Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

...Because I Don't Have Kids

I have a repeated phrase I've been using a lot lately, and I've been thinking on what it means.

Sometimes, when people ask me things like,

"How do you have time to read so much?"

or,

"How can you just go out to dinner in the middle of the week?"

or, at a recent professional development thing I helped to facilitate, where I ran into someone I used to work fairly closely with,

"You are clearly working too much! Why don't you slow down a bit?"

And I usually laugh a nervous laugh and say, "Because I don't have kids."

This is okay, because it is true that because we don't (yet) have kids that we have more expendable time. I can read all evening (if I'm not writing IEPs that are hanging over my head right now) if I want to, because I don't have to help with homework, manage bathtime, put tiny people to bed -- none of it. I can just sit on my couch and disappear into someone else's world for a while. We can go out to dinner in the middle of the week because we don't need to plan for a babysitter, we don't have to arrange for tiny people's care in our absence. I can work all I want, sign up for all the after school and evening things and go to student concerts because I don't have anyone who needs me to do things when I'm gone (other than Bryce but he's fairly self-sufficient, you know). No one is missing Mommy. Bryce doesn't need help with nighttime routines or picking people up from the bus stop or after school activities. That time is all mine to fill.

But there are other reasons, too.

I read a lot because I value reading. It drives me crazy when people say, "just wait until you have kids, you'll never read again." I happen to know moms who actually read. It probably will slow down, but kids killing reading? That's so weird. I know it can happen, but when we spend more time reading than watching TV now, I can't imagine not fitting in at least a little reading for myself when that baby comes.

We go out to dinner in the middle of the week because we have free time, but also because we are financially fortunate, and in a way this is our thumbing our noses at our situation. So we don't have a baby yet after a zillion years of hoping. At least we can have roast duck and beet salad with goat cheese and the occasional oyster on a Wednesday if we want. We can gussy up and feel fancy, because while we can't run off on a flight-based vacation (too much advance planning, too much money when we have to protect the Adoption Fund), we can have a tiny vacation night, out somewhere where we can pretend to be somewhere else.

I work a lot because I love my job. I also have a very demanding job with lots of paperwork and planning and even though I've done the same thing in theory for years now, my kids each year are different and I always want to change things up to benefit their unique styles or interests or needs, or if something interesting is happening in the world, incorporate that. I want to learn more things about teaching, and diversity, and book choices, and am pursuing my Natio.nal Board to be a better, more thoughtful teacher (although this year that process feels fairly overwhelming and one component seems like a mishmash of things that we've already done, and it doesn't feel quite as valuable as the first three). I have the time to do evening things and after school things because I don't have kids, but some of these things I think I would prioritize anyway, when I got back to the classroom. But I am guilty of a fair amount of filling my time so I don't have a lot of downtime to think on our situation, so I am so busy and invested in my students that I can't think as much about how I don't get to look at education from a parent's point of view. So I go to student concerts and games when invited. I sign up for professional development opportunities that mean something to me, even when they at times go until 9:30.

I feel like saying "because I don't have kids" can be a problem, though. Does it give credence to the people who say, "Just wait until you have kids! You won't do any of those things!" -- even just a little? To fill up my time with fun or extravagant things as a hole-filler? I don't think so, because we love these things regardless and did them before we planned on children. Or does it make it seem like there are these tremendous benefits to not having kids, when I'd love nothing more than to be soaked in soapy water thanks to a splashy three-year-old in the bathtub? Am I rubbing the parent people's noses in our freedom, financially or timewise? Or do they realize that while we DON'T have kids, we still have to plan for their possibly instantaneous appearance, for a sudden need to drop everything and become parents, and hand over all the fees and expenses for adoption at a moment's notice? That we do what we can to feel free and happy when we are in this limbo all the time, somehow Not Parents but not Resolved Childfree, either? It feels like I've been pregnant in a sense for years, like a mammoth or something. But you can't see it. I can feel the exhaustion though. It's real.

What people see are the fancy dinners, the Christmases in Vermont, the list of books read (105 last year), the busyness at school and my joining problem...and it seems like we are foolish, foolish people to think we can keep this up when the call comes, finally. Or that we are lucky, lucky people to have so much freedom. Or that we will feel a harsh, harsh shift when it's all taken away. That's the one I don't get. When people make parenthood sound terrible, "oh you'll never do woodworking again" or "say goodbye to all your books" or "Ha! Good luck with your PhD when the baby comes!" I don't doubt there will be a slowing, for a time. But totally drop everything we love to do? Doesn't seem reasonable. I know families who accomplish this. I know it can be done.

Somehow I have two minds on this. I don't want to overglamourize not having kids and the freedom it imparts, but I also want it to be known that if we don't have kids, ever...we will have this lovely full life. And if we do have kids, we will have most of that life and a bit more (and a bit less, because it's a give and take). That everything comes with sacrifices, and it's particularly hard to be waiting for parenthood and preparing for parenthood in every possible way but still not have those kids, to still be waiting for the naps and baths and feedings and goodnight routines to start.  To have the freedom but also the fresh loss of what we'd love to have: to cheer on my own kid at a game or an orchestra concert, to be tired from lack of sleep because our baby's here, to read the same battered picture book over and over again at bedtime. To have two rooms full of baby stuff (the nursery and the back room), an earmarked chunk of change in the bank, a home study file that seems to be neverendingly in need of updates, and to have hope but feel no real progress yet. It seems we have some of the sacrifices without the rewards, so we make our own.

Because we don't have kids.

15 comments:

  1. It always amazes me that people pass judgement so readily on others' situations without thinking it through. Either you are super sad because you've put your life on hold for kids or they chastise you because you aren't putting your life on hold. This doesn't stop regardless of the stage in life one finds themselves in.

    Which makes me wonder, why the judgement? Why do we feel the need to play up the parts we see and pass judgement? They best I've got after all these years is that it comes from a place of insecurity and doubt. Because what if you do keep up with your reading? Or still are still a dedicated teacher? Or Bryce earns his PhD? All while rocking parenthood. What does that say about those looking from the outside in?

    I struggle with all of this as there are many looking at Grey and me at the moment, passing similar judgements. I do try to remember where they are coming from (some truly believe they are being helpful), but often the only balm is remembering that there's usually more going on underneath the surface.

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    1. Yes, why the judgment? That's what it all boils down to, and I didn't even think about that when I wrote it. That it always comes down to how personal choices are perceived. I am sorry you feel that you are having judgment passed on you, too. Grrr. Always important to remember the motivations and things behind others' comments, true -- so wise to be empathetic, even to those who judge. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  2. Yes, you absolutely do all those awesome things because you want to and you value them, not only because you don't have kids. Life is not only about the absence of something, but the presence of things that matter. It's good you make that clear, to yourself and others. And no you won't have to give up everything for a child. You will, to the best of your ability, strategize to keep the important work/pastimes (whatever you decide that is; it may well be different from what you think is important now.) In the case of a crisis where major sacrifices must be made (hopefully won't happen), you will do what you have to do for everyone's best interest. Gosh, I sound so wise telling this to someone else. Seriously though, you got it going.

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    1. "Life is not only about the absence of something, but the presence of things that matter." I love that SO much. It is funny, right, how it's so much easier to advise others than it is to put things into practice yourself... It's hard. I have no bones that it won't be hard. But, like you said... it is possible to prioritize some things that you like to do, because you like to do them! I look forward to reading time with our little one, should he or she materialize. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  3. For years when struggling with infertility I would make a point of not letting parents think that my life was "easier", that I had more time than them for reading, lounging around, going out... I absolutely didn't want to overglamourize not having kids - I would get very righteously indignant and point out that I too never sleep (insomnia), I too never go out (full-time job = knackered every evening), I too barely read (no attention span from doing a million things at once), and so on. Or, I would try to explain to them what the uncanny, permanent quiet of childlessness feels like - at which they would raise a sceptical eyebrow and say they were jealous of me: if only they got the same downtime as me. It was a no-win situation: we just could not see eye to eye. As a resolved childfree person, I am happy now to say "I can do XYZ because I don't have children" - although it often strikes me that my parent friends actually do more than me. I have two mum friends, both with two kids, who read voraciously and see more films, listen to more podcasts (etc) than I ever do. I have a mum friend with three kids who is out at gigs in London (she's 44) at least twice a week. I sometimes stop in my tracks and think "why the hell am I living like this (small house, nasty commute, not enough holidays etc) when I don't have to put food on the table?". I kind of want a better life than someone who has a couple of kids, because I was denied that and as a result I have more spare cash etc. But I don't want to rub that in parents' faces - even though we have kids rubbed in our faces all the time. So I'm trying not to compare, and i'm trying to just be neutral, but "It's because I don't have kids" has crept into my conversation lately and I see nothing wrong with it. Fab piece again Jess.

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    1. Thanks so much! This, so much this: "I would try to explain to them what the uncanny, permanent quiet of childlessness feels like." YES. Sometimes I love the quiet, but it can be oppressive, too. I long for the beautiful chaos of a tiny person, but I'm sure if we should be so lucky I'll long for that quiet I once had, too. It's all balance no matter how many humans are in your household. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  4. Other people get to have children, our consolation prize is we get to have sleep ins, be spontaneous and have lots of time for hobbies and our relationship! May as well enjoy and appreciate this time now as much as possible since life is short and who knows what the future will bring! I think once people have kids there are certainly sacrifices in how they spend their time but you can still find ways to do your hobbies if you want to.

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    1. Yup, absolutely. I feel like live the life you've got, and live the crap out of it. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but why not create our own benefits for missing the thing that is so elusive? I agree, it would be naive not to acknowledge that there are sacrifices, but it doesn't have to be EVERYTHING. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  5. Hi Jess FYI I've published a piece inspired by this, apologies in advance if I've plagiarised at all! It got me thinking, as Carrie Bradshaw would say.

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    1. Oh my gosh, no worries! I read your piece, just have to comment -- so good. I am flattered to have inspired you! :)

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  6. Yes, I love this. I have a friends who read avidly, and completed a post-graduate qualification, when her kids were little. She even would read in the shower! She also spoke about her mother who said that she would breastfeed her twins (my friend and her sister) and read a book at the same time.

    Another friend has always juggled motherhood and a busy social life. And another has had an international career at the same time as raising her two kids.

    You're absolutely right. It's all in what you prioritise.

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  7. Once again, this is verrrry familiar to me. "Just wait until you have kids..." drives me insane. Almost as insane as "Good thing you don't have kids yet" / "What would you do if you have kids?" Those tend to be in response to health-related things. Like "you were in bed all afternoon with a migraine? What would you do if you have kids?" Here's the thing: some people with kids have migraines or chronic illness or get the flu. They figure it out. Just like some people have kids and continue to read books or go out to dinner or make things out of wood or whatever. I don't remember where I was going and I need to wrap this rant up, but the point is, I feel your pain.

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    1. Oh yes. Those "good thing you don't have kids/what would you do if you had kids?" questions...argh. True, people with kids get the flu, or migraine, or have work commitments and they figure out how to balance it. There is not a life in this world that doesn't require some balancing, kids or no kids. I'm sorry you feel this pain, thanks for the rant!

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  8. I've always struggled to explain to people who haven't lived infertility how "because I don't have kids" can be a supremely mixed bag. On the one hand, we got several years and did some things we wouldn't have done if we'd had kids when we planned. And yes, the life we had together would absolutely have been enough if it hadn't happened, because, in many ways, it was a really good life as well. On the other...the waiting, the wondering, the uncertainty. The sort of suspended, have-to-be-able-to-drop-everything quality that those years had is hard to explain to many people. Those were the parts that really made that time hard for me. This post really captures that duality.

    I totally agree that you'll find time to prioritize the activities that matter to you. It's a matter of figuring out the balance (which, admittedly, does take some trial and error initially).

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  9. I have kid--singular after a dozen years of infertility and a crazy adoption.

    I still read. I don't read as much, but I still read.

    Right now I am reading John Grisham's Sycamore Row and loving it. If you have read anything good--let me know.

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