Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I am Tired

Somehow I didn't think that I would get tired of not having kids. Oh, boo-hoo. I know. Poor me. I deliberately chose a child-free lifestyle and now I'm struggling.

But let me explain why: I am not struggling because I feel I made the wrong decision and now with me being 38 and Mr. J. turning 40 next month, suddenly I'm having doubts. Oh, no. I rarely have doubts and if I have anything even remotely resembling doubts all I have to do is go to Target for 20 minutes and I'm fine.

I'm tired of feeling like a freak. And then some.

Back when I first met Mr. J., I knew he was the one (for sure!) when he confessed that he felt he was falling in love with me but wanted to be fair before the relationship progressed any more: He did NOT want children. Ever. And if that was something I wanted, then he wanted me to have exactly what I wanted in life so I needed to move on, because, well - it just wouldn't happen with him.

Not only was I grateful for his honesty, I was thrilled. Because personally? I never really knew where I stood on the whole motherhood thing. It was something I would do, maybe, someday in the future. Far off in the future. Right after I stopped being overwhelmed, appalled and grossed-out by tasks that seemed to be part and parcel of motherhood.

My friends who have children often said, "It's different when it's your own." Probably, I suppose. But being up to your elbows in poop still seemed like it was just being up to your elbows in poop regardless of the owner of aforementioned poop and your relationship to the owner of that poop.

And even if I could get past all the bodily fluids - the puking, the pooping, the drooling and the snotty noses, I wasn't sure I could get past the rest of it. What if any child I had someday asked me the meaning of life? I would probably say, "How the hell do I know?" and that would not be good. The majority of my friends have children and it is interesting for me to watch; all of the children are at varying life stages so I get to see everything from Mean Girls-esque adolescent drama and angst to driving lessons to college tours to clarinet lessons to mastitis from breast feeding to croup and thrush (it's a yeast infection in the mouth that some infants get. And if I'm not mistaken adults with weakened immune systems can get it also) and night terrors and homework struggles and sweet holy Moses, the time, energy and money involved. Ultimately, I'm just really, really lazy and parenting has always looked like too much work. There. I said it. Hate me yet?

Finally, very few people seemed to be able to give me a good reason to reproduce except, "It's what we're supposed to do" and yes, I guess that's right. Continuing the human species is a biological imperative. I get it. But whenever I asked my mother why she had children, she just said, "It's what we thought we were supposed to do." Sorry. Not good enough.

Most of the men I've dated wanted children and when I pressed for a reason why, they usually just said something ridiculously patriarchal like, "To carry on the family name". Good reason to bring another human being into the world, loser. And by the way? Yeah, it would be a damn shame if "Anderson" died out. There's a huge possibility of that happening. And if it did? Wow. What a tragedy that would be.

After Mr. J. and I got engaged, but before we got married, I wanted to be 100% completely and totally sure that I was okay with this choice. We were taking rather, uh, permanent measures to make sure we never conceived and the thing about permanent measures is that they can seem so, well, permanent. I did the only thing I could think of to do: I read books. I went to our local library and found as many books as I could find on living "child-free". More than a few of the books were basically a collection of essays written by women who ended up without children because of . . . life. Many of them never announced at 18 or 21 or some magic age, "I'm opting out of motherhood". Life happened . . . some thought they'd have children "eventually" and "eventually" just never arrived. But one of the books was entitled Why Don't You Have Kids and I remember thinking, "Hey - this doesn't sound so bad. I get it, I can do this. I'm ready."

But sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Or you ask yourself, "How bad can it be?" and then you found out you have no idea. I imagine there are a lot of things that work that way - parenthood, in particular. Childbirth. Maybe cancer.

I walked/ran a marathon and thought the same thing during all the months of training until I was in the marathon, at about mile 20, in the pouring rain, feeling two of my toenails lift up off their native toes and cursing myself out loud saying something like, "Wow. You are really, really REALLY damn ignorant. A marathon can be insanely bad. What the hell were you thinking?"

I'd like to think it was then I learned never to ask the question, "How bad can it be?" but I did it anyway.

So I'm reading the book by Leslie Lafayette, way back in January of 2003 and although it (and many of the other books I read) gave me pause, I determined that ultimately I was okay with my decision. It also helped tremendously when I read, "People who choose not to have children often spend more time and give more thought and effort to that decision than people who do have children." Of course this makes sense - again, reproduction is our biological imperative as humans, so following through on a biological imperative? What is there to think about, really? Doing the opposite of what we're (supposedly) hard-wired to do - I guess you do need to think about that.

But the past two weeks have been filled with announcements of pregnancy, and new babies and infertility struggles and yes, in a way that only I can, I have made it about me: What is WRONG with me? (Please don't answer that. If at least a dozen therapists and hundreds of self-help books haven't helped me come to any conclusion, I doubt you can.)

So I did what I typically do when I'm confused (well, I did drink but that's not what I did first) - I went to the library and looked up my old pal Leslie Lafayette and there was her book, right where I remembered: Why Don't You Have Kids.

Reading it now, I am getting the answer to "How bad can it be, really?" even though I had the exact same information available to me 6+ years ago. I imagine it's like reading or hearing about, say, childbirth, nodding, thinking you get it and then reading the same book or having the same conversation after you've gone through it yourself. Then - and only then - do you realize the earlier you had absolutely no freakin' clue.

Take, for example, my new favorite chapter called "Living Childfree Isn't for Sissies!" I'm guessing that parenting is the sport that really isn't for sissies and if I'm barking up the wrong tree, it's okay with me if you stop reading now. Here is a quote I still remember reading 6+ years ago and now I can read it and think, "And how, sister!" I almost said, "I wish someone had told me this earlier" - but someone - the author had and it didn't matter. But I digress. The quote:

"Understandably, there is a strong emotional reaction to something as basic, as visceral as choosing not to have children. Even if you did not originally choose not to have children, the very fact that you are living happily without them is threatening to many around you. Childfrees can expect strong responses from those to whom such a lifestyle is, frankly, unacceptable. . . It seems to be everyone's business to investigate the reasons you have not had kids . . . What are you going to tell these people? Are you truly prepared for the never-ending, ongoing onslaught that life is about to hand you?" (pp. 25-26).

And also from a section entitled, "Don't Expect Anyone to Think You're a Hero":

"Suffice it for now to say that few decisions you make will be as unpopular as choosing to live childfree. If being out of step with the majority of your fellows really bothers you, you may want to think this lifestyle through again!" (p.35).

And all these years I thought I was immune to peer pressure. Let me clarify: I do not want to run out and have a child because I'm tired of feeling like "everyone else is doing it" and I'm the only girl at the party drinking milk and not keg beer out of a plastic cup. I do not want to run out and have a child, period.

The peer pressure I am feeling is the "What, exactly, is wrong with you that you don't want children?" pressure. I get those vibes, I feel that look and I know on some level, I'm supposed to hang my head and apologize and explain what is wrong with me for not wanting children.

And what is the answer? What am I supposed to think and/or what am I supposed to say to other people? Here are a few answers I've come up with - haven't yet said any out loud, although I'm tempted. And yes, I'm kind of joking, but only kind of.
  • I'm selfish (And yes, I've had people from virtual strangers to my hairdresser tell me that upon learning about my decision)
  • I'm too lazy (well, that one is true - I've already admitted to that)
  • I'm heartless and cold
  • I have no soul
  • There's a laptop and a hedge fund where my uterus should be
  • I prefer to die alone with no one to take care of me and just several hundred cats left to eat out my eyeballs after my death which will probably go undiscovered for several weeks
  • There is nothing in my personality, history or genetic makeup that is worth passing on to anyone
  • I'm too afraid that any child of mine would get my original nose
  • I hate holidays and creating pleasant memories for others
  • I think it's critical to miss out on one of life's most important human experiences (in response to those who say, "But you're really missing out!")
  • I don't enjoy giving of myself tirelessly, sacrificing or doing without so someone else can have a better life (Also been told this - see first bullet - i.e., "I'm selfish")
  • At this time I don't have enough cash stashed away to get the "Mommy Makeover" plastic surgery tummy tuck/breast lift combo
  • Elmo's voice makes me want to rip off my own arm so I have something with which I can beat the television
  • Kids are stupid
  • I want to make sure I make one really big mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life and I decided this would be a big one (To answer the question - no - really the gasp/statement/pearl clutching combo of, "OMG! You're going to regret it!")

I suppose I should be used to this by now; after all, I certainly heard these things enough the first year we were married and to be fair, I've gone a long time without feeling like my decision makes me a selfish, self-absorbed freak of humanity. And I'm sure I'll get over my own little pity party sooner than later. (And to be fair, I don't need to throw my own pity party because it's easy for me to see that lots of people pity me - esp. those who blurt, "Oh, but think what you're missing out on!" But for today, I'm just tired of being the weirdo in the cube down the hall who was born without a heart and without a soul and something clearly, clearly wrong with her.

Tomorrow will be better. Don't cry for me, Argentina!

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