Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Pile of Parental Smugness Under the Christmas Tree

To those of you who celebrate, Merry Christmas (a day late)! I hope you had a joyous day as I did.

We spent Christmas with my family at my parents' house (yes, my mother and I ended our estrangement and things seem to be going well so far). My entire family was there - my 2 brothers and their wives/girlfriends, their children (4), my parents and us...a total of 12 people.

The presents were piled high and the children, of course, were extra riled up in anticipation of opening their gifts. As is always the case, my hubby gets them even more riled up by roughhousing with them and being the crazy uncle who is throwing himself on the floor, playing "karate" with them and doing other shenanigans - anything to get them to laugh.

At one point, my brother Ron, my sister-in-law (the other brother's wife) and I were standing in the kitchen observing my hubby and three of the kids in the full throes of chaos. One of the kids had gotten an Indiana Jones whip as a present - a soft (harmless) whip that makes a real whipping sound when it makes contact with someone. So my nephew Anthony was whipping hubby and hubby was reacting like he was really getting whipped - falling over and making silly, pained faces. All of the kids were laughing, but the one laughing the hardest was my youngest nephew, Bobby, who is 2 1/2. He was laughing so hard, he was to the point of hysterics and his belly laughter had all of us in stitches. He was doubling over and holding his stomach each time hubby was whipped. Within moments the entire family was watching and being entertained and were laughing as hard as Bobby.

And then, my brother Ron (the father of the laughing toddler) said (obviously for my benefit), "this is the kind of thing that makes having a kid all worth it. It can be hard sometimes but moments like this make it all worthwhile."

Because I am keeping peace in the family and am careful to do NOTHING to cause any problems whatsoever, I said nothing but continued to smile and laugh at the scene before us. I simply did not respond.

What I wanted to say was this: "Well, I am getting just as much enjoyment from this moment as you, yet I do not have any of the burdens of being a parent. I win!!!"

But seriously, I just have to shake my head sometimes at the rationale people give for having kids. People love to rationalize that undertaking a life of burden, sacrifice, never-ending work, financial strain, marital strain, relinquishment of friends, hobbies and interests is worth it to get the rare moments like this - when one can experience the joy of watching his child laugh hysterically at his crazy uncle - a benefit that one can just as easily enjoy by watching other peoples' kids in situations like this (particularly if the kids are loved ones) or (as hubby says) by renting Three Stooges videos. My heart was bubbling over with just as much joy as my brother while watching Bobby's fits of belly laughter and yet my brother felt compelled to make a point that his joy was somehow superior to mine because he is the one who reproduced.

The irony of the situation, of course, is that it was hubby - a childfree person - who was the one to elicit said infectious laughter from the tot, not either of the parents. It is precisely because we are childfree that we are not jaded by the day-to-day grind of childrearing and are therefore more fun and engaged with the kids. Kids are a novelty to us and we, as fun grownups who enjoy kids and who are still in touch with our inner child, are a novelty to our nieces and nephews. We joyfully engage with them and play with them on their level, while the parents look on and feel grateful for a moment of rest.

So my brother feeling superior for being a parent was laughable, but I was proud of myself for having the self discipline to keep my mouth shut when I could have just as easily smacked him down and put him right back in his place. I just smiled and let him have his moment of smugness. If it makes him feel better, good for him. He needs the reinforcement more than I do, and I am well aware that it will be just a blink of an eye before that adorable, giggling toddler will be a sullen, backtalking teenager. We'll see who's feeling smug then.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a Equitable Christmas

Okay, how do I vent about this without coming across as a petty whiner who has no perspective on the true meaning of Christmas? I am not sure, but let me say up front that I am keenly aware of the true spirit of Christmas - that's it's not about materialism and consumerism. In fact, I've been the one in my family to push for cutting back on the consumerism and focus more on the non-material aspects of the holiday. Sadly, my attempts at getting my family to agree to do a pollyanna fell on deaf ears.

Okay, now that I've cleared that up, there is something about the consumerist side of Christmas that annoys me and feels lopsided in favor of people with kids.

When hubby and I buy gifts for our families, we buy for our siblings and their kids. Every person gets their own gift, so for example, for my youngest brother and his family, we purchase 5 gifts - a gift for him, a gift for his wife and a gift for each of the 3 kids. When they buy for us, we each get one gift - from the entire family. So they buy us 2 gifts and we buy them 5.

If things were not lopsided in favor of people with kids, rules of fairness would dictate that since we bought each of their kids a gift, we should receive a gift from each of the kids. Now, we know that kids don't have money to purchase gifts, but the kids have parents who can give the kids money to purchase gifts for their aunt and uncle. Unreasonable? I don't think so. I have noticed that each of those kids "buys" a gift for their parents on their birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day and I am pretty sure it was the other parent who footed the bill.

To be clear, it's not about the gifts - we don't need more stuff and can certainly buy whatever we need. It's the principle of the thing. It's about people with kids always getting more than they give and living a life of entitlement. It extends beyond Christmas to every facet of their lives. They get more because they reproduced. They give less because they reproduced. It's all about them and their kids and their life of entitlement. It is not only accepted, it's expected. It's the perpetual parental subsidy - the never ending meal ticket.

People like to say that Christmas is for "the children". This is really just an excuse to shortchange the grownups.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frazzled, Frenetic Friends

One of the main reasons I do not want to have children is that I do not want to have a manic and chaotic lifestyle. I have no desire to run around like a headless chicken all day and collapse into bed completely exhausted every night. I have no desire to live in a home that is filled with noise and commotion 16 hours a day. I have no desire to have every minute of my day filled to the brink and I certainly have no desire to live my entire life soley for a person who is completely dependent on me. Every person I know who has children lives this way and that lifestyle holds absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever.

When people see me with kids and see how much I enjoy them and how good I am with them, they cannot wrap their minds around the fact that I do not want kids. People assume that if a person likes kids, she must want them and that not wanting kids equals hating kids. For me, this is not true. I don't hate kids. I hate the lifestyle that comes with having them. When I tell people that, they look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. They just don't get it.

My very close friend Sara, who loves being a mom, demonstrates for me every time we are together why I do not want the parent lifestyle. We were together all day on Saturday at our house doing our annual holiday cookie bake - a tradition we have been enjoying for over 20 years. We start at 8:00 a.m. and go until well after dinner time, sometimes into the evening. Her kids stay home with her husband on cookie bake day (thank goodness) so we have the entire day together, just the two of us.

Even though Sara is sans kids for the day, she never escapes the demands of being a full-time mom, with her husband calling her on her cell phone every hour to check in and ask for her advice on every situation that arises with the kids. She's got to talk him through everything from what foods to feed them to how to get them to settle down for nap time to what time he should put the t.v. on, to who gets what snacks. He is helpless without her.

Last week, Sara and I went out Christmas shopping together at the local Target. I noticed that Sara always seems like she is on methamphetamines - she is always racing. While I am casually strolling through and aisles, browsing and looking at things in a leisurely and contemplative way, Sara is manically grabbing this thing and that, talking a mile a minute and making decisions quickly in a feverish rush, even when it's just the two of us and there is no reason to rush. I realized that her frantic demeanor has been honed from having to do shopping trips with her young boys who have very short attention spans that expire after 10 minutes a store, resulting in out-of-control temper tantrums. Sara has learned to think and act quickly and impulsively as a means of survival. Being with her turns my stomach in knots.

I have also noticed that with the onset of children, Sara has lost most of her attention span. When she and I are together and having a discussion, I have to get to the point quickly because she quickly loses her focus. She pretends to be listening, but I can tell her thoughts are elsewhere. Her brain has lost its ability stay with a train of thought for more than 1 minute. Again, blame it on endless hours of interactions with her kids who require rapid-fire responses from her - several per minute.

I love Sara and our friendship goes back many, many years. I am sure our friendship will go on until the end of our lives, but being around her now gives me bad nerves. I keep telling myself to hang in there - that in a few years, when the kids are older, things will settle down and she will return to the calm and attentive friend I once knew. In the meantime, I just have to remember to take deep breaths when I am with her and try not to absorb the frenetic tension of her manic lifestyle.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sanctimony and Santa Claus

Sanctimonious, self-righteous parents.

How often do we childfree people have to endure their self-congratulating and their holier-than-thou conceitful arrogance over how selfless they are and how their life was so meaningless before they had children and how NOW they are Mother Teresa incarnate because their life is all about their children and taking care of their children and putting the needs of others before their own (implying, of course, that YOU - the pitiable, confused, self-absorbed, materialistic, hedonist creature - are far less evolved).

Yet, amazingly, from these same saintly parents, I witness scenes like this every Christmas season:

And who, pray tell, is placing this terrorized child on Santa's lap? Why, it is said sanctimonious parent who -in her relentless quest to get the requisite Santa photo - will kick her child's psychological well-being to the curb if she has to. There are some things that are just too important to miss out on and this is one of them! What will Aunt Martha think she doesn't receive a Santa photo?

I've witnessed this scene many times over the years and again just last night while at the mall. As I exited Macy's, I heard this God-awful screaming - like a child was being killed. It was coming from Santa's Village in the mall court and there, sitting on Santa's lap was this poor terrorized child, beet red and screaming his lungs out. His mother had placed him on Santa's lap, despite the child's feeble attempts to cling onto his mother for dear life. My heart broke for the little tyke as I observed the scene. He was kicking and flailing his arms and legs, screeching in terror and reaching out desperately for his mother, who was standing next to the camera elf making silly noises and faces and clapping her hands like a cymbal monkey to convince the child that this is FUNNNNN! Hurray! Look at mommy! Isn't this fun!!?? Santa is a NICE MAN! (clap clap clap)

Dad joins in, and then little sister and now the whole family is in on the abuse. The baby will have no part of it and screams louder. Now he is so upset he is gasping for air and turning blue. The elf finally gives up and takes the photo. Santa gives a hearty chuckle. A terrorized child memorialized for eternity.

Now, isn't this what Christmas is all about?

Once the photo is taken, mom runs over to rescue the screaming child from Santa's lap. She picks him up and presses him against her, consoling him and patting his back. The child is grasping onto her like a Titantic survivor clinging to a lifeboat. "It's all over now. Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" The mom and dad are giggling between themselves with a knowing look as if to say, "oh, the things we have to go through as parents" (as though torturing a child like this is some kind of parental obligation).

Yes folks, these are the same people who look down their noses at the childfree for our "selfishness".

Isn't that like Santa calling the Pillsbury Doughboy fat?

Friday, December 4, 2009

You May be Surprised

A couple of posts ago, I discussed my dismay at the fact that in our culture, "family" = couple + children, and childfree couples are not thought of as a family. I posted a link to a recent Redbook article that addressed the question of how many kids a couple should have, completely disregarding the option of "none".

I posted a poll asking what you thought - is a married couple without kids a "family"? Not surprisingly, a vast majority of my readers voted "yes" and a couple people commented that my poll would get very different results on a non-childfree site.

So out of curiosity, I posted the same poll on another site - a non-childfree discussion board. The members of the forum are primarily women from all walks of life. Most are moms or are planning to be moms at some point. A few are childfree. Some are childless. They are a pretty good cross-section of women.

Well, you may be surprised to know that with 130 votes cast so far, in answer to the question, "is a married couple without kids a 'family' "? they responded as follows:

Yes: 93.8%
No: 3.8%
Not Sure: 2.3%

Surprised? I am.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is 30 Rock Pronatalist too?

I received this e-mail from a reader who gave me permission to print it. If you're a fan of 30 Rock, please let us know what you think:

"I must say I love your blog and appreciate the time and effort you put into it. I enjoy reading it and it inspires me not to be afraid to think for myself. I recently started watching the NBC sitcom 30Rock (a quick trip to can explain this show better than I can...) but unfortunately this is in my honest opinion the worst episode that aired recently called "Sun Tea"...

It started out pretty good. The two characters, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan, plan to get vasectomies together after exploring the disadvantages of having kids. In Jack's case, he seemed like the childfree type from the start. His hero is "publicly humiliated by his own family" and he's glad he doesn't have to experience this himself. Yeah, he's rich enough to afford multiple kids but he doesn't have them anyway. He seems to have a good head on his far.

In Tracy's case, even though he already had children (2 boys I think), his reasons were: " This Cosby Show lied to me!" (you know, the usual perfect or in some way appealing family that everyone would love to be a part of) and the inability to tell "the stripper story" in front of Tracy Jr.

Both men had no problems getting their surgeries approved but in the end, they both decided not to go through with the vasectomy because Tracy was stupid enough to listen to his Cosby Show hallucination during his vasectomy and Jack bonded with Tracy Jr. over homework in the waiting room. What's even stupider is they add some "green" propaganda. But there's obviously nothing "green" abotu having children...hypocricy much, Tina Fey? She's a mom of course as well as the creator of this show.

Please tell me this episode pokes fun at people who have stupid reasons for having children. I want to love this show, I really do. The past ones weren't painful to watch like this one was. It kind of makes me fear for the future just a little bit more...

Here's a link to the episode. I hope it's able to show up so you can judge for yourself.