The missus and I have been married for quite a while now. In fact, the old wall calendar says that we’ve been blissfully wed for a little over ten years.
(My wife, on the other hand, says it feels like we’ve been manacled together for at least fifty. She kids because she loves. Or so I’ve decided to assume.
It’s ’til death do us part’, honey — now put down that carving knife and stop asking about my life insurance policy.)
Anyway, with so many miles racked up on our matrimonial odometer, there’s one question that people keep asking, over and over. And over. And over.
‘When are you two going to settle down and have kids?‘
“I helpfully offered that hanging around her kids was like doing pushups, or opening a pickle jar, or taking a really tough, grudging poop.”
Now, by ‘people’ asking, I mostly mean ‘our families’. Few other people would dare to dig so deeply into our personal lives, or particularly care whether or not we’re squirting out puppies to carry on the family name. My wife’s family seems genuinely interested in having more children around, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Maybe they have unused ‘Babies R Us’ coupons they need to cash in, or old childrens’ clothes taking up space in their attics. Maybe one of them owns a Nike sweatshop, and needs more underage workers, or a black market connection for selling off toddlers. It could be anything.
My family is different. I’m convinced my parents want us to reproduce simply to get me back for all the shit I did to them while I was growing up. Apparently, I was a handful. I imagine my mother’s secretly hoping we have triplets someday, with at least one bout of colic and a demonic possession. That’d teach me.
Of course, all of this is moot from where I’m sitting, because my answer to the original question is a simple:
Conceiving children has never been on my ‘to do’ list. Maybe it’s something in my genetic makeup, or a personal philosophy rooted deep in my subconscious. Possibly, I’ve repressed some horrific child-related trauma from my youth that has turned me away from the path of parenthood. Heaven knows there are enough traumatic childhood encounters with other kids that I didn’t repress; who knows what horrors could be locked up in my subconscious?
Whatever the reasons, I’ve never had an interest in owning my own child. I can barely keep myself out of trouble, properly attired, and marginally employed; there’s no chance I could manage to look out for another human being while I’m at it. Especially one that’s often demanding, loudly irrational, and is constantly sticking random things in its mouth. If I wanted to come home to that every day, I’d have married my ex-girlfriend from college. No, thanks.
Still, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I don’t hate children, by any means. I’m not some modern-day Scrooge, kicking the crutch out from under Tiny Tim’s gimpy leg for a larf. For the most part, other people’s offspring are fine. Many of our friends have babies and toddlers now, and they’re a wonderful bunch of kids. It’s quite a challenge to convey to those proud parents that while I don’t want any children of my own, that’s no reflection on how I feel about their children. It’s a fine and prickly line to walk.
So I tried expressing my position with analogies. I’ve found that in many such cases, offering an analogous situation helps to clarify one’s reasoning, and drive the message home.
My first efforts were, shall we say, not well received.
I explained to one motherly friend of mine that it’s simply a matter of stamina in dealing with children. All the energy and constant supervision they require really takes it out of a person, and I’m just not accustomed to the exertion. I helpfully offered that hanging around her kids was like doing pushups, or opening a pickle jar, or taking a really tough, grudging poop. Sometimes a guy needs to rest for a little while and gather his strength, before getting back in there for another go-round.
That lady doesn’t return our calls any more. Her husband says it’s something to do with suggesting their kids are a couple of constipated turds. Which wasn’t what I meant, of course.
(On the other hand, her son once slung a spoonful of strained peas onto my favorite rugby. If that hadn’t come out in the wash, I just might’ve resorted to calling the little shit something nasty. Theoretically.)
The next time the subject arose, I made sure to be more tactful. We were at dinner with a different kid-carrying couple, and I was asked why I wasn’t planning on having children. I carefully explained that I prefer the relative simplicity and flexibility of our current situation, and that, for me, the responsibilities and sacrifices required to raise children just weren’t an attractive option.
I was as cautious and as eloquent as I could muster. The couple seemed to understand where I was coming from, and my wife seemed relieved that I hadn’t overtly offended them with my explanation.
Then I remembered how useful analogies can be. I decided to drive home the message of how I enjoyed seeing this couple’s children, regardless of my personal parenting position.
“I still think kids — especially great kids like yours — are charming and entertaining.”
My wife shot me a ‘please, for the love of god, leave it at that and don’t say another word‘ look. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it.
“It’s just that, for me, it’s the kind of entertainment that’s best in smaller doses.”
That’s when my wife grabbed my arm and gave me a wide-eyed ‘seriously, I’m begging you to stop; few enough couples will speak to us as it is‘ stare. I saw that one, but I thought maybe she’d just eaten a bad piece of sushi. So I continued.
“You know, like Gilbert Godfried. Or Christian rock. Or midget porn.”
As my wife and I finished up our meals — after the couple gathered up their son and stormed out, of course — she peppered me with all sorts of questions. “What the hell is wrong with you?” “Didn’t you see me staring at you?” “And where the hell have you been watching ‘little people’ porn?”
(That’s my wife. Even in an apoplectic rage, she still manages to be ‘PC’. God, I love that woman. I don’t care how tall she is.)
Anyway, I learned my lesson. At least, I thought I had. Until last night, when I went out drinking with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He’s been pretty busy for a few months with a new baby, but was able to finally break away for a few Friday beers. Late in the evening, he looked at me and ventured to ask:
“So, are you two thinking about having kids someday?”
I knew exactly what to say. A quick, ‘nah, I don’t think so‘ and leave it at that. No explanation, no discussion, and absolutely no analogies. Brush it off, and change the subject to something safer, like politics or religion or the latest developments in the midget porn industry.
But with my better judgement sufficiently lubricated at that point — and my wife nowhere to be seen — I abandoned reason and tried, once more, to explain myself. I wanted him to know that although I’m not interested in children for myself, I’d be happy at any time to visit and hang out with his. That’s when it all clicked into place, and I found the words I needed:
“Here’s the thing. To me, a kid is like a Nintendo, or a Miata, or a pierced nipple. I don’t think I’d ever want one myself, but I’m more than happy to play with someone else’s. It’s just not something I could ever bring home, or I’d probably stay up nights fiddling with it, and eventually screw it up completely. See?”
And he did. He understood completely, and we had another round or two of beers before parting on good terms. I guess the third time’s a charm, even when you’re dealing with ill-advised analogies. I wish I’d thought of video games, sports cars and studded boobs before; I can’t imagine how it escaped me for so long.
Now if I could just find a way to explain that ‘midget porn’ comment to my wife. That’ll be a tricky one.Permalink | 3 Comments