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“Gah!” I grumbled at my computer screen.

“What?” Of course David had to ask. You can’t sit four feet away from someone who’s grumbling at her computer screen and not ask.

“Remember those funny cards I posted on Facebook?” David nodded. It had only been two minutes since I’d posted my message, narrating aloud as I did so because I assume David wants to be notified of everything I do as I do it.

While redditing, I had come across images of sarcastic baby congratulation cards. One card read, “Now that you’re having a baby, you can’t go to the spa whenever you want or travel halfway across the world at a moment’s notice. But I can! And I promise to tell you all about it.” The other read, “Congratulations! Babies are truly miracles. When they’re born, their feet are so tiny...yet they can somehow step on all of your hopes and dreams.”

I posted the images on Facebook along with the disclaimer, “These are for the child-free, and/or parents with no regrets and a good sense of humor.” Within minutes — two, to be exact — the gah!-worthy comment appeared on my screen.

“It’s one of those ‘life without kids has no real meaning’ sentiments,” I explained to David.

“Gah!” he said.

“Yeah, I know. Listen to this: ‘It gives real meaning to life — the way no career, travel, or individual freedom can.’ Can you believe this shit? Presumptuous much? Then he says, ‘Having their lives be more important than your own is the best feeling there is.’ Yeah? Is that the best feeling there is? Someone might argue that giving all of your money to the needy is the best feeling there is. Or that skydiving from a plane is the best feeling there is. Why not say, ‘I like the feeling,’ and accept that not everything is for everyone? Ugh.”

David rolled his eyes audibly. “If that’s his belief, that’s fine, but why the need to share it as a negative comment on someone else’s Facebook page? It’s like he felt like he had to counter your statement almost as a way of justifying for himself the choice he’s made.”

“Yeah, right? Here’s my response: ‘To assume that one person’s life choices result in real meaning but that another’s, what, have fake meaning? is just a gross misunderstanding of humanity. I get that you like your club. But try to consider your words. And all the known people throughout history who did things to change the world for the better, but, since they didn’t have kids, must have had no real meaning to their lives. Ugh.’”

“That’s good,” David said. He turned his laptop toward me. “Look — here’s a list of a bunch of famous people in history who didn’t have kids.”

“Like Jesus?” I said.

“Or Leonardo da Vinci, George Washington, and Florence Nightingale,” David added.

“Or Oprah! I bet she doesn’t understand real meaning. How could she? You have to procreate to know what it is to have purpose in life. Otherwise, you might as well just kill yourself, because you’re really not adding anything of value to the world.” I sighed and took the two steps from my desk to sit in the chair beside David.

I recalled the day, 11 years prior, when David, whom I’d just started dating, told me he had no interest in having children. I had always assumed that having kids was something that would just...happen. It had never occurred to me to consider whether or not I wanted it to. I remember my astonishment when my immediate emotional reaction was an overwhelming sense of relief. In that moment, my future seemed brighter than ever and I knew in my heart that I was not meant for motherhood.

Because I experienced this epiphany so young, I was subjected to the usual audacious onslaught from friends, family, and even strangers who suffered from the delusion that they had a better handle on what I wanted out of life than I did. Often they were older — “You’re young, you’ll change your mind,” was the most common insolence. Every time someone dismissed my life choices, it was as though they were dismissing me as an individual human in my own right.

“It just amazes me how presumptuous people can be,” I said. David nodded in agreement. As a man, David had only experienced this particular form of presumption vicariously. People don’t tell men they don’t know what they want out of life.

“Telling someone else that the only way for them to experience real meaning in their lives is to live it the way you think they should is as absurd as telling someone they can’t possibly enjoy eating unless they cook the food themselves,” I said. By now, my face was growing so warm with indignation I had to get up and open the window for some fresh air.

“What’s rewarding to one person might not be rewarding to another,” I said as I returned to my seat beside David. “Think of the whole working-mother controversy. The ones who stay at home, the ones who work, it doesn’t matter — both always seem to be struggling to justify and argue the validity of one choice over the other. But they’re getting it wrong — they keep saying what they’re doing is the ‘best’ thing, when what they should be saying is that what they’re doing is the ‘best thing for them.’”

I finally stopped talking and looked at David, who had been sitting quietly during my rant. “You know,” he said with a wry smile on his face, “there really is something to that whole cooking thing. I mean, maybe you should give it a try.”

I glared at David, picked up my phone, and said, “That reminds me. I need to make reservations for tonight.”

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Comments

Matt101 Dec. 4, 2013 @ 11:04 a.m.

The cards that you posted on Facebook essentially say, "You're a fool for having children because they steal your money and freedom during the prime of your life." And when you post that on Facebook, you're inviting responses. You attacked other people's choices to have children (even though you thinly disguised it as a joke), and they responded by defending their own choices. That's nothing to get upset about.

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 4, 2013 @ 11:13 a.m.

That's why I prefaced the post with, "This is for the childfree and parents who have a good sense of humor and no regrets." It was clearly posted in a lighthearted manner, on MY FB page. The response was disproportionately serious for a humor post that came with a disclaimer. If someone had made a quip that made fun of my position, in a witty way that kept with the tone and levity, then that would have been fine. I can laugh at myself too.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Dec. 5, 2013 @ 11:53 a.m.

Oh… come now, Diva. You knew there was a hefty portion of snark in what you posted. You did it anyway. Your subsequent indignation at someone's indignant reply makes you sound silly at best, disingenuous at worst.

And then, when commenter says of children, "It gives real meaning to life — the way no career, travel, or individual freedom can," you say, "Can you believe this shit? and call that "presumptuous."

Diva… don't you think he's in a better position to judge? After all, he has kids and probably has a career too. You only have the career.

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 5, 2013 @ 1:07 p.m.

"You only have the career." Now THAT'S presumption. I have career, love, friends, family (my husband, sisters, in-laws, niephlings), and so, so much more in my life. I don't feel empty or longing for anything. For you or anyone to presume that what I have in my life does not give me a sense of meaning is exactly the "shit" I'm railing against.

And of course there was snark. It was a sarcastic, humor post. I have a dry, sometimes abrasive humor. I get that from my Brooklynite parents. ;)

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Dec. 5, 2013 @ 3:20 p.m.

Yes, but you don't have kids. And that's what this whole deal is about, right?

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 6, 2013 @ 12:43 p.m.

No. That's not what this deal is about. This deal is about making it clear that people can find fulfillment in more than one way.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Dec. 5, 2013 @ 11:57 a.m.

Did you really mean to label as "shit" the idea that the love between parents and children is more meaningful than career or travel?

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deniseathome Dec. 5, 2013 @ 4:23 p.m.

My life is filled with children. I gave birth to three and have three grandchildren. I have a bachelors degree in child development and ran a child are out if my home for 26years. I am glad that I have chosen to have children. Do I believe that other people can get more satisfaction out of traveling or a career? Unequivocally Yes. There are as many different paths to happiness and fulfillment as there are people. One way is not inherently better or more worthy than another. I enjoy reading Barb's column because she has made different life choices than I have. Her choices don't undermine mine or make mine any less valid. I am grateful every day that I live in a time that allows me choices on how to live my life. Own your choices and be proud of what they are, allow others the same privilege.

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 6, 2013 @ 12:33 p.m.

Thanks, Denise! Appreciation for others' choices hits close to home for me. I have three sisters, who have two children each, and I love witnessing the joy they get from being parents (and I get great joy from being an aunt). I razz my sisters about not being able to do certain things because of their particular responsibilities, and they do the same to me. But because we are all happy with our own choices, we laugh at the playful teasing and take it in stride.

They wouldn't trade motherhood for anything, and I wouldn't want them to. And in turn, they are able to respect and appreciate that I have a just-as fulfilling life that I wouldn't trade for anything. We are all very, very fortunate. :)

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Dave Rice Dec. 5, 2013 @ 7:08 p.m.

Awesome topic, cue the fireworks!

I'd say, though, that maybe your David got lucky by getting a pass on the "no kids" thing, not that it's just assumed everyone gets the same free ride by playing the Man card...when I wasn't planning to have kids (as the only male child) I got plenty of "but who'll carry on the family name?" (as if we've got some sort of legacy like the Bushes or Kennedys going on) and "you'll change your mind when you meet the right girl."

Then when I did, and she happened to already have a kid, I got tons more shit - I still needed to have a boy for that whole "family name" thing, and didn't I want a child that was "really mine," like I should somehow feel inferior for having adopted and committed my life to raising a daughter that I'm not biologically linked to - I actually permanently lost a contingent of family members over that one.

That rant aside, these people that have ridiculously strong views on parenthood are asinine, and I almost enjoy pushing some of their buttons (usually when signed into my wife's spacebook account or whatever the kids are calling it these days). I had a great time when I didn't want kids, I'm having a great time raising a kid, and I'm going to be having an even better time when all of the people who ripped on me first for not wanting kids and then for having one (and who are subsequently breeding right about now) are still raising theirs when mine will be off to college and mom and dad will barely be 40. So bring the jokes about how life's greener somewhere else (in some way or another it always is) - just keep them funny. If I were as immature as most of the people my wife tells me about on bookface, I'd end this post with something along the lines of "Suck it, bitches!"

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 6, 2013 @ 12:24 p.m.

Great point, Dave, and I've been getting a lot of similar feedback from men who are informing me that they don't have it as easy as I thought regarding this topic. I was basing that statement on personal experiences (my guy friends not being given as hard a time as my girl friends), but that's a tiny sampling, and I'm hearing from lots of dudes who are just as harassed about making certain choices as women are.

Parents who raise adopted children are, in my opinion, the most altruistic kind of parents. I'm sorry to hear that you lost some family over that (insane of them), but glad to know that of the family you gained. As the old saying goes, "friends are the family you make for yourself." Family is more, much much more, than blood.

1

Dave Rice Dec. 11, 2013 @ 11:35 p.m.

I don't know that I subscribe to any kind of altruism or any other laudatory descriptive for people that raise kids - it's just a decision some people make and others don't, in either case usually for their own selfish reasons.

A friend told me years ago that having a child is pretty much the most arrogant act one is capable of committing - if you do it, you must think you're so great that the world just needs to have a copy of you running around multiplying your awesomeness. And I've got to admit that, being a wannabe wordsmith, there is a certain twinge of pride when my 10 year-old (who's been mine since she was 3) throws attendees at a mostly grown-up dinner party for a loop with her vocabulary.

Family is who you choose, and who chooses you. I love those who are on life's journey with me, and choose to think fondly about those who were at one point.

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shirleyberan Dec. 6, 2013 @ 12:42 p.m.

My mini- me daughter is my best friend, no one else would fill that. That's me, no shame.

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 6, 2013 @ 12:45 p.m.

That's great! Sounds like you guys have a great relationship. :)

1

shirleyberan Dec. 6, 2013 @ 1:31 p.m.

That's what my deal is about. Tell you what else will get 'em going. If you say breast feeding in public is indecent exposure when they do it wrong. It's still a breast.

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Ian Pike Dec. 9, 2013 @ 7:59 p.m.

Matthew Alice has informed us that technically, "indecent exposure" is a very specific crime and must necessarily involve deliberate, sexual intent.

Showing the world a boob isn't indecent exposure unless the boob-flasher is totally getting off on it and victimizing someone in some way.

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shirleyberan Dec. 6, 2013 @ 5:54 p.m.

Dare I mention the mothers who believe that the child will tell them at what age it's time to stop breast feeding. A year is really enough. She needs to grow up.

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Barbarella Fokos Dec. 7, 2013 @ noon

I know some mothers, and lactation specialists, who would disagree with a hard number like that. From what I understand from them, every mother (and baby) is different. My thoughts, for whatever they're worth, as I have no direct experience with breastfeeding a baby, is that it should be a decision made by the mother and possibly her doctor or lactation specialist, if she consults one.

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shirleyberan Dec. 7, 2013 @ 3:38 p.m.

I know there's room for variant but I believe doctors have agreed that a year is important for immunity reasons. I only did 9 months. Then a bottle. My experience was (if I remember right) that I was going to take her off the bottle about 2 but she fought about it till 3. Then I hid the bottle. There are many more stages of development we needed to move on too. She's 22 now and we have more adult arguments. I know that's not what everyone wants but come on. I don't need a specialist to tell me where to focus my kids attention. I'm sharing here because you probably got the attention of people with kids too, provoking thought I hope.

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Ian Pike Dec. 9, 2013 @ 7:55 p.m.

I have taken shit for not wanting kids. It's just what happens when you make the decision not to breed. Even lost a girlfriend over the hypothetical kids she might have (maybe) someday thought about having, even though she was only "pretty sure" at the time!

I've got my own reasons for never wanting to do it, but I sure don't look to anyone else to justify them. By the same token, I take short shrift with people who want to cram baby pictures into my face and be all like, "ooooh like at this little critter that I grew in my uterus!" It's amazing, in the same way that all biological phenomena are amazing, but I resent being expected to admire someone's ability to make a baby. Like, seriously, guppies can do it. Guppies.

The funny thing is, whether or not to procreate becomes this really weird line along which to divide people and it's definitely not a this or that subject. People's opinions on the subject are highly individualized.

Anecdote one: I have a friend who rants and raves about how he is "never having kids," yet talks about his plans to, like, foster and adopt a whole basketball team at some point in life. To me, it seems like he makes an arbitrary and really pretty ridiculous distinction between what amounts to exactly the same thing. Kids are pretty much the same to me, regardless of who's DNA floats in their cell nuclei.

Anecdote two: I remember making fun of one of my friends and calling her a "breeder" for having this whole grip of kids. It's kind of funny, because she's as much lesbian as one could be (spiky crewcut and cargo shorts fuhreallllz), and the gay crowd used to have exclusive domain over the term "breeder," using it as a mildly derogatory term for us straight folks. I threw the term at her with more than a hint of irony, natch.

Now, I almost feel like straight people who don't want kids are more in the "weird camp" than gay peeps!

What a wild world, huh?

I'm willing to bet that childlessness and atheism are the two biggest social stumbling blocks in the urban world these days.

That, and being female. Misogyny remains the king of discrimination in our enlightened age, but that's a different tale entirely.

1

shirleyberan Dec. 10, 2013 @ 3:30 p.m.

Ian - my first husband married me without ever saying to me "I never want kids". It never occurred to me - I was 18, he was 23. He has none at 64. I remarried to have 1.

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shirleyberan Dec. 10, 2013 @ 7:32 p.m.

But for me that was a deal breaker. I had to have 1.

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Ian Pike Dec. 11, 2013 @ 7:38 p.m.

So, you mention how the kids question kind of went unnoticed by you guys, which raises an important Q: at what point in any relationship do you bring such a deal breaker up? It seems perverse to do it early on, but you can't just wait forevs to drop that bombshell. I mean, sooner or later it's gonna come up, right?

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Dave Rice Dec. 11, 2013 @ 11:53 p.m.

Helluva question...I'd like to think somewhere between "seriously dating" and "considering marriage" that the conversation would come up naturally....at least for someone in their mid-twenties or later. So, probably at least a few months deep, hopefully not longer than a year or so.

All bets off for kids having kids, though - in my "bad marriage" (age 18-22) we both agreed we didn't want kids, though I later adopted and she later had a child with someone she didn't stay together with, in my "good marriage" we had been together so long and were so engrossed in raising the result of a disappearing sperm donor together that we decided not to re-start the 18-20somethingish-year clock to semi-independence (there's no such thing as ever fully reclaiming your life once you have a child, so one needs to be prepared for that).

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aquarimary Dec. 18, 2013 @ 3:45 p.m.

And veering off the subject to PETS- all of the above can be said for pets too! People who bring them to your house uninvited,people who say you should get one for company just because you're single, and last, people who ask you to walk or sit with theirs because they want to go on vacation or have to work late!

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