friend with benefits” about not wanting another child before agreeing to take their friendship to a sexual level. She assured him she was taking birth control and they continued to mess around when one or the other was single, over the course of a couple years. And then she turned up pregnant.

It would be one thing if this was just an accident. But when a mutual friend came to him with what babymama had confided in him, this is where it gets sketchy. What she confided was this:

I just kept seeing him with his son (from his previous marriage) and thought what a great father he was, and I couldn’t stop thinking of us as a family, so I stopped taking the Pills and if I got pregnant, then clearly it was meant to be.

Additionally, she had “been in love with him for-like-EVER” and this was the only way she thought she could get him to consider having a serious relationship with her. She never confided in him about this, never said that her feelings had changed. She continued to maintain the f***buddy relationship because “that’s what she thought he wanted”. And now there’s a baby, there’s child support that he can’t afford, and he not only had no say in the matter. He was deceived into this situation.

What recourse does he have? NONE. The baby tied him inextricably to this woman, like a contract he never signed. How is this fair?

The problem is that it’s not fair. That said, I don’t think there’s a fair solution. Because as much as I’d like to say screw the babymama, the manipulative psycho who roped a good man, a good father, into something he wasn’t prepared for and something he didn’t sign up for, it’s just not that simple. Her manipulation amounted to a breach of contract—their agreement that their relationship was just about sex and that if anyone developed any deeper feelings they should come to each other and talk it out—and he shouldn’t be liable.

But then there’s this kid, who didn’t have anything to do with it. Should the baby be punished for his mother’s lack ethical vacancy? Or did babymama sign on to be a single mother when she intentionally manipulated a situation to bring about a pregnancy?

I lean toward the latter and don’t believe that single parenthood is necessarily “punishing” a child. But should a father in such a situation “opt out” of fatherhood society will eventually tell this child that he was rejected by his father, which, regardless of whether this was an oversimplification of the facts, can be extremely damaging.

Here’s the thing: there are so many ways to screw up a kid. Single parents can raise awesome kids, grandparents can raise awesome kids, “traditional” families can raise disastrous children. As I’ve said many times, it’s a crapshoot.

But while in principle I think men should be able to opt out of fatherhood in situations like my friend’s, it’s far more complicated than just that. Once you get another human being involved, situations need to be looked at beyond just considering them “in principle.” I have no good answers for how to resolve this.

All that leads to me being really glad I’m not a single guy. As if navigating the dating world isn’t scary enough, I can’t imagine the added possibility of being unwillingly or, worse, unwittingly roped into parenthood. The moral of the story: men need to take responsibility for their own birth control—period—because that’s clearly the only way that men can “opt out” of parenthood without the moral and ethical dilemmas that ensue AFTER an accidental child is born.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Another childhood friend joined the ranks of the childed last week. He's a gorgeous little boy, even when not considered by newborn baby standards, and she's thrilled. But for the first time, I don't really feel a wall has been erected by his birth. It's odd to me that it would be she, the OB nurse, the one whose life revolves most completely around babies and mommies, that would be the most accepting of my decision, never questioning it, being completely understanding. It's a nice change.

I look at my other friends' kids, growing like weeds, the infants suddenly toddlers, the toddlers suddenly kindergartners, gathering together for playdates and such. I'm now the last of my childhood friends to remain childless, and it's interesting. We're all in our 30s and it boggles my mind that of all the people I knew when I was growing up that I'm the only one to decide that kids aren't for me. Oh, there's one friend from high school who's childfree, but we're barely acquaintances.

In the meantime I've got my cousins popping out kids, my (step)sister-in-law, and again I've got that feeling of being left out of a club I don't belong in and don't actually want to be a part of. It's the meeting at work that's just for the "real" employees (no freelancers please), it's the family events that I've stopped being invited to in the last year. I watch from the sidelines and think "my god that looks like a good time" while simultaneously thinking "that would make me so miserable."

The childfree life for women like me is full of such paradoxes, I think. The desire to be included is almost inherent, instinctual. I suspect it's part of the reason that so few women challenge the expectation of motherhood, even when they suspect it's not what they want. They pursue it because it's what they should want, and because the people with whom they surround themselves chant the mantras of "it's different when they're your own" and "everything changes, but it's the best thing you'll ever do".

Challenging these ideas is, well, challenging. Over the years I've been able to surround myself with people who understand me, letting those who refuse to try linger on the fringe except for an awkward "hello" every couple years at the club or a friend's party. It's better this way and I'm happier for it. But through their blogs, their Facebook profiles and the other forms of communication we still share I see a window to their world, and it honestly looks like a fun place to live in. Not for me, but for them, and I'm thrilled to seem them, surrounded by the kids that fill their lives in place of the things we did together in the good ol' days, and overflowing with happiness.

There's an ache to being left out of this world, but it diminishes the moment I consider how awesome my life is for me, and how I know they look into my window and wish they had the freedom to travel, to go to concerts and stay out all night dancing, to have the kind of grown-up time that we do. And I'm sure, like me, most of them wouldn't trade in their own lives for a moment.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend with a 9-year-old

My niece has been looking forward to this weekend for months. She made a countdown calendar for a craft project, counting down each day and excitedly sending me e-mails about what we'd do, where we'd go, what her uncle would put in his "famous pancakes" for her (butterscotch chips with whipped topping and syrup). So going into it, naturally, I was kind of freaked out.

This was a lot to live up to.

We decided together that we'd make candles and soap, and go to the Farmer's Market for fresh donuts and honeycrisp apples. And, of course, we would let her play with the Wii. Thank the gods for the Wii.

She woke at 6:00 on Saturday morning, and I found her at almost 7:00 laying in her bed in the guest room with the lights on, doing nothing. Her book was at her side (she always has a book with her) but she had tired of reading, and instead was just staring at the ceiling waiting for us to wake up. It bears noting that our weekdays start about 7:30, our weekends rarely before 9:00, so my husband and I were both extremely groggy.

We don't have cable — between and Netflix we fail to see the point — so there was nothing on TV for her. She quickly grew antsy and we decided to just get dressed and head for the Farmers Market at 8:00. She ate her donut, we picked out apples, we marvelled at the enormous produce, she cringed when I bought an eggplant the size of her head (I promised I wouldn't try to make her eat it). After running a couple errands, we ended up back at home around noon; I am NEVER this productive by noon on a Saturday, but I was already feeling exhausted.

We laid out our soap-making supplies and, as expected, she quickly grew bored of the process of waiting for the mixture to melt, waiting for the first layer of soap to cool, and waiting until we ended up with bars of beautiful lavender rosemary soap. The candles began another waiting game, and her boredom was palpable. So I set her up with Samba de Amigo on the Wii, complete with the maracas attachments, and she was in heaven. She'd come drag me from the crafts table to watch her do a song here and there, and she'd come by me when it got exciting — pouring the wax into the candle molds. But when it came time for a new batch, or to clean the container (using old candles means cleaning out the soot for each layer of wax), she played. Later in the evening we watched a few episodes of Ghost Hunters (her favorite — told you she was a cool kid), made some fish sticks (one of the few things she'll eat), and then she helped clean up.

This morning she woke again at 6:30 and wanted to play the Wii, which she did until it was time to leave, save for breaking for her pancake breakfast. When we got her home, she excitedly presented my great-grandma, grandma and grampa with the candles and soap we made, and talked incessantly about the Wii.

Overall this weekend went about as well as it could have. We had a great time hanging out, but I imagine it would have been infinitely more challenging had we not had the Wii around for her to become fixated upon. She's not a big TV kid in general, and I can appreciate how crafts like the ones we were doing could make a 9-year-old quite bored, even while they think it's fun. She's used to multitasking, and mellow crafting just wasn't her game. We balanced it well, I think, and she was super proud with what we ended up with. That said, I could tell she was ready to go home by mid-morning on Sunday, and we were more then ready to return her and get some nice alone time.

That was perhaps the biggest real issue we've had with sharing the weekend with our niece. Weekends are the only real time my husband and I have alone together, especially since our roomie is usually with her boyfriend over the weekends, and we've been, well, suffering a bit with the kid around. ;) I suppose couples with kids eventually learn to stop being paranoid about fooling around with a kid in the vicinity, but I couldn't put her out of my head for a second.

We'll gladly have her back another weekend, hopefully sooner rather than later, but it's nice when these weekends truly emphasize how much we love our life just the way it is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back from the dead

I'm touched that it seems my readers still drop by and I'm missed, and I've wanted to get back into blogging about being childfree, but time and other commitments have gotten in the way. Life is good, and life is still childfree. It’s been the good kind of distraction that’s kept me from this blog, but I think about writing often. It’s time to get back on track, because there IS a lot to write about.

Most importantly, I have not given in to the pressure, as it seems many of you are concerned about. I’ve come out to a couple of stepsisters-in-law, and I can only assume it’s made its way up the ladder. We received fewer (if any) invitations to family functions since then, but considering the way we’ve been made to feel at such events it’s kind of welcome to not have to decline all the time. This year we’re having Thanksgiving with my in-laws, when talk of babies will no doubt be rampant. My husband’s stepbrother’s wife is pregnant with their first child; they were married about a year after we were, so you can imagine where that conversation will head. But overall, everyone’s been pretty mellow with us. We’ll see how that changes at Thanksgiving.

I was laid off in July and I’m so thankful we don’t have a child to support during this time. I’m freelancing regularly, but we’re also facing the loss of my insurance at the end of next month. With the uncertainty of the economy, it’s a scary, scary time, and I can only imagine how scary it is for those who have larger families to support.

J continues to live with us and she has completely turner her life around. It’s magnificent and really inspiring. She credits us for helping her turn her life around and helping to show her what a real relationship looks like. She’s spent the last 3 months with an amazing man who is everything she deserves; they remind me of my husband and me when they’re together. It’s remarkable the transformation, and she concedes that had she met him before living with us she wouldn’t have been the right person for him. I truly believe, even at this early state that she may have found “the One”, but she’s taking things slowly and it’s working out well for them.

As I prepare for an entire weekend spent with my 9-year-old niece, I’m sure I’ll have plenty more insights to share come Monday, and I’m hoping to update more frequently again. Thanks for your dedication, e-mails and comments. I feel touched that as much as this blog has helped me over the years, I’m also helping some of you who feel the same.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime

I feel like I'm going through a transitional period in my life. Friends I thought I'd have forever are fading into the mist, I'm entering a new phase of my marriage as we look toward becoming homeowners, my parents are, unfortunately, entering a new phase as well due to layoffs, a slowed economy and the mortgage crisis. Times they are a-changing, and I often feel quite lost.

It's during these transitional phases that I start questioning why I'm here. It's a question, perhaps a conundrum, that is more difficult, I think, for the childfree person. Parents have an easy default answer: I'm here to raise my kids and be a good parent, they'll often say. But when you don't have something that the world at large finds so valuable, so central to their own lives, how do you find a place in the world and say what your purpose is?

In the past few years, my husband and I have boarded displaced friends and family members. But is that our life calling? I don't think so, especially when the overwhelming evidence shows that we haven't made a difference in their lives once they emerge from under our roof. C returned to her abusive home after beginning to become a grown-up (at 28) and immediately regressed to her destructive childish behavior. E responds to attempts to help with a blanket "you don't understand me" and continues to refuse to take accountability for her actions. J, our current boarder and my husband's cousin, is doing better, but after being removed from the drama and destruction of her family home, I'm seeing her begin to seek it out elsewhere, as if her life is incomplete without the constant dysfunction.

I used to wonder, and still often do, whether we might have it in us to be foster parents one day. My experience helping these troubled friends is talking me out of it.

"Sometimes somethin's so broke can't BE fixed."

I used to feel like we made a difference in the lives of these people we take into our homes, the friends I take into my heart, but they fall back into their same destructive patterns until I'm so exhausted I don't know how to help, that I need to admit defeat because I was never the one who could save them in the first place. We've shown people who've never seen a healthy relationship what one looks like, we've shown them love, and it's never enough because sometimes somethin's so broke can't be fixed.

Deep down I know that the problems are due to mental illness, to broken minds paired unfortunately with good hearts, but often I wonder if I could have done more. If I didn't out of laziness or fear, if there was a magic way to reach them and encourage them to get the help they need and I just missed it.

I expect too much. I want it to be easy, but it's not. I cannot save them all, and I cannot save who doesn't want to be saved. I find it so difficult to distance myself from the damaged person I care about, and just when I think I'm being a good friend, helping someone make major changes, they go back to the abusive home, the self-destructive promiscuity, the relationship-wrecking stubbornness, the debilitating depression, and I feel like I've failed, especially since I'm resented by the very person I tried to help out of pure love.

It's not in me, I couldn't deal with that. It's hard enough dealing with it from friends and family, but to experience it from a child placed in my care... I cringe thinking about it because deep down I don't want to care for a child, I want to fix somebody. I want to say "see, I turned this person into a better person," but I want it to be easy and that's just not realistic.

I think a lot of people enter parenthood with these idealistic goals. They want to raise a good person and they want it to be easy. What does my outlook say about me? Does it say that I'm enlightened, knowing myself enough that I wouldn't be able to handle such pressure, or does it say I'm a defeatist, giving up before I try when there's a possibility to do such good? I don't know.

I just know that there's nothing in this world that I hate quite as much as when I feel this way, when this powerlessness overwhelms me, and I sure as hell don't want to subject myself or my husband to a life sentence of this uncertainty. This, this right here and now, this will pass soon and I will feel better because the root of it will be gone soon, faded away with the friendship as sad as that is. Friendships come and go. A child never really leaves. There are no do-overs, and there's no saying "oh well, I tried my best and this failed. Better luck next time."

I know that I am going to be in the somewhat unique position of challenging myself to find the quick answer to the question "why am I here". And, to be honest, I'm glad for that. I'm glad because instead of just defaulting to an "easy" answer, my life's quest will require more thought, consideration, and an adventure totally unique to my husband and me.

As the seasons end for some of my friendships, many of which I thought were "lifetime" ones, I'm reevaluating everything. It's painful, but I know it's giving me strength. I can only hope it does the same, on whatever level, for those that I've loved.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Just a simple question

I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that it was a rhetorical question. She’s long been befuddled by me not wanting a baby, but as she bounced her six-month-old daughter in her arms as I paged through her admittedly adorable baby book, she mused about already wanting another, and another, and another. She pointed at a particularly cute photo and said,

“Seriously, how could you not want one of these?!”

I chuckled and moved along and nothing more was said, but the comment stuck with me more than I wanted it to. I had a thousand reasons why, a big one from just an hour earlier as we sat down for our amazing dinner cooked by her chef husband. Delilah got fussy, and we had a hard time sitting through dinner without her dominating the table. And while I hadn’t seen my friend since her baby shower and she excitedly referred to our visit as some much-needed grown-up time, it really wasn’t. Sure we all shared a bottle of wine, ate fancy food and hung out as adults, a great deal of the evening was about the baby.

I expected that to be the case and embraced it. I wanted to get to know her daughter – we’ve known each other since we were 5 years old. My husband and I had fun watching the baby while she and her husband went out on the balcony for a smoke, but were left thinking “my god, how would we possibly entertain this child for even an entire day”. Hell, even an hour would have been challenging, because Delilah is still at that stage where she’s, well, not terribly interactive. There’s only so much you can do with an exercircle and, well, while it was super adorable when she started mimicking our faces and the way we clapped our hands, the novelty eventually wore off and we got bored.

And there is a bit of a rift there, the unspoken awkwardness that I usually feel with friends who are new moms who haven’t really seen me interact with kids. It’s subtle, possibly imagined, but it’s there. It’s there and it makes me wonder if her question, “how could you not want one of these?”, was her reaching out to see if there was a connection. Perhaps it was the accusatory “if MY baby can’t make you want one of your own, then something REALLY must be wrong with you” thing that I’ve felt before, perhaps it was just disbelief, perhaps it had nothing to do with me and it was just an expression of glee about her baby, which I’m hopeful it was. Except I feel like it wasn’t that simple. It’s that little chunk of “us” that I suspected would be lost when she became a mom coming to life, saying “remember when we dreamed of our kids growing up together when we were little? We can still have that. It's not too late.”

But that hurts. So instead I’m going to pretend it was a rhetorical question and struggle to put it out of my mind.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

You've got it all wrong...

It happened again; or, rather, it happened for the first time at this office. My coworker with whom I share an office brought her 8-month-old child in for the first time. And nothin’. As people crowded my space to see the baby, beg to hold the baby (who clearly didn’t want to be held by anyone other than Mommy), talk to the baby in babytalk and just stare, I quickly went back to work. Wrong answer, apparently.

“Not a big fan of babies, are you?”

Oh no gals, just have a bit of a migraine, I lied. I didn’t want to hold the baby. Sure he was cute and my tiny little Filipino friend was adorable with her son. But the way everyone just ogled and stared, I just didn’t get it. I greeted him, then turned around to work until I started to feel self-conscious that I was not ignoring everything but the baby.

My childfreeness has come up a couple times at work, where it seems to be more accepted than in my suburban jobs, but moments like this just single me out and people start asking uncomfortable questions. It seems weird when I don’t pay attention to the kid. I just don’t care, and sometimes I wish I did at least a little. I can appreciate a cute baby, but it’s a glance and move on sort of thing. I’m the same way with puppies. They’re nice to look at for a bit, but then on to different things. Apparently this makes me weird.

And it was noticed.

Usually my friend opens the day with a funny story about the baby, and it’s cute. It’s part of who she is. Since this incident (and it feels like an “incident”), I initiate conversations about him. It’s like a rift was erected… oh, SHE didn’t want to hold Anthony, she didn’t want to play with him or goo-goo-gaa-gaa at him. What’s her problem?

And it makes me sad. I’m glad we’re moving desks next week and I won’t be sitting next to her, because while I’ve really enjoyed sitting beside her, there’s a palpable awkwardness that’s just stupid and it doesn’t need to be there.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This is STUPID. Can we go back to the hotel?

The hubby and I both love museums. We love exploring science museums, analyzing art and ogling oddities of all sorts. When we decide to take weekender trips, usually it’s to see some exciting new museum on at least one of our days. Our recent trip to Cleveland took us to the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Science museums are a blast for us. We’re both passionate about learning and, spoiled perhaps by the Museum of Science & Industry here in Chicago and the MOSI in Tampa, have enjoyed long days wandering around the exhibits. We excitedly added the GLSC to our list of destinations. The website made it seem interesting enough, though smaller than our favorite in Chicago. When we arrived we marveled that we seemed to be the only ones there not toting small children. It was only after we bought our tickets for the IMAX movie and the museum that we realized why that was the case.

The GLSC is a glorified playground. It was filled with noisy children running completely amok EVERYWHERE. Instead of using the displays as a tool for learning, 90% of the parents were using them as tools for distraction. Let’s not teach the kids WHY this is making noise, let’s just let them make their noise. And let’s not talk about the parents who shot sidelong glances to tell us that we were lingering at a display too long and not giving their kid a turn. It was insanity and within 15 minutes I was nursing a migraine. And in under an hour we had explored the ENTIRE place. The exhibits were almost exclusively designed for children, and the second one piqued our interest we were stared down or, twice, shoved out of the way by impatient children. We resisted and said EXCUSE ME, to which the children sheepishly responded with an “excuse me”, but it was insanity.

The IMAX film about the Mars rover was also filled with hundreds of children far too young to understand what they were seeing. So, of course, they got bored. Then they got wiggly. Then they got noisy. It was, all in all, a truly awful excursion and we were thankful it was only a couple of hours with the movie.

The next day, we headed out to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m a huge music trivia nerd, and my husband is a music lover, so this was an exciting place. (Granted, I enjoyed it far more than he did.) The thing about this place is that it’s marketed as a fun-filled place for EVERYONE, when, in fact, it’s like any niche museum. First-off, it’s filled with stuff. That’s right, just stuff, with the occasional video presentation. Many of the attendees were so disappointed, as if they were expecting to come and meet David Bowie instead of looking at the costumes that spanned his many personas. And all but one child was bored practically to tears.

Because, like it or not, most kids could not care less about museums, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum included. Surrounded by shinies and sparklies that they cannot touch, that hold little to no meaning whatsoever to them, their parents tried to explain it to make it sound interesting, and it was sad. I could tell how excited many of the parents were to be there, and I read the frustration in their eyes, in their furrowed brows, as their kids moped and begged to go back to the hotels. A 9-year-old doesn’t know who ZZ-Top was, why it’s super cool that the Eliminator, the car they used in all their videos in the ‘80s, was sitting right there, or why it was so impressive to see Hunter S. Thompson’s actual manuscript from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (some of the best lines of the book and film, right there, in their original format). They certainly don’t think that seeing the actual guitar that was smashed in the cover images for London Calling is one of the coolest things ever and they don’t care about the evolution of the BeeGees or why the Beatles and the Stones were so influential for the same reason they don’t care about a painting painted 200 years ago or ruins from the 12th Century because it doesn’t feature blinking lights and freaked out animation.

Parents, if you want to spend some time at a museum, then spend some time at a museum. If your kid is not the type to be impressed by history of any sort, don’t force it on them. It’s painful for you, you won’t enjoy it as you deserve, and it’s painful for those around you who have to deal with your kid’s incessant whining about how “this is stupid.” You’re not going to make them suddenly appreciate it, and it’s okay that they don’t.

That said, the rare kid that was excited about the museum was a treat to see. One scruffly-headed boy of about 12 ran to every guitar display and got really excited – clearly he was raised knowing a lot about the legendary guitarists. Another little hippie girl was so excited about seeing the Beatles stuff. These are the kids that really belonged there.

Bored children or not, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum was a total treat for me. And, as we stopped at a pub for dinner and drinks afterward, and out to the club for a late night, we lamented about how we were able to appreciate it as we wanted to. We get to do what WE want to do without considering the kids and what we’ll do with them. That’s pretty awesome, I think.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I hope you don't mind that I put it down in words...

It’s been two and a half years since I started this blog, and sometimes I’m fascinated how central the issue of childfreeness remains in my life, how the experience evolves over time as more of my close friends get pregnant and have babies, with each year that I make family members wait for their grandchildren they continue to hope will come.

And while I feel like sometimes I beat a dead horse with my words, I’m constant encouraged to keep blogging by my readers. I often wonder how many of you there are, so often I see comments that say you’ve been following my journey forever.

Mostly, as I get older, I realize that while being childfree may not be as powerful an experience as having a child might be, it’s emotional in very different ways. If I’m typical, it’s on our minds regularly. Not having a child colors my days in the workplace, my response to marketing campaigns, my experiences on flights and at tourist destinations, or even at the mall or grocery store.

Often I wonder if this preoccupation with my lack of children and how it makes me different is actually how my unique brain (insomuch as we are all unique) is interpreting what many women would respond to with cluckiness, with "the baby rabies". Perhaps this IS my clock ticking, but instead of responding with deciding I’m ready to have a baby no matter what, my mind wants to write, speak, blog about my experiences as a woman whose brain and biology are at odds. Because I do think about it a lot. I would even venture to say for every moment a clucky woman thinks about how complete her life would be if she just had a child I think about how miserable a baby would make me.

I think about this because I’ve been asked why this is something blogworthy and how the hell I can think of all these things that I care so much about that I need to put it down in words. The people who ask, though, are never childfree. They have kids currently or plan to have kids one day. They don’t feel like an outsider, as I sometimes do, that the people around them don’t get them. They don’t worry about offending people and don’t have the pressure of having made a decision that has a tendency to be polarizing. They’re never told by "formerly childfree" women over and over and OVER again that as you get older, your mind changes, invalidating what they're feeling in the here and now. They're not treated like they don't matter.

Do I think I’m “special”? Only in that each of our life experiences is unique. I don’t think my childfree experience is universal, but it’s mine. It helps me to write about it and I’m thrilled to know it helps others to know that there is someone else out there, especially when they might not have the need to address it all the time.
For me, sharing the words is my escape. Sharing my experience in this blog helps me feel a little less alone in a world that sometimes overwhelms me by making me feel too “different”. And over 140 posts and two and a half years later, I credit this blog and the support of my readers for making me feel a little more a part of this world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

These Dreams

So I have this recurring dream that I have a baby. The fact that I have a baby always comes as a surprise, like “oh crap, I forgot about the baby”, kind of in the same way I notice the cat’s litterbox is a mess or I haven’t fed my fish in a week (oops). I’ll pull the baby out of the closet, or the guest room, where it has been stashed away with other clutter, and then I wonder what to do with it. I ask myself how long it's been since I fed her, changed her diaper, cared for her at all. I fret about not being able to do anything and contemplate giving the baby to an infertile but desperately clucky friend, but then wonder what the family would say. Then, of course, I realize that I have no business having the baby and start making plans to get rid of it because, dammit, I want to go watch X-Files and I don’t have time for this.

What’s weirdest about the dream, I think, is that even though it’s exaggerated and ridiculous (like I really could have neglected a baby like, well, I neglect my pets sometimes), it’s kind of poignant. I can handle the responsibility of pets because they require minimal maintenance. I fill my cat’s bowl and he grazes for three days, and he reminds me (with incessant meowing) if his litterbox has become unreasonable and I deal with it. If I can’t find the 45 minutes to clean the fishtank, my betta will be fine ‘til next week. I can still do my thing, go to bed when I want, wake up 20 minutes before I have to be at the train station.

I often wonder if, in a parenting situation, I would be as lackadaisical about the care for my child as I can be with the animals. It scares me, to be honest. I can’t function under constant pressure, constant stimulation, and I think of the months of panic, sleepless nights, the need to keep the baby entertained… it freaks me out even thinking about it and even in my dreams I feel a panic attack coming on. Why won’t she stop crying? What does she want now? What about ME? Why can’t I put her down? (Oh, yeah, in the dreams the baby appears in my house as it is now – no crib, no toys, etc) What about work? And, of course, my husband is furious with me because I don’t know how to be a mom and HE doesn’t want to deal with it either.

The dreams are over-the-top, but they illustrate my feelings about being a mother so perfectly. It’s just not me. I’m too panicky, too jumpy, too lazy and selfish. Why do people feel it’s wrong that I know my temperament and personality well enough that I know it’s incompatible with motherhood, and most of all that I’m okay with that? I get the argument from some that having a kid changes your perspective on things like that, that they force you out of your lazy comfort zones, but I ask this: what’s wrong with those comfort zones? What’s wrong about having an expectation of a few hours to myself every day, needing those decompression hours to avoid a breakdown from exhaustion?

Feeling panicked, tense, unsure of myself, paranoid… I would actually liken my baby-havin’ dreams to a nightmare. Rarely do I wake up as tense, my heart racing, than I do after freaking out in these dreams.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

24 hours

24 hours is just not enough.
I'm not sure where the time goes. It was on my mind for a couple reasons, especially last night as I ran out of time to work on my portfolio samples to send for a job I want. Another thing brought it to mind today, and I figured I'd come on this blog and calculate it.

Wake up: 6:45
Snuggle time & out of bed by: 7:15
Shower & Get Ready, make lunches and breakfast, out the door by: 8:00
Wait for train, walk to the office, in my seat by: 9:00
Work work work, out the door by: 5:30
Walk to train, get home, in the door by: 6:30
Unwind, change clothes, begin making dinner by: 7:00
Make, serve and eat dinner, done by: 8:00
TV/movie/us time, 'til about: 10:00
Cleaning, Freelance work, jobhunting, portfolio prep, pay bills: 'til bedtime, usually 12:00

This is a fairly typical day for me.
This week my schedule looks like this for my evenings:

Tuesday -- Craft night
Thursday -- Date Night / Concert
Friday -- Out dancing at the club!

It's fairly common for us to have stuff planned about twice a week, and since I've been doing much more freelance work lately, I'm super busy on the other evenings. I'll tell you what got me thinking about this.

I heard a woman talking about how her husband is one of those "I've got my interests and they're not going to be altered by new addition(s) to the family" guys. And I couldn't help but think "my god, I'm one of those guys".

What would I give up if I were to have a baby? Music is a huge deal for me, and I start to really feel like I'm lacking in something when I haven't been to a good show or gone dancing in a long time. Going to shows, going out dancing, that's all a big part of who I am.

Okay, so I can definitely cut out craft night, right? Craft night is my opportunity to see my girlfriends, and it's an opportunity for me to be creative doing something other than my work. Sure, sometimes one of the hostesses' friends brings their baby, but I can't even imagine the ordeal it takes to get out of the house only to stay someplace and do crafts for an hour before it's time to go home.

So what do we cut? Us time? Hardly. If we had kids, we would work to keep our marriage at the top of that priority list... yes, more important than showering all that love solely on the kidlets. While I find cooking dinner every night fairly relaxing, it's when we relax together on the sofa watching X-Files or a movie that I actually get to unwind. I get overwhelmed easily if I don't have my decompression time and have learned how to deal with it. Having this time is simply non-negotiable.

"I've got my interests and they're not going to be altered by new addition(s) to the family." It's true. That's why I'm not making any new additions. I'm unwilling to make those sacrifices. Willingness to sacrifice a huge part of yourself is essential to being a good mom. I am unwilling, and I'm glad I know it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just in Case...

My father lost his job 6 months ago, and in an attempt to keep their house long enough to sell it they've moved in with my maternal grandmother to free them up to get rid of the clutter accumulated over 25 years of living in the house. In addition to garbage bags full of expired medication, hotel soaps and shampoos and other little crap saved "just in case", I've also helped my mom purge bags and bags of my 9-year-old niece's old clothes. I'm finding that my niece's stuff is the hardest for her to let go of.

It's the stuff where the "just in case" was most hopeful.

My mom's pretty much always known I'm not the Mom type. We talked about it long before I met my husband. She's always been a good 80% supportive, which I think is really great. It's taking rooting through boxes and bags of old baby, toddler and kid stuff to realize that maybe she isn't THAT okay with it.

My brother, a single dad, is the other half of the "just in case". But even though my mom dreams of him meeting a nice girl and finally settling down, he's already told me that he envies us the ability to choose to remain childfree. Unless there's some dramatic change if he meets that nice girl, he does not intend on making another kid. After all, his daughter is already 9. He found raising her overwhelming and he didn't even do most of the work (my mom did).

I understand my mom's mourning for C's childhood. She has raised her as her own daughter for the most part and I'm sure this is a natural part of it. But there is a sense of guilt that I'm not giving her another little one to fawn over, spoil and adore. I wish there wasn't because I know that I shouldn't feel guilty.

Maybe it's just because she's been so sad lately, that losing C's childhood things means (in her eyes, as one who equates stuff with memories) losing hope of more grandkids, and in the context of everything else they're losing since my dad lost his job it's just too much to take. Regardless, it's really hard to look her in the eyes as I insist that the baby stuff go in the "sell" pile.

Monday, March 10, 2008

To the Rescue

One reason people think I would be a great mother is that I’m kind of a rescuer. My husband and I have taken in several friends over the years who were down on their luck and have helped them get back onto their feet. I’m also borderline obsessed with making sure my niece doesn’t end up as broken as some of them.

Just last night we took in another one. She’s my husband’s “cousin” (actually his father’s second wife’s twin sister’s husband’s brothers daughter from his second marriage… yeah, so “cousin”). At 22, J has grown up with an abusive alcoholic mother and a pushover absentee father. She’s been burned in more relationships than you can imagine and, like a textbook abuse victim, is drawn to the biggest assholes on the planet. She’s been with her latest asshole for about 6 months… a verbally abusive neo-nazi who claims he hates Goths while saying he wants to be with her even though he hates her tattoos, her piercings, her general way of being. It’s INSANITY. It’s not worth sharing the whole story, but after a huge fight with her mother she got kicked out of her house. She was staying at the apartment of a married couple she’s friends with, and her friend’s husband made a horribly inappropriate advance on her. After a great deal of convincing, we finally convinced her to stay with us for more than just a single night at a time.

J has never been exposed to what a “normal” relationship is like. Even the friends she was staying with are full of nothing but problems, emotional abuse, etc. We’re hoping she can spend some time with us and see what it’s like. But it will be hard to get her to accept the help.

She wants to accept it. A lifetime of abuse has told her that she doesn’t deserve the charity. She has told me that no one’s ever been so nice to her simply because they cared and it’s really confusing to her. Even her friends who took her in did so because they wanted to be the heroes, then proceeded to make her feel like a nuisance.

We have the space, she has her own room, so it’s easy for her to stay with us. We welcome her staying with us. It’s what we do.

This is why, at times, I feel like one day we may be foster parents. Many moons from now if ever, but I believe that if we end up wanting to be parents, that will be our calling. Sure, if J stays with us for longer than this week (which we’re hoping she will), she’ll contribute to rent and groceries, but we’re happy to have her around to keep her out of trouble. While she’s with us she’ll see what our relationship is like and hopefully learn that she deserves kindness, charity, and love.

I have no illusions about this. I know that she’s far more likely to leave our home and seek out a place that’s more abusive, because it’s simply not comfortable for her to be this comfortable for a long period of time. I feel like we have to try, though. But we’ve asked her to commit to staying with us for a week to start.

How does this relate to my potential for motherdom? Well, because I feel like it’s more my position to help the broken pick up the pieces. Why bring more kids into the world when there are so many people out there who’ve been broken by their natural parents. If motherhood ends up being what I want to do, I only see it in the light of helping ones who are already here.

For now, those people are friends and family who need a place to go that’s safe from the negativity and drama of abuse. It’s a great feeling to be able to help.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What's Your Motivation?

Do I really need to be afraid to admit that I find my childhood best friend’s baby super adorable? Must I feel like I’m breaking some sort of code when I want to squish her enormous cheeks (she gets them from Mommy) or rub her soft little head, when I want to love her completely?

People seem to have a hard time parsing the fact that I adore the babies and kids that I care about (as opposed to the complete lack of anything for the babies of strangers, much like my feeling about people I pass on the street on the walk to work) with the fact that I don’t want kids of my own. “Childfree” is inextricably connected to “child-hating”, and there seems to be this impression (whether intentional or subconscious) that my affection for their kids MUST mean that this whole childfree thing is just a rouse, a plea for attention, trying to be cool. Because the alternative is that I really do dislike their kids and am just putting on an act for them.

Am I being melodramatic? When I’m with these kids, I feel this haze of skeptic energy. It could all be in my head, I’ll admit that, but it’s what I feel nonetheless. I feel it when my best friend over-apologizes for her kids’ clinginess, or their desire for attention, or even their annoying little habits. I feel it when I’m making goofy faces or interacting with another’s new baby, coming from over my shoulder. The halfhearted “oh, you don’t have to”s, the occasionally patronizing glances when I say I can watch the kid(s) for a few while they get something done or whathaveyou.

What causes this? Is it because their child’s inability to convince me to be a mom somehow a negative reflection on the kid’s inherent adorableness? Is it because they are so overwhelmed they can see why I might choose NOT to go the mom route and they’re overcompensating with “see? See how great being a mom is?!!!?!!” Is it self-conscious on her end because she believes I think less of her now that she’s a mother? Is it just me being neurotic, pure and simple? It’s a mystery.

It reminds me of a tale a friend who dealt with infertility told about her fear of holding the babies of women who knew she was having problems. She felt all the eyes on her when she held the baby, as if the moms were watching to see if a look of hunger, desire, jealousy came over her, proof that her motivation was suspect, that her desire to hold the baby was pure selfishness. I feel like I’m being watched to see if they can catch the secret look of disgust or horror, the moment my smile breaks and my REAL feelings about their baby come rushing past so they can say “I knew it! You really DON’T love my baby!” I don’t know how to get past this.

Part of the joy of being childfree is the no-strings-attached enjoyment of the kids in our lives. It’s like there’s this cloud hanging over every interaction, though, a self-consciousness on my part, perceived or actual judgment on theirs. It’s a combination of both, surely, and I just wish it was an accepted thing, that those who don’t want to raise children of their own might actually still like the kids in our life. I don’t want my motives to be suspect.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pros and Cons

We're often told that we focus too much on the negatives of parenting, that we never stop to think about the positives. And, of course, we're conversely not allowed to suggest that parents consider the negatives. Naturally, many parents can't even fathom the negatives because the positives are so overwhelming.

But what if it's the negatives that are overwhelming? Let's try a little exercise:

Pro: A little piece of each of you, assuming the child is biologically yours; a child you can influence and mold to be a person.

Here's the thing. As appealing as aspects of that may sound, the resounding reaction as I write is one of neuroses, of what-ifs and what-am-I-losings.

What if I screw it up?

I simply cannot imagine the level of stress this question would plague me with day in, day out. I fly into panic attacks over job interviews, over altercations with friends, over the perception that someone, somewhere might be upset with me, that I did something to upset some sort of balance. Raising a child would be one humongous panic attack for me. Not for you, not for anyone else, but this is my reality.

I think about my experience helping with my niece, and the stress was constant. Did she eat enough for breakfast? The first day in my care she got sent home sick from school, possibly just from her own stress because her normal caregivers were gone, but it was also insinuated that I didn't feed her enough for breakfast. Am I doing her a disservice by helping her on her homework? Should she be reading a more challenging book? Is this TV show giving her low self-esteem? Am I spending enough time with her? This went on for nearly three weeks and I NEVER STOPPED WORRYING that I was doing it all wrong.

I hear tales of friends with new babies, first babies, who are dealing with this constant worry, especially my friend whose baby was sick the first few weeks, with occasionally nasty doctors insinuating that SHE was doing something wrong and making her feel like a failure. Constant worry.

The other question that would plague me is this:
Did I make a mistake here?

When I weigh pros and cons, the cons are simply overwhelming, but none moreso than my fear of regret. But it's the fear of regretting HAVING a child, not the fear of regretting the choice to remain childfree. It's the fear of a child knowing that I wish I never did it, that I had my old life back, that I simply don't like babies for more than a few moments, that I don't have the mom gene that makes vomit and poop okay, that I choose my career over them and leave my husband to raise the child. I honestly feel like adding a child to my life would add a great deal of burden for something I simply do not want, no matter what my body occasionally twinges and tries to suggest (that's a whole different post). And I feel as if staying childfree opens me up to be the best aunt, mentor, and friend to my beloved niece, to the children of friends, to enjoy children the only way I can -- when I can give them back -- while keeping the parts of life that *I* find fulfilling.

It's not that we don't think about the positive aspects of having a kid versus a childfree lifestyle, and I think it's because it's not something that can be quantified. How do you compare seeing the world to seeing your child graduate from high school? Apples and cheeseburgers, friends. Two different lifepaths, each one valid, neither one that can be decided by simply making a list of pros and cons.

When I tried the exercise above, listing a con for the pro, I ran off on tangents because there simply is no comparison. This is not a black and white issue. It lives in the gray area, so we need to find different ways of making decisions.

For me, it's about going with my gut, even as it sometimes defies me lately, with little twinges of "I wonder". It's knowing what I want from life, knowing my temperament and that of my husband, and knowing what we can, can't, and really would rather not handle.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Rules (repost)

Originally posted in 2006, I felt this one was worth bringing back. I've added a few more that have come up over the years as well.
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:

or, "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. "You don't know what LOVE is until you have children." or "You can't appreciate your parents until you have children." This has been said to me countless times, ironically by women in loveless marriages to men with whom they no longer have anything in common. I know what love is dammit. I'm in it and I've been in it for five years. Another favorite, when people see my husband and I being cutesy and lovey: "Oh, that won't last. Wait 'til you have kids." Not a chance in hell.

3. "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 every 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."

4. "I used to hate kids too." In many cases, we don't hate kids. We may have a lower tolerance for their habits than the parents who deal with the quirks, noises and behaviors day in and day out. But by and large, we don't hate your children. It's time people see this for the passive-aggressive jab that it is.

5. "Isn't that kind of selfish?" The ridiculousness of this statement has been handled countless times. Is it selfish to crave a baby of your own flesh and blood that you'll pay thousands upon thousands of dollars while there are countless children who do not have good homes? Is it selfish to bring a baby into a relationship as a means of saving it just because you want a kid and fear this is your only shot? I've known people who've made these decisions and I would never dare insinuate this to them unprovoked, yet people find it appropriate to tell me that I'm being selfish because I don't think I'm well-suited to be a mom. And for gods sake please, lay off the guilt trips. And stop talking about how we're denying our parents grandchildren. I understand their desire for this, but their love should not be contingent upon our ability or desire to procreate.

6. "What about all the women who want children and can't?" I have great sympathy for women going through fertility problems, as far too many of my friends have, but it's not my fault. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. Having my own children won't help them get pregnant.

7. "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.

8. "But you'd have such beautiful/smart/creative kids!" "You're doing a disservice by NOT procreating!" Children are not an accessory. I won't even go into how this cuts into the "selfish" argument. This is a topic that can be safe if handled correctly (especially since it's often meant as a big compliment) but please tread lightly.

9. "The divorce rate is higher for people without children." Before saying this, consider whether a couple who stays together is always happy. How many of these couples are staying together, miserably, simply BECAUSE of the children. I can think of several couples in my life who, tragically, would be much happier apart and pursuing their separate lives, but choose to stay together for the kids. Some have actually said to me "if it weren't for the kid(s), I'd never have put up with this crap for so long."

10. As a general rule, if it would be considered inappropriate for me to ask you the same question rephrased to judge your choice to become a parent, it's probably rude to say it to me. 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. And remember, "who's going to take care of you when you're older" can easily be turned into "what if your kid is a giant fuck-up who can't take care of you when you're older?"

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. Some of the above topics, if in the right context as a dialogue and not a lecture, are even okay. 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. This is a decision that in many ways has not been easy. I realize that I'm exchanging one set of life experiences for another. But I can't have both, and I choose this life.

In return 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. I promise not to flaunt my lifestyle to you in a way that says "look what you're missing out on!" I promise not to badger you about why you're choosing to have only one child, or why you're adding a third to your family. I promise never to talk about overpopulation in a way that makes you a scapegoat, and I promise not to presume to you that I know how to raise your kids better than you do.

We both reserve the right to quietly have our own prejudices and understand that we just need to agree to disagree on this matter. We are free to our own opinions, in your blog, in my blog, in conversations with others like us, our safe havens. But to each other, we must be respectful of each other's choices. We must not take each other's choices as a personal affront to our own lifestyles. It's only fair.

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

That's all I ask.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bad Mom

I take terrible care of my animals.
There, I said it.

Oh, it's not that bad. They're not ill, unclean, or unhappy. Maybe I don't clean the cat's box as often as I should. Maybe I procrastinate on cleaning the fishtank because, well, he's a betta and bettas don't care anyway. Maybe I forget to change the cat's water or decide that it's clean "enough", or I neglect to cut the cat's claws because it's a pain in the ass. I'm a lazy mom, it's true.

I also shove the cat off me when it's inconvenient, get so annoyed I lock the cat out of the room and let him whine.

Where on EARTH do people get the idea that I'd be a great mom? Maybe it comes from being a highly sensitive person (HSP), but I get SO irritated at little things. The cat meowing incessantly when he wants something HIS WAY, or finding the time to clean the catbox and gods forbid the fishtank. My nephews irritate me to the point that I'm not sure I like them much at all, and even my beloved niece grates on my nerves after not much time.

I've probably talked about this before, but it was on my mind today as I contemplated the neglected postcard from the vet's office that says the cat was due for his checkup like 3 months ago. Even if my body got to the point where it wanted to convince my brain to have a baby, I know that it is not something that I would be suited to, and that's ok.

I would be a miserable mother. Not just neglecting the child so I could watch my tv shows, play on the computer, snuggle alone with my husband or even cook a healthy meal or work out. I would simply be miserable, the mother that begs silently for her life back day after day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Just Say No

After much discussion, my husband and I decided against offering a up a room in our hypothetical house to our friends. While the extra money is extremely appealing, the extra stress is not.

We grew out of having a roommate a long time ago, and anything other than a short-term arrangement is just not reasonable. We're not having kids because we love our privacy, our intimacy, our marriage. Adding a person in there competing constantly for space, attention, resources, affection even.... it's just not okay.

So for now the house is on hold. We're going to remain hopeful that I find a new job before this house is off the market, but until we can afford this house without any other help, we simply can't move. It kind of breaks my heart, but I know we're making the right decision.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Borrowing a Teenager

In the midst of my employment uncertainty, my husband and I are looking to buy a home. The market just outside Chicago proper, where we live, has taken a nosedive and we want to get in while the prices are low. The affordability of these homes is still a little questionable while my husband is a full-time student, so we've considered taking a roommate. The roommate would probably be one of two friends of ours, both extremely similar. Both are in their late 20s but look much younger, are a bit stunted socially and have obsessions with anime (one far worse than the other).

My husband and I talked about what it would mean if we rented out one of the bedrooms (there are three and a half bedrooms in the place -- the half room, the "nursery", is poised to be a workout room if we get this house. We listed the potential issues. Friends would come over that we may or may not like, we'd have to share the kitchen, the rec room, etc. We think we'd be okay with that, but there's the reality of this: If she was paying rent, she would no longer be a "guest" in our home. It would be her home too. And that implies a level of control over the place that's potentially unsettling.

And then we realized that having one of these friends move in with us would basically be like having a teenager, albeit one that brought money INTO the home instead of siphoning it out. But the money isn't the big deal here. It's the omnipresence.

We've had friends live with us for up to a month at a time (Christi, one of these girls stayed with us for nearly a month early last year). It was mostly fine, but we never felt like ourselves. We're very cute, very cuddly in the kinds of ways you don't share with friends. And sex? Hello awkward!! We just could not get comfortable to the point where we could be intimate, sexually or otherwise, with another person there.

It would seriously be like having a teenager.
Except for when Christi got a boyfriend and brought him home. When she lived with us and brought her MUCH younger boyfriend home (which seems to be the trend among the anime girls we know), he treated us like we were her parents. It was the weirdest thing ever. Then I think wow, her friends are almost ALL in their very early 20s, if that. We are ANCIENT to them, and I'm not sure I can tolerate their immaturity in my home.

And then it stops seeming like it would be worth it, even if it would make or break the deal of us getting this particular home, which is pretty much our dreamhouse.

I look at this in contrast with some other other stuff I'm feeling lately and it messes with my head.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fresh Starts

It's interesting to hear people in different phases of their lives talk about how the layoffs at my company are affecting them. We're in the sort of unique situation of knowing our fate months in advance, so the place is abuzz with networking, sharing of strategies, wishing of luck. It's a fascinating dynamic.

My situation is this: My husband is in college as a full-time student, due to graduate in June of 2009. We can't afford for him to have a setback -- he needs to finish. So I need to make enough money to support us both. I'm fortunate to have followed a fairly straight career path, have marketable skills, great references and, perhaps most importantly, a good idea of where I want to go and what I want to do.

A group of younger people here, in their early 20s, were talking today in the lunchroom about moving someplace exciting. They're going to couch-surf with friends in San Francisco, in New Orleans, in Tampa, and they're going to start building a life down there. Many people are exploring what they want to do with their lives, if they are secure in their careers or whether they want to change careers. What's most interesting to me about this whole layoff is that while there's so much variety in everyone's personal story, the parents seem to all be doing the same things.

1. Reluctantly preparing to move their families from Chicago to rural Wisconsin, where the office is moving and complaining that they're not going to be able to sell their homes in this market.
2. Reluctantly pleading with other branches of the company in the area to take them in while complaining at what a crap company it is and wishing they had more options.

Even though I'm the breadwinner right now, I have a great deal of options. If I can't find a new job, we can downsize. We can move to different areas of the city, we can eventually leave the city if it comes down to it. I can take a lower-paying job if I must and still only have to worry about feeding and clothing the two of us. Of course I feel pressure and often more than a little scared at the uncertainty of the situation, but I'm nowhere near as scared as those who are the sole breadwinner for a partner AND kids.

It's in the eyes of these people -- moreso than the single people with no second income, moreso than my gay coworkers whose partners rely on the domestic partner insurance offered by my company, and moreso than the women who are just a couple years short of retirement and probably won't find another similar job -- that I see fear, and that makes me sad. It also makes me feel fortunate.

Financial stability is a big motivator in our decision not to have children. I know the reason we're going to be okay with this layoff has little if anything to do with our parenting status. But watching the way in which the parents I work with deal with the situation as opposed to those of us who have different circumstances has intrigued me this week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Long-Term Care

A point parents like to point out is that the childfree will presumably have no one to take care of them when they’re older. My husband and I are taking precautions for this, starting our retirement savings early, and we plan to get long-term care insurance and whatnot, but it’s been frighteningly prevalent in the lives of my friends in the last couple weeks, as well as my own.

My father lost his job in August with a measly 2-week severance, which devastated my family. When it first happened, I rushed to loan them $3000 to cover their mortgage and expenses while they figured out what to do. They cashed in their retirement and have watched as my dad went from interview to interview in his very specialized field and was the second choice five times in a row. After a lifetime of smoking and drinking, he’s 56 going on 65, and my mother and I suspect it’s his ill health that’s led the employers to choose the other top candidate. They’ve used up most of their sad little retirement account paying off debt and are now looking at potentially losing their house.

My brother, a single father, is trying to make his life work for the first time in his life. Newly employed full-time and insured, he promptly set about breaking his wrist in a fall on the ice and is faced with two months out of work and losing his new apartment that he shares with my niece.

Add this to my recent layoff and, while I’m optimistic about my own situation, the gods have not been smiling upon my family lately.

I’m in a position where I have to look at how much help I can give to my parents. My husband and I are looking to buy a house before health issues force our frail old landlady into selling or worse, so we need to keep an eye on our own finances. I’m feeling horrible guilt about making my parents pay back the loan we gave them, but it came from my husband’s student loan and now we need it to pay his tuition for the Spring semester. It’s all very complicated and it’s killing me that I can’t help them financially without plunging us into the financial ruin that they’re all suffering from. I’m focusing on moral support and doing what I can – buying my mom some business books as she explores starting a home business, school clothes and supplies for my niece, loaning my brother his rent while he’s out of work with the expectation that he will pay me back when he gets his tax refund. But it’s a lot to take, and compared to some of my friends lately, I’ve got it easy.

Marlene’s father and my dad might be the same person, although her dad is more extreme and has a couple of years on mine. This terrifies me more than I can express. She’s in the unenviable position right now of caring for her very ill and incontinent father, whom she despises because of his years of abuse and alcoholism, for fear of being brought up on neglect charges by social services. She went from not speaking to him for years to being his in-home caregiver because she and her partner can’t afford to pay for caregivers. Every day she wishes she could just walk out, but because her father knows she can’t he abuses the privilege and threatens to call social services. Recently she and her partner bought a home, and now she’s on a leave of absence from work and facing real financial problems because her parents simply relied upon her to save them when she grew up. I look at what she’s dealing with, with parents about 10 years older than mine, and fear completely that it is what I, the financially responsible one, will be required to do if my father falls ill.

Almost a year ago to the day my friend Elena’s father passed away a couple weeks ago, he was given a year to live with a brain tumor. Her mother had been suffering mildly from dementia before he became ill and faded into the background as the family rallied around dad. Now that he’s gone, her mother has gone crazy. She lost her job because of her mental illness and now Elena, married only 5 years with a 3-year-old son, is facing buying a house her family can’t really afford so that her mother can move in with them. There’s simply no other choice; she’s her daughter and this is what daughters do.

It wouldn’t be so terrible if it were just a matter of her mother moving in, but her paranoia is out of control. Even Elena’s young son has started having nightmares and being scared of people who are coming through the windows, the front door, the closet, to steal him. They can’t leave him alone with Grandma, and it’s starting to seem that it’s unhealthy for him to even be around her because her paranoia is scaring him, and they don't know what else might be wrong in her brain. Plus, Grandma refuses to believe that Grandpa is gone and keeps confusing the child, who is having a hard enough time processing the concept of death. “My life is over. I’m not even 30 and my life is over,” Elena said to me. I was speechless. It’s such an impossible situation, and impossible choice to make. I didn’t know what to say to her except give her a hug.

Elena and Marlene’s parents are fortunate that their kids are there for them despite the unpleasantness. But no one would blame them if they said “I can’t handle this” and left their parents to their own devices, their situations are so terrible. I look at my own family and wonder where my limits will be; will I be willing to help my mom but not my father? How do you reconcile that? It was never a secret that Marlene didn’t get along with her dad, resented his drinking and the way he treated her mother, and instead of looking at the situation and seeing her as the saint that she is he makes accusations and makes her stay out of guilt. Even though I blame my dad’s health on his poor choices, could I ever not take care of him? I don’t think so, and I honestly can’t decide if that is guilt or love.

I don’t ever want someone to give up their life to care for me out of guilt. I never want to look at a person and think “I had you so you could take care of me when I’m old.”

My husband and I joke about driving off a cliff together when one of us gets very ill, but we know that’s not a likely scenario. I have such conflict about what my friends are going through, knowing that someday my parents will get older, and that one day my husband and I will get older. I think about how fortunate my parents are that they did many things right and have two kids who would take care of them, however reluctantly at times. (But seriously, how can it NOT be reluctantly?) And I do wonder about us not having that. I worry about it. A lot.

Especially in light of the recent goings on, it’s perhaps the most compelling argument for procreating I’ve seen. It’s not a good enough reason and it’s not the right reason, but it’s on my mind hardcore.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Risky Business

I kind of had an inkling something was up on Monday evening when I got the e-mail to convene for breakfast at the Sears Tower, just a couple blocks from my office, for a mandatory meeting. It also concerned me that we weren’t all invited. And while expected them plying us with sweets was the precursor to bad news, I didn’t expect them to tell all 175 of us that we were being laid off. It wasn’t immediate – even the earliest layoffs aren’t occurring ‘til April – but damaging enough. And while I feel confident that I’ll land on my feet, especially since I was ready to move on from this job anyway, there are others I worry about.

One friend at work has a new baby at home. His wife quit her job on the previous Friday to stay at home with their son. Others have large families, many are the primary breadwinner. Some of us are fortunate that a number of jobs are open in our fields, while others have been here so long, their duties so diverse, that they’re even not really sure what they do. It’s great that there’s time for people to find new things, but it’s still devastating for many.

I’m sad to leave this place, however, because it’s the only place I’ve worked where not having kids didn’t matter. Maybe it’s because it’s downtown Chicago, where people are more open-minded and more likely to know others like me (or to also be childfree), but I don’t have people using the fact that I don’t have kids as a reason to make ME work the extra hours, or to have ME give up time. I’m asked to do it, but it’s never because my life doesn’t matter as much as others’.

That’s not to say it’s not stressful. I am not only the primary breadwinner, I am the sole breadwinner, plus my husband’s student loan debt is piling up. Ironically, I took this job (after freelancing full-time for a year) for the stability, so that I knew we'd have insurance and stable income while he was in school. SURPRISE! I feel like we need to apply for his loan for next year NOW, while I’m employed, just in case I can’t find anything. My father has been unemployed for nearly 6 months, the former VP of Engineering going from making that sort of salary to nothing, and my folks are facing the loss of their home because they can’t seem to sell it in this market. My brother, who FINALLY moved into his own apartment with his daughter and got a real, full-time job, just broke his hand severely and is faced with losing HIS job. It’s a very real possibility that I will be asked to help them out, and that terrifies me. Plus, we’re entering a recession that, if trends are the same as they were when recession hit in 2000/2001, will mean graphic design jobs will dry up completely and start paying much less. I don’t want to find a job in an employers’ market. I need a job NOW.

But, when it comes down to it, I know we’ll be fine. Our expenses are low enough, and we’ve been able to save enough over the last few years that we’ll be okay. I look at the situation and wonder how much it would change if we added a kid to the equation. We’d need so much more saved in an emergency fund, if it comes down to being unemployed the insurance would be so much higher. And then I wondered, would my husband have even been able to go back to school full-time, with me supporting us both?

His decision to go back to school is going to mean so many opportunities for us. It will open great doors for his career and is a necessary step for us to reach the goals we have. We’ve been together 5 years… what if, in that time, we’d had a child? We’d never be able to afford to take this risk, to go to one income, to incur a great deal of debt while risking our insurance and our livelihoods on my income. Would I have been able to move up as I have in my career, or to move up more where I can carry us both? Can you imagine the additional costs, childcare and more, that a child would add to the equation? I can’t. There’s a great potential that we would be stuck in that situation, with my career plateauing because of a newfound aversion to the risks that have taken me this far and will certainly take me further. It would take my husband years to finish school part-time, if he even found the motivation (he’s a full-time student kind of guy; it’s just his personality), it would take him years, and his degree wouldn’t mean as much as it does from the great program he’s in right now. It’s staggering.

It’s no surprise that a child doesn’t fit into our lifestyle at this point, but I look to the future and just can’t see us settling to a point where we would want to be parents. I know, even with this layoff and future layoffs that we’ll surely face in our careers, that we can provide for ourselves. I’m a big risk-taker, but a child’s effect on that aspect of my personality is an interesting paradox. Is a child too big a risk for me to handle, or do I simply not want to have a child because I’ll no longer want to be a risk-taker?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Step away from the boobies

I could write quite a sizable list of the weirdness of on of one particular family that stayed at the retreat we stayed at in Ek Balam, Mexico. They seemed to forget they weren’t in their own backyard, letting their toddler (she looked about 3 or 4) run around the place naked. This made both my husband and me extremely uncomfortable and we were one instance away from a confrontation before they left. The worst of their offenses was at dinner, when the toddler latched onto mommy’s breast. TODDLER. I’m sorry, if your child is walking around and talking to me, they have no business sucking on your teets, especially at the friggin’ group dining table.

I actually don’t have a problem with public breastfeeding. I have an issue with the women who are “HEY, look at my BOOBS because it’s NATURAL” about it -- because seriously, there's a reason we wear clothing and undergarments and nobody needs to see that -- but discreet public breastfeeding doesn’t usually bug me. The idea of breastfeeding in general creeps me out like little else, but not so much that I’m offended. But this was just plain CREEPY.

What the hell is a three-year-old (at least) getting out of breast-feeding? This was in addition to eating the yummy vegetarian goodies cooked by the kitchen at the retreat, so it’s not like it was all the kid was eating. She had teeth, after all, so clearly she needs more than what this tiny woman’s boobs could pump out.
It was seriously horrifying to me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Traveling Light

It seemed to me, as my husband and I wandered around Disneyland Chichen Itza on our recent trip to the Yucatan, among the families with kids more interested in taking photographs of themselves making silly faces than actually caring about where the were, what happened there, that they were standing among structures built thousands of years ago, some of the most ancient and certainly the most magnificent structures that exist on our continent… I wondered if the kids would remember the trip fondly, or if, the moment they got bored (and they ALL got bored) if the experience would be colored as a great big “not much” in their minds. Granted a great many of the adults (mostly American it seemed) also wandered the site rather aimlessly, never reading the little plaques that explained the structures, never really looking at anything except the main pyramid. Perhaps my husband and I are just pompous in thinking that we appreciate historical and culturally significant sites more than the average bear, but it made me wonder why people bring their kids to sites like that. I mean, of course they want to see them themselves and have these grand ideas about instilling a love of history in their kids, but for the most part the parents looked irritated that they couldn’t explore as they wanted to, or like they just wanted a moment of silence, to experience the place serenely. Indeed, when the tour buses left-- and with them most of the families and many of the merchants-- the place got ten times, maybe a hundred times more magical.

It makes me understand why parents like places like Disney World so much. It’s like automatic engagement. You don’t have to worry about entertaining your kids; it’s simply a function of the location. But in Mexico, time and again we saw families with bored kids (or kids playing their Nintendo DS while sitting on 12th century ruins), and frustrated parents who just wanted a moment to appreciate where they were without being asked when they could go swimming again.

There was one exception, a Canadian family with teenagers that stayed at our retreat. A Mayan language class was held to get us closer to the Mayan culture and the kids just ate it up. Again, it’s kids like these that make me think, sometimes, that raising kids might not be all bad (again, if you got lucky enough to get a good one). The boy, 16, had a natural aptitude for language acquisition and was asking all the right questions. It was remarkable! He and his 15-year-old sister were very mature and very friendly, unlike the sobbing toddlers and whiny pre-teens who passed through the retreat over the course of the week. These were kids who got it, who appreciated where they were, the opportunities to learn and the good fortune they had to be traveling through Mexico on their winter break. It was a site so rare.

A woman I work with was extremely jealous of my trip. “Before I had kids I traveled all over the world, I lived overseas for awhile and I loved it.” Her voice then kind of broke, filled with what sounded like regret. “I really, REALLY miss it.” Of course she loves her kids, but no one thinks about that kind of regret when they ask us, the childfree, if we’re going to regret not having children. Y’know what, maybe we will, but we won’t regret not seeing the world the way we wanted to, or not having enough time for each other. Life is full of choices and regrets, and our choice to travel fulfills in a way children would not.

The mere fact that children would have made it impossible for us to take this trip to the Yucatan, compelling us to stay in a more “comfortable” hotel (read: one with a TV) rather than the eco-lodge that bored the tears out of the kids who stayed there with us, pressuring us to skip the cultural tours of the villages in favor of more swimming in the pools… we may have taken the trip, if we could have even afforded to fly as a family, but it would have been completely different, filled with something other than the magic we felt while we were there. Traveling as a couple suits us, and we eagerly look forward to our next trip: to London to visit a friend who’s taken an assignment there, and off to Budapest, Hungary, the home of my own ancestors.