Monday, May 26, 2008

Bucolia Interrupted (and a Plan Hatched)

Well, it happened again - an otherwise enjoyable and relaxing outing abruptly screeched to a halt by loud, obnoxious parents.

Memorial Day was a sublimely gorgeous day - that rare type of day that comes about 5 times a year that is so blissfully perfect, you have to pinch yourself and ask if you are awake, dreaming or on narcotics. Because the weather was so drop-dead gorgeous, we decided not to do our planned gardening and instead, we headed off to a beautiful state park in Pennsylvania to chill and be together. If you picture the perfect image of Pennsylvania countryside, this park embodies it - rolling hills, beautiful trees and streams - nothing but beauty everywhere. Ah, just what the doctor ordered!

So we found a nice secluded spot with no other people around, set up our lounge chairs, a little portable table, some drinks and snacks and settled in for a long afternoon of reading, talking, dozing and blissful chilling. For about 3 hours we were in Mother Nature Zen Heaven, surrounded by nothing but the sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling. I took a nice nap. Hubby listened to tunes on his IPod. I finished a good book I had been reading. We took a nature hike and then settled back into our lounge chairs for some more chill time. We told each other we need to do this nature chilling thing more often.

And then, they arrived. A couple and their 3 year old daughter. We could hear them coming from 100 yards away - the mother, particularly - with her high-pitched, 200 decibel voice screeching over the bucolic landscape. Hubby and I looked at each other with the "oh no" look. We just KNEW they would have to plant themselves right next to us. After all, the park only encompasses 2,600 acres - why not sit right next to that lone quiet couple who obviously are enjoying some peaceful time together? They literally plopped themselves down 10 feet from where we were sitting and didn't shut up the entire fucking time they were there.

We only lasted there another 20 minutes or so because the noise of the mother drove us out. The entire time they were there she was yammering at the daughter, again, at 200 decibels...telling her how to pose for photos (criticizing her for not smiling the right way, trying to coax a perfect pose out of her while the girl was sitting in a tree), laughing (cackling), blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah FULL VOLUME. Imagine being in a nightclub with a live band playing. Know how loudly you have to yell so the other person can hear you? That's how loud this woman was talking and laughing. I looked over at her several times with my "shut the fuck up" look, but like most people with kids, this woman was completely oblivious to the rest of the world. Remember, once a person has kids, everyone else's shit has to come to a stop and the entire world revolves around THEM and THEIR KIDS and THEIR NOISE and THEIR STUFF and THEM THEM THEM THEM THEM THEM THEM. Everyone look at us! Look at our adorable daughter!!!! LOOK LOOK LOOK!!!! Kids kids kids! The world revolves around kids! Stop what you are doing! Stop reading! Stop talking! Stop dozing and LOOK AT US!!!! Listen to our noise! Watch our antics! We are the circus and we have come to your town!!!!

I thought about my promise to you that the next time a parent interrupted the atmosphere with their obnoxiousness, I would say something, but I figured it wouldn't be appropriate outdoors in a public park where people have a right to talk as loudly as they want. I kept my silence. This time.

We were getting hungry anyway so we decided to pack up our stuff and head off to a local restaurant for dinner. In the car, I thought I smelled something burning. It was hubby's mental wheels spinning. He suddenly busted out laughing about a plan he was hatching for how to handle similar situations in the future.

Hubby is a drummer as and such, has a nice variety of drums. One of them is an African drum that I bought for him some years ago. It's mostly decorative and we don't use it much, but it has a jarring tone when hit with a drumstick. Here's hubby's plan. We will carry the drum and a drumstick in the trunk of our car. The next time we are out someplace and a parent is ruining the atmosphere with their inconsiderate loudness, hubby will whip out the drum and start banging on it - frenetically, like one of those toy cymbal monkeys. He'll bang and bang and bang until the obnoxiousness of his drumming drives them away. We'll see how they like a taste of their own medicine! Ha!

I almost spit out my soda when he told me his hatched plan. The ridiculousness of him sitting there banging a drum for no reason really tickled my funny bone. I decided that this hatched plan is SO funny, I am going to video tape it and then post the video here for your entertainment. I don't know when this will happen, but we have already put the drum in our trunk and now we're just waiting (and daring) a parent to interrupt our blissfulness!!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Speaking of Happiness...

Yesterday I was chit-chatting with a couple of my co-workers, telling them about my weekend in my usual animated fashion. Just then, one of the ladies, who I actually wrote about a few posts ago, stopped me and said, "You know...I tell all my friends about you and your husband - how you are so happy all the time and how you are always doing fun things because you have no kids. You are probably one of the happiest people I know!" I never think of myself that way, so I was thrown off for a second by her comment. I sensed this fascination eminating from her and I imagined myself as one of those freak-of-nature displays at Ripley's Believe it or Not.

Anyway, I then inquired about how things were going with her problem son - the 31 year old who still lives at home with her and who I wrote about in my previous post. She told me "it's worse. He just lost his job." Apparently, during the course of driving a company vehicle, he had an accident and didn't report it to the company, but they found out and fired him. Apparently, this son of hers loses job after job after job and will probably be sponging off her his entire life. She's one of these soft-hearted enabler mothers who MEANS well but who continues to support him and won't kick him out on his own. So she's stuck with her adult underachiever son probably for the rest of her life. He is a constant source of upset and pain for her.

No wonder she looks at me with fascination and maybe a little bit of envy. Everyone has problems and challenges in included. But the number of problems I have is at least HALF of the number of problems parents have.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happiness & Parenthood: An Expert's View

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Parenthood doesn't lead to joy: expert

May 8, 2008 -

Marriage will make you happy, and money won't hurt. But if you're seeking joy in your life it's probably best not to have children, a Harvard academic has told a Sydney conference.

The troika of experiences is conventionally considered to be the cornerstone of happiness, but such thinking does not stand up to scientific scrutiny, Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert says. According to the scientific and economic research, only marriage proved to be a constant source of joy. "Figures show that married people are in almost every way happier than unmarried people -whether they are single, divorced, cohabiting," he told the Happiness and its Causes conference at Darling Harbour. "Married people live longer, married people earn more money per capita, married people have more sex and enjoy it more. "Married people seem to be happier on every dimension that you can imagine."

Money, he said, could buy you happiness - just not as much happiness as people think. "Money buys you a lot of happiness first and then it buys you less and less - every dollar buys you less happiness as the dollar before, and you reach a point where money is doing almost nothing for your happiness," he said. "But it's never the case that more money makes you sadder. If you get millions and millions you never get depressed about it."

The happiness people gained from money was only relative, he said. Having money only makes a difference if we have more money than the next person. "If all of us double our income tomorrow we might as well have not have had an increase in income at all," he said.

Professor Gilbert left the sacred cow of parenthood for last, saying that despite the belief children were the apples of our eyes, they actually had a negative impact on happiness. The more kids you have, the sadder you are likely to be, he said. US and European studies over the past 10 to 15 years showed people's happiness did spike while they were expecting a baby, but it sharply plummeted after the child was born.

The nadir of people's happiness came when children reached the ages of 12-16, and only recovered when they had flown the coop, he said. "In reality ... children do seem to increase happiness as long as you're expecting them, but as soon as you have them, trouble sets in," he said. "People are extremely happy before they have children and then their happiness goes down, and it takes another big hit when kids reach adolescence.

"When does it come back to it's original baseline? Oh, about the time the children grow up and go away."

Explaining why the statistics conflicted with most people's view of parenthood, Prof Gilbert made the unusual comparison to buying a pair of Armani socks. "When people own Armani socks they can't stop telling you they are the best socks, the most amazing socks," he said. "(But) I suspect that one of the reasons that people who own Armani socks think they are wonderful is because they have paid $US85 ($A90.30) for a pair.

"The psychologists tell us that we like things more when we pay for them - what does that sound like? It sounds like children. "We pay for them in time, attention, blood, sweat and tears - what kind of idiots would we be to devote all of that to the rearing of our young if they'd didn't bring us some happiness?"

The fact that parenthood crowds out all other things in life could explain why we consider children as our greatest source of joy, he said. "Parents tell me all the time that: 'My child is my greatest source of joy'," he said. "My reply is that: 'Yes, when you have one source of joy, it's bound to be your greatest'.


Interesting post-script to this article: Dr. Gilbert is a parent.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Let the Sunshine In

For a fun change of pace today, I thought I would tell you about our vacation, and share some photos with you! Sure, it's a little off-topic from the childfree issue, but not really if you think about it. What do childfree people like to do with all their free time, anyway? TRAVEL! Well, at least that's what we like to do! Besides, this cranky blog needs to be aired out, so let's let some sunshine in!

On Sunday, May 4th we departed from the port of Miami. It was a beautiful day!

Our cruise was on the Carnival Victory. I have to admit we were a little leary about taking a Carnival cruise. We're big fans of the Celebrity line...we love the "chill" vibe on Celebrity, the casual elegance, the gourmet food and restrained decor. And we knew about Carnival's reputation for being all about partying, Las Vegas glitz and tackiness. Nothing wrong with any of this, but for hubby and me, vacation is all about unwinding and relaxing. But the price was right, and so was the itinerary, so we decided to give it a whirl. After all, it would be pretty difficult for a cruise to be BAD, right?!

The ship had a total of three pools - a huge pool area with 2 pools in the center of the ship with a water slide (fun!) but the music and sun were BLARING in this part of the ship, not to mention the 2,000,000 decibel PA system when they would have silly pool games (Hairy Chest Contest anyone?), so hubby and me spent our time in the back pool area most of the week where it was a bit more quiet.

Our cabin was a cool and peaceful retreat from the hot sun and general excitement around the rest of the ship. Oh and the bed was SOOO comfy and had these delicious high thread count Egyptian sheets and comforter that felt like a cloud against our skin.

Every evening when we'd come back from dinner and entertainment, our bed would be turned down with an adorable towel animal left on the bed. Every day it was a different animal.

One of the great (and surprising) things about this cruise was our dinner tablemates. On most cruises, guests are assigned seating with other guests and you never know who your tablemates will be. I have to admit, I was worried about who we might get stuck with. Surpringly, though, we got seated with 3 other couples who we instantly hit it off with! They were all fun, down-to-earth, intelligent and happy people. Even better, 2 of the 3 couples were childfree by choice (which probably explains why they were so happy)! Can you believe it? What are the odds?

Our first port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. We've been there a few times before, so we were already familiar with the island. Our goal was to plant ourselves on a beautiful beach for the day. Our plan was to visit Palancar Beach, which we had not been to before, but which was highly recommended on the travel discussion boards. When we got there, though, at 8:50 a.m. they were not yet open, so we asked the driver to take us to Mr. Sancho's Beach. That's where we spent the entire day. It couldn't be more beautiful.

Afterwards, we had lunch at our favorite Cozumel restaurant, Pancho's Backyard. They make awesome quacamole and margaritas!

Back to the ship...I must mention that the food on the Carnival ship was surpringly good considering they feed about 3,000 people! I had expected diner quality food at best, but was delighted by the very good food, especially at dinner. I'd go as far as saying it APPROACHED gourmet. Not quite, but heading in that direction. My favorite thing at dinner was a dessert called, "Chocolate Melting Cake". Yes, it's one of those brownie like cakes that has a rich, warm chocolate oozing center when you spoon into it. Oh man, it was like chocolate crack and I can tell you that my evening routine of eating this confection has gone straight to my hips!

Our second port was Grand Cayman. The last time we visited Grand Cayman (on a previous cruise), we went to Stingray City which was one of the most exciting things we have ever done. This time, again, our goal was just to find a beautiful beach to plant ourselves on. We spent the day at Seven Mile Beach and sat in front of the Westin Casumarina Hotel where it was very quiet and uncrowded.

The Westin Beach Nazis chased us off their chairs, though, and later chased us off their beach and made us move down close to the water, off the hotel's beach property. I guess since we were not paying $700/night for a room we were not high-falutin' enough to enjoy of a spot on their beach. Anyway, we didn't let it faze us. How can you be upset when you are on a beach like this?

After a long day on the beach, we walked back to the ship. It was a LONG, scorching hot walk but we needed the exercise to work off the aforementioned chocolate melting cake. On our way back, we passed a cemetary which I thought made an interesting foreground to our ship anchored off shore.

Our last port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. This is another port we have been to before and done the requisite Dunns River Falls and island tour. This time we again made our way to a quiet, beautiful beach to relax and unwind. I had done some research on-line and Reggae Beach was recommended to me. It was great because for the first 2 hours or so we were there, nobody was there except for a couple workers. By the time we left, there were only about 10 people using the beach. Just what the doctor ordered!

Despite having fairly low expectations for this cruise, we were delighted by how much fun we had. The icing on the cake was that at the end of the cruise, I ended up in a big show on the ship. All during the week in the karaoke bar they were auditioning guests to appear in this big show on the last night of the cruise. I won the part of Aretha Franklin and did "Respect" in full costume on the big stage with the band and the full shebang. I am glad the group of our cruise friends talked me into it because at first I was reluctant. I am a singer and have been in bands in my younger days - I even used to sing "Respect" back then. But the song is a little more challenging for my rusty voice and it's not an easy song to sing, period. But they reminded me that nobody on this cruise will ever see me again so what the heck! So I did it and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the was so much fun to go backstage with the dancers, get fitted for my costume, wear that silly black wig, and to perform in front of an audience of hundreds of people. We got so many laughs out of it too.

So there you have it - the highlights of our Caribbean cruise. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

Monday, May 12, 2008

In the Thick of It

Yesterday, on our way home from a much-needed vacation, hubby and I had several hours to kill before we needed to catch our flight so we paid a visit to one of his closest friends, Brian. He lives several states away from us, so we don't get to see him that often. It's a real treat when we get to spend time with him. In the past five years he has gotten married to a woman who has a child from a previous marriage and they also now have 2 of their own - one is a year old, the other is 3.

This was the first time meeting Brian's wife, Helena and their children. I was looking forward to meeting them, especially because Helena has been very thoughtful over the past few years about sending letters and photos and her letters always have this really friendly, upbeat tone. I expected we would hit it off fabulously (because, you may be surprised to learn, I am a pretty upbeat person myself).

Well, meeting the children was a delight (they are all adorable), but I can't say the same for Helena. We spent about 7 hours visiting them and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that for 7 hours straight Helena bitched and complained about every minute aspect of being a mother and about what a slouch Brian is with parenting and around the house. I thought this was an odd and inappropriate way to behave around someone she was just meeting. She was constantly rolling her eyes and sighing, nitpicking at the children, criticizing and demeaning Brian. She and I sat and talked for awhile and among other things, she complained about how she has no life anymore - her entire being revolves around endless caretaking of the kids, how exhausted she is all the time - how she would kill for just one full night's sleep, how she has no social life anymore or adult interaction, how they never go out anywhere (neither of their parents are interested in babysitting), how they have no money, how she has asked herself many times, "is this all there is?". I observed her closely as she interacted with the children to try to detect any moments of joy on her face and honestly, in the 7 hours we were there I saw about 3 fleeting smiles at the kids. The rest of the time she was miserable and complaining. The 1 year old was crawling around picking stuff off the floor and eating it (God knows what it was she was eating) and Helena snorted "yeah, I'm so OVER it. A little dirt and germs won't kill her."

I felt uncomfortable there because I felt we were putting her out. I got the feeling she would rather be napping instead of being with us. In fact, she kept complaining so much about how tired she was, I told her to go ahead and take a nap - that we wouldn't be offended, so she did. Unfortunately, she woke up from her nap just as miserable as ever.

After about the 6th hour of listening to her bitch and moan, I decided to try out my famous question on her - you know, the "knowing what you know now about parenthood, if you came back in another life would you choose it again?" she answered an emphatic YES. I was so stunned, I was speechless. I definitely expected a "no way" from this one. Looking back, I wish I hadn't been speechless and would have asked her to elaborate.

Here's what is interesting to me: if parenthood is so wonderful, why are scenarios like this so common and why is it so rare to encounter mothers who look truly joyful with their children and appear to enjoy motherhood? Also, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that the amount of talk concerning the joys of motherhood would far outweigh the bitching and complaining? This woman did not say ONE SINGLE POSITIVE THING about her children or about being a mother the entire 7 hours we were there. If being a mother is so rewarding and so great, shouldn't a mother look happy and joyful, at least SOME of the time? If all the sacrifice and burden of motherhood pales in comparison to the joy and rewards of parenthood, shouldn't we be able to see even a GLIMMER of that joy and reward when we watch mothers interact with their children? Believe me, I am watching for it because as you know, this is an endless source of fascination to me. I am constantly looking to prove myself wrong, but the mothers I meet do not allow me to do that. They simply confirm every observation I post in this blog...that the institution of motherhood is not the wellspring of joy and bliss it is promoted to be - it is a deceitful pool of quicksand.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Beautiful Post-Baby Bods

One of the many ways pronatalism asserts itself in our day-to-day lives is through the media's relentless obsession with celebrity pregnancy and childbearing. When a celebrity is pregnant, the paparazzi feverishly chase her all over creation to capture the money shots - those lucrative "baby bump" photos. After giving birth, the obsession shifts to the baby itself. What magazine will get the first shot? Who will get the exclusive? Just how gorgeous IS that baby?

After everyone's seen the baby, we hold our collective breath as we wait on pins and needles to find out the God-awful name the baby was given (let's see, will it be worse than Apple, Moxie Crime Fighter, Kyd, Sage Moonblood, Pilot Inspektor?). Then, as the happy couple settles into parenthood bliss there is only one final place to turn the camera - to the celebrity's post-pregnancy bod.

And what beautiful bods those post-pregnant celebrities have! Just look at Halle Berry! I didn't have a bod like this when I was in my 20s and Halle is rockin' it big time after giving birth at age 42!
What message do you think it sends to everyday women when the post-pregnancy bods of freak-of-nature beautiful celebs are celebrated all over the media? Do you think it's possible that it may give women the idea that not only is motherhood the greatest thing in life but look - you don't even have to sacrifice your BOD! Halle looks as good as ever and only 6 weeks after popping the baby out! If she can do it, so can you! Having a baby doesn't mean giving up your great bod! Go ahead - HAVE ONE! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! You'll get SO MUCH and give up so little. Just look at Halle. She's more fab than ever and she's even wearing high heels! And I could be mistaken, but she even has better cleavage now!