Saturday, November 24, 2007

Having to try so hard for something you are sometimes ambivalent about

A good friend of J.'s was in town for dinner last night. Like us, D. is an artist. She is the kind of person who makes a living by hopping around the world from residency to residency. She is well respected and has also taught in many institutions, only once on the tenure track (by choice). I envy her sometimes for knowing so clearly what she wants, and for being so independent.

D. had arrived from a visit with family in D.C. and talk for hours, really, about how hard it was to be the sibling without kids. And it was not because she wants them, but rather because she longs for adult conversations with her siblings and parents. Basically, she arrived at our house having heard little other than conversations about how great it was that Jimmy went in the potty and Sally makes big sentences, but can't jump as high as the other girls at gymnastics. When you are a person who spends 99% of your time with adults, it is pretty hard to feel engaged with people who spend 99% of their time with children. And vice versa.

I have experienced this in my own family. When I was in grad school I was a rock star. I was so proud of what I was doing and how well I was doing it. It was really the first time in my life that I excelled academically and I wanted to share that with my family. But visits home at the holidays never involved my parents bothering to ask how I was doing, rather I had to endure endless conversations about my sister's wacked out husband, her daughters bed-wetting, and the fact that my sister had managed to get knocked up one more time by a man she was about to separate from.

And the fact is, when I have children I want to continue to have adult conversations, I want to listen intently and care about the lives of my friends who don't have kids. I think there has been a real shift in parenting. My mother always maintained adult relationships. If we were around, we were expected to entertain ourselves so my mother could have a moment of sanity by talking about something other than diaper rash. These days it seems like people are obsessed with their children, but even worse, expect that all of their friends should be obsessed with them too. Back off, give the poor kids some room, let them learn to entertain themselves, make-believe and all that good stuff. By having an adult conversation and dismissing your kid from the spotlight, they might have a brief moment where they learn something about the world on their very own-- and you might get a chance to be you as yourself for just a sec.

I fear that if we never have kids, the gap between me and my friends with kids will become so wide that I can no longer jump over it. I fear it especially when it widens so quickly. I have lost one friend already because she was so unwilling to understand why it was so hard for me to see her pregnant after my miscarriages. Now my other good friends are pregnant and the distance is beginning, only exacerbated by my history.

Does there really have to be an us and them? Can't people with children bother to ask about their friends lives who do not have kids? And can't the people without kids be generous enough to understand that a persons life changes with kids? That you may have to be a little more patient with them...

So here I am, some days ambivalent about having kids because I am scared having children will make my brain mushy-- and on the other hand, having to work so hard to bring a child into this world. I am working really hard for the one thing I fear the most. It is quite a paradox.

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