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?"
"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.