Having a baby changes everything

“Not having kids is making aging confusing.”

This was a friend’s status update. It jolted me to read it. In fact, I’m not sure how he intended it, but it took me back immediately to this documentary I watched in grad school, Daddy & Papa, about gay couples adopting kids.

Now, I’ve never wanted kids. It predates any realizations about being a homo and in (what then seemed it would forever be) a difficult position w/r/t kids; in fact, it’s one of my few lifelong certainties. I pull a lot of W.C. Fields schtick about not being able to stand the little nose-pickers but the fact is, other than infants (anathema!), I’m just a little awkward with them, don’t usually know what to say to them and, okay, I don’t find them particularly interesting. But there’s no great animosity. Once in a while I like them, if they’re weird and smart.

But you get backed into things sometimes. So for instance I’m watching this documentary and one proud father explains his longing to adopt. He sits there looking at the camera, holding his partner’s hand or some shit, and says “we were just looking at the rest of our lives and thinking, what if it’s just more dinner parties and gallery openings?!” [cue: the saddest music in the world]

I like dinner parties. I don’t have a strong feeling about gallery openings, but I suddenly felt like I’d go to the wall for them. I walked out, indicted and angry about it. This is how I’ve come to be occasionally affiliated with nutcases like the “childfree” set. (If you’re not familiar, these are the people who refer to mothers as “moos” and kids as “crotch droppings,” among other terms. They’re frightful, but I’d be lying if I denied occasionally feeling more closely aligned with them than with the culture of parenting, if only because I know they don’t think of me as some soulless, dinner-party-throwing monster.)

The fact is, yes, you lose a set of guidelines for what you’re supposed to do after you settle into a career if you don’t have kids. And everybody needs new chapters, and I do think a lot of us who don’t have kids, even the ones who emphatically don’t want them, occasionally have a twinge of roadmaplessness.

I think about my parents’ lives: childhood, high school, college, graduate school, first job, first kid, second kid, by the time we were out the door and superficially independent, they were 50. That’s a lot of your life accounted for, given an outline however broad.

What’s the question I’m left with, long past the end of my proscribed outline? It’s the same question as everything else, I guess. Though it’s a bit grand for these glib ditherings, inevitably I think of Grace Paley in a little introduction she wrote, talking about a friend she had met in 1957.

After that we talked and talked for nearly forty years. Then she died. Three days before that, she said slowly, with the delicacy of an unsatisfied person with only a dozen words left, Grace, the real question is — how are we to live our lives?”

10 responses to “Having a baby changes everything”

  1. AWB says:

    Yes to all this, Mr. S. This is the thing; while I am pretty personally opposed to marriage for myself, I really don’t dislike children. I’ve never wanted one, but the likelihood of me having a kid before I die is greater than that of me getting married. I just don’t want to, rather than that I am against it.

    But the more important thing for me is to maintain that sense of roadmaplessness. I know exactly what you mean. It’s not the marriage itself or the kids themselves that I dislike about couples, it’s the condescension, about how sad it is for you that you don’t have a life plan to guide all of your actions. You have to wake up every day and decide what to do with yourself. How thrilling, I say!

    My ex (the only person I dated for more than a few months) had been a rootless mapless oddball (a model in Taiwan, a PhD on modernism, culinary arts grad, sommelier in France) until he was my age now when, according to his own account, someone wanted to marry and have kids with him, and he didn’t want either of those things, especially not with her, but “she was there.” What he wanted was not love or fun or intimacy, but, he said, someone to tell him how to live his life. And then she sexually and emotionally abused him for 10 straight years while he enjoyed having instructions for every day. Then one day she left him for a guy from work.

    I think part of the reason I was drawn to him was that he validated my horror of having one’s life mapped out by someone else. Yes, of course that’s horrible and terrifying! And the very things he wanted out of that were hellish to live through! Of course! But near the end of our two and a half years together, I realized, and I asked him, and he agreed, that he’d go back to her in a heartbeat if she showed up tomorrow.

    I think that even for people who hate the idea of being mapped, relationships and kids give them a sense of ease and release from the terrible freedom of deciding what to do every day. I think a lot of people are in complex, unpleasant-sounding relationships because they need to be told what to do, but they hate being told what to do. I have always been suspicious, or even fearful, of intense, intimate relationships and family because all that’s ever meant for me is an excuse for someone to tell me what to do.

    I’m sure that’s not how most people experience their intimate lives, and I am extremely happy for people who enjoy that feeling of being surrounded and needed. But I do not appreciate the condescension, that my life is a lesser, smaller version of theirs. I’m sure part of that is that, for a lot of people in families, when they think about being single, they’re necessarily thinking of being 19 and in college. At least that’s my problem with my mother; she can’t imagine what a single woman in her 30’s does. All she can imagine for me is that I should be flirting with boys, doing my hair, competing with women, and acting dumb enough to be appealing. She just has no frame of reference because there really isn’t one, other than TV.

    That said, this is pretty funny.

  2. lane says:

    great post, and greetings from LA! . . . things here are “great!”

    that louis ck bit is classic, we all love it. and of course we all know he didn’t need the gun, or the bleach, just a lawyer, and he and the mother of his kids got those…

    Like your post on artists, (which i still think about) this is another deep, cavernous topic for me.

    I’d start by parsing the “parenting” world into “only families” and then everyone with 2 kids or more.

    We’re the really horrible selfish parents cause we don’t have the resources (emotional, financial) to provide for the “spare” … just the “heir”. So not only are we lonely, maladjusted, poor outsiders, but we made another person to join us on our lonely, maladjusted, poor outsiderish quest. A quest to do something other than have dinner parties and go to good gallery openings (with white wine in proper stem glasses.)

    Jeff Koons once told me that my son was “the best thing i’d ever make”…. maybe. The funny thing is that my son just hates looking at what Jeff makes. Yesterday at LACMA he was bored beyond bored and … i don’t blame him, I would have hated LACMA at 7.

    But he did pick out the best seats at the bar for a smashing lunch. And he is a very lavish accessory. (One is an accessory, two is a lifestyle!) And he made me leave LACMA for the 99 cent store, and frankly, I didn’t really care. Pollocks in LA are stupid dirty little scraps of cloth. (Although they did have THE Celmin’s Comb propped up in a corner!) I know the good people of LA need LACMA, otherwise it’s nothing but 99 cent stores…

    He also did not want to touch sand in Santa Monica, but his joy at the vending machine Starbursts was contagious. … and I never would have gone to Raging Waters in SLC without him. When it’s good, it’s perfect. 30 minutes of bliss, every once in a while.

    AWB is right about an LTR being a decision making loophole. Part of the reason we’ve made it work is we needed each other to ease that pressure. “You don’t know your next chapter?… Neither do I!… Let’s help each other write them!”

    blah blah fuckin’ blah… I wish TGW was sitting at this cute little table perched over Sunset and we were all talking about this in real time.

    But anyway, I’ll be satisfied that AWB might scan this comment and hear me out, and Mr. S. will chuckle.

    Thanks for listening.

  3. lane says:

    and then he wakes up, looks at you with those big green eyes, makes you get him cartoons and squeals with delight at your gesture… like Aunt Ada used to say “There is nothing like the love of a child.”

    One and done!… He’s really cool, and I’m glad I know him, and I live in fear of disappointing him.

    It puts you in touch with how short and empty and meaningless our lives really are. : – / … i guess.

    Siblings are overrated anyway. : – )

  4. F. P. Smearcase says:

    AWB, I guess you’ve picked up on my ambivalence about the roadmap. I don’t want one thrust at me, but without one at all, I can sometimes feel a little lost.

    I’ve never felt that a relationship had as uncomfortably many instructions. There’s not as much “and then you have to find a preschool; and then you have to do the college trip.” Being in a relationship is just bumbling along with company. (“Marriage,” Kay Francis says in Trouble in Paradise , “is a beautiful mistake which two people make together.”)

    And yes, the galling thing is the suspicion that the great majority of people think you’re missed out on something important and will never understand, be that a relationship or “sprogs.” The Louis CK thing actually did piss me off, though I saw him on horrible Jay Leno the other night and thought he was hilarious.

  5. F. P. Smearcase says:

    Jeff Koons once told me that my son was “the best thing i’d ever make”…. maybe. The funny thing is that my son just hates looking at what Jeff makes.

    This made me laugh. And I’m always more at ease knowing some parents will make a joke like “he’s a very lavish accessory.”

    The other day a friend on fb posted something about how his kid has reached the age of taking forever to make a point about anything and using upspeak and how it made him feel violent. It wasn’t serious; every other post is about how much he adores his kid. There were a lot of “likes,” a couple of comments full of sanctimonious horror.

    I was elated to read it because the part of parenting culture that freaks me out is the part that insists that every moment of having a child is beautiful. Like those memes that go around that are a list of the horrors of bringing up another person that somehow veer around and become about how nothing else on earth approaches the beauty of it. My general feeling is that anything that inspires only positive feelings is probably a lie (which also has something to do with my feelings about religion.)

    And yes it would be nice if we were all in LA right now though it’s 8:20 there and I’d be asleep.

    But everything puts me in touch with how short and meaningless our lives are, which is maybe why I don’t need the extra reminder of kids? And…there is also nothing like the love of an adult. I will add that, and go do some work.

  6. lane says:

    yeah, it’s all very circular and strange.

    Sure Mark Z. feels reallly cool for having made FB. But what must his mom feel for having made Mark Z.? And while his dad is no doubt proud of him, all he really did was fix teeth to pay for Andover.

    And of course Bernie Madoff’s mom would be a little embarrassed.

    “a beautiful mistake we make together…” nice.

    my mom caught the mumps, it screwed up her rhythm method and she and dad made me…

    i’m a mistake, hopefully a beautiful one.

  7. AWB says:

    I was thinking about this post just now as an acquaintance from high school announced that she and her husband are going to have their first baby. I say congratulations on FB, so now I get updates to the thread from all the people who already have children, saying, over and over, in various ways, “And now you will finally learn the meaning of life!” and “True happiness awaits you!” and “You thought you were alive before, but now….” etc. AAAUGH.

  8. lane says:

    parents are the WORST!

  9. lane says:

    “the true meaning of life”… give away all your money!

    “true happiness”… when the kid is asleep!

    “true ‘aliveness'” . . . because you can’t LIVE on mt. Everest! . . . because it IS that long, that demanding, and that expensive!

    Parents are the worst!

    But when he’s well fed, well rested, he’s great… and without him Disneyland is meaningless. . . . Disneyland with a happy kid really is one of the greatest things you can ever experience . . . like Everest, I’m sure.

  10. lane says:

    this is really so complicated… i’ve been thinking of this all day… i’d love to engage all TGW through the years to parse this issue.

    blah blah blah.