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No Kidding: A Few Random Thoughts March 23, 2011

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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Once, in an advanced grammar and composition class, my English teacher proclaimed that within five years, some of us would be married with children.

I was a senior in high school, college bound, as were all of the people in that room, I thought. It didn’t seem possible that he could be right.

But sure enough, a couple of months shy of her twenty-first birthday, a friend who had been sitting with me in that classroom gave birth to her first child. Cheryl was one of my best buddies during seriously formative years—ages 11 to 16 or so. She was brilliant. Immediately after high school, the government recruited her to study languages like Russian and Korean. I remember answering questions about her during her background check. Two years later, she was married and pregnant and then stopped working to raise her kids.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I saw that same English teacher at my tenth high-school reunion. By then he had a couple of kids himself. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that two kids is twice as much work as one,” he said. “It’s exponential.”

***

Lately I’ve been reading Mali’s blog, No Kidding in NZ, which deals with both the pain of being unable to have children and the joys of a childfree existence. Within its electronic walls lies sensitivity training regarding choices and circumstances. Humans are a judgmental bunch, and all of us have our blind spots.

I am childfree by choice, and one lesson I’ve had to learn is not to jump to the conclusion that other childfree couples are that way by choice. On some level, I’d make assumptions that, like me, they didn’t want children, and I’d decide we had this delightful fact in common. Then I’d say something that would turn out to be highly inappropriate.

***

When she lived in LA, my sister joined the local chapter of No Kidding—a group made up of people with no children who wanted to socialize with other people who had no children. I was impressed that something like this existed. (Of course, there weren’t any chapters near me in Vermont, and I did not feel compelled to start one.) No matter. Sometimes I’m just happy that certain things are.

***

Now, a quiz: How many children should you have?

(a) None

(b) One

(c) Two

(d) Three

(e) Four or more

If you live in the United States and you answered (c) or (d), congratulations! You are correct! If you answered (a), you are obviously selfish. If you answered (b), you are practically a child abuser, not giving your only child a sibling. If you answered (e), really, what the hell are you thinking?

My friend Esther, mother of one son, pointed this out to me years ago. It feels utterly, socially true.

***

Mali’s last post deals with the alleged “selfishness” of childlessness, and I appreciate her addressing it. I’m always glad when parenthood is outed as a selfish act, because I can hardly think of anything more selfish—the need to pass along your genes, the need to create a family for yourself. What could be more about me than parenthood?

I’m not saying this selfishness is wrong. (We all want to create our own happiness.) But it is selfishness. Certainly, being a parent pushes a person into situations in which s/he needs to be selfless sometimes. But necessary selfless situations aren’t exclusively limited to parenthood.

Mali has also noted the use of the phrase, “As a mother, I . . .” or “As a parent, I . . . ,” as if parents had the monopoly on being compassionate human beings. Since she’s pointed it out, I’ve been hyperaware of it, and I do hear it a lot. What about “As a human, I . . . ?” Shouldn’t we all be compassionate? Why should nonparents be viewed as somehow unable to deeply care about fellow human beings, especially very young ones?

***

There are plenty of reasons I’m happy that I didn’t have children. One is that it’s probably the best thing that I’ve done for the environment. Overpopulation is clearly the root of many of our problems.

That said, the real reason I didn’t have children is that I just never wanted it enough. No matter what I think about overpopulation, I have no doubts that if I’d decided I wanted a child, I would have tried to have a child, the planet be damned. Like everyone else, I’m selfish that way.

***

Do I like children? It feels like a false question. They’re people. Some of them are wonderful, and some of them are assholes. Most people, including children, are great most of the time but every now and again behave very badly.

Here in Parts West, I’m surrounded by great kids. (I’m especially enamored of a 9-month-old and a 19-month-old at the moment, being almost physically unable to look away when either is in the room.) I like being around the kids in the ’hood. I like spending time with them.

Then I like bidding them adieu and heading back to my childfree home.

Comments»

1. Maureen - March 23, 2011

Four might be crazy, but eight will get you your own TV show and a guest appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

indigo bunting - March 23, 2011

Sigh. I’m so late to that party.

2. Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - March 23, 2011

I’ve never felt the need to have my biological essence live on after me. I didn’t particularly like children even when I was a child, preferring to hang out with the adults. Being gay just meant that I didn’t have the pressure to procreate; of course, this was long before the big Gay Parenting Boom.

I remember telling my mother once, “You do realize, don’t you, that you won’t be getting any grandchildren from me?” She replied, “Yes, dear, I’ve long since resigned myself to that reality.”

indigo bunting - March 23, 2011

Ah, the things said, the things never said…

3. Bridgett - March 23, 2011

I have so much to say here (good things) that, like you, I should go on my own blog and write them. As a mother of three, I….just kidding.

indigo bunting - March 23, 2011

OK, laughing now, B…

4. Mali - March 24, 2011

Oh my. I read Bridgett’s before I saw this. I want to respond to it all, and I’m so glad you shared this, and I feel a bit of a coward for not being prepared to post my first comment on A Separate life.

I had to laugh (and agree) with you: “Some of them (kids) are wonderful, and some of them are assholes.” How true.

5. Mali - March 24, 2011

I’ve just said to Bridgett – I think I’m going to have to respond a blogpost per point you’ve raised!

And this just made me love my blog friends more than ever.

6. Lali - March 24, 2011

I especially agree with the environmental argument for childlessness. Used to be one had children to keep the human race going. Now one should refrain from having them for the same reason.

7. helen - March 24, 2011

I like this random train of thoughts. I never made a choice to have kids, or to not have kids. Like most things in my life, including retirement planning, I left it to chance. I’m not sure that was wise.

indigo bunting - March 25, 2011

No matter what retirement planning I do, or what sort of passes for it, I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to retire. Thank god I don’t have kids to support, eh?

8. The Cat Lady - March 26, 2011

Wonderful post. After I had been married a few years, I was astounded when my sister told me I was selfish for not having children. I reacted the same and said it would be selfish of me to have a child if I didn’t think I could care for it properly at that time! She didn’t get it. It took me 20 years before I decided I might want and child, and now I have graduated to the child abuser category because I “only” have one. Which reminds me of a post I read about trying to get parents with a single child to stop saying, “I “only” have one.”

indigo bunting - March 28, 2011

That’s a really interesting point. It’s amazing the power of language…what seems small isn’t so.

9. laurie - March 27, 2011

i’m ok with being childless. it was sort of a mutual decision between god and me. but i will never forget mentioning this to my brother–“I’m infertile,” I said, and he snapped back, “Oh, Laurie, you’re not infertile, you’re trish’s daughter!” and while yes, it’s true that our mother, trish, had 10 children, that did NOT mean that all of her daughters were bunnies. my brother never apologized for that remark and while i’ve forgiven, i’ve never forgotten.

indigo bunting - March 28, 2011

And nor would I.

10. Dona - March 27, 2011

Just saw this — I was not avoiding it, I promise.

If someone doesn’t have kids, I figure either they didn’t want to or couldn’t. I don’t usually ask. I figure it is none of my business. If they want to tell me they will.

I don’t mean to shove my parenthood in people’s faces — but it is who I am. I love having kids. Yes, it was selfish to want them. Yes I thought about that when I was working on getting pregnant. I have zero regrets that I had my kids though — and wish we’d had a third.

indigo bunting - March 28, 2011

Dona, one thing I should say is that I don’t mind at all if people talk about their kids. I have friends who get apologetic about talking about their kids all the time. I’m quick to point out that their kids are their life, and I want to hear about their life! (That said, no doubt there are people with unhealthy obsessions about their kids, but I haven’t seen a lot of that among my friends.)

11. Mali - March 28, 2011

I totally agree with IB. Unfortunately, I have seen the “obsession” thing in at least one friend, which can be a bit much, but generally I like to have kids as part of my life in that way too.

12. LisaS - March 28, 2011

i’m enjoying the conversation. and i’m mostly with Dona. i don’t know if i love having kids … but i do love them. and i try not to seem obsessed but by and large my life revolves around them. too much. more than i’d like, honestly. my child-free friends give me the opportunity to be the person i used to be, and i appreciate that more than they know.


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