In writing yesterday's column I did a lot of reading on the Internet and was expecting to include many links to interesting sites. But today, the things that have moved me to heights of passion are songs and poems, not essays on whether to have children or not. So while answering a second letter on the topic of whether to have children, I have taken a more personal approach.
I would truly appreciate your advice on what I feel is a relatively happy problem. My fiancé and I are what you might call outsiders in our families (his sister has been known to repeatedly ask where he came from). We thrive only in city life -- it may sound shallow, but the lack of stimulation in the suburbs where we grew up made for a kind of desperate existence. We relocated to a major city and love it, but we already feel wanderlust. We have plans to save up some money, rent an apartment in Paris, and travel Europe while we're there. My parents, I think, have come to expect this of me (have I mentioned that I'm not exactly a quiet one?) and were relatively unsurprised by the revelation. My fiancé's mother, on the other hand, feels that we need to buy a house and settle down to have children.
That brings me to another point -- we don't want them. Neither of us are "kid people" and while we're both open to keeping up the conversation as the years go by, and maybe adopting an older child at some point, we're content for now to wander without worry of children. We're asked often when we'll have them, and people seem absolutely astounded (or annoyingly smug) when we explain our stance. What's more, my future mother-in-law is already finding things to be upset about in regard to how we would raise our nonexistent children. She's absolutely appalled that we're not religious, and we haven't even broken that one to our very (very, VERY) devout families. They seem to think that not going to church in one's 20s in just a normal phase, and that we'll "come back to God."
As if this all wasn't different enough, my career is in the arts and nontraditional. I have a college degree, but I don't use it -- strictly speaking, of course. In reality, I use it all the time because of the knowledge I gained through my studies. But our families feel that my degree is wasted and that I'm slacking or impractical. They think my job isn't real because I don't clock in, and they think that means I'm content to let my fiancé do all the work.
Should I start in on how we dress, how often we go out to drink, and what we eat? It's all different! I don't mind being different, I'm very happy that I've found someone who has a remarkably similar philosophy, and I look forward to many years of seeing the world together. But I'm not quite sure how to respond in those painful family conversations. It seems that by the end of any given family gathering, I've relied on wine and awkward smiles. It feels so fake, and I'm not sure what to do!
Outsider on the Inside
Is there a shortage of children? Is your fiancé's mother a member of a royal family that requires an heir for succession? Is there a surplus of planetary resources that must be used up right away before they spoil?
Then what is it?
It would be one thing if you wanted children. If you want them, what the heck, have at it.
But if you don't?
Why would you?
In reading this morning the poem "The Dead" by Benjamin Alire Sáenz I nearly cried with grief. Later, when I was listening to the song "Fields of Athenry" sung by the Dubliners, tears did roll down my face.
The sadness of that song comes out of the Great Famine, which moves me more than other world catastrophes perhaps because of my unconscious ties to the island of Ireland, which I was staring at on a map last night as if I knew it, and perhaps I did, or do, know that island, and perhaps I did, or do, know the wandering tribes of Sáenz's poem, who came across the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago and wandered into southwestern New Mexico where eventually they perished in the dust of a drought.
My sadness for those lost peoples led to this thought: Maybe by not having children I have failed to relay to future generations that genetic memory that has been carried to me through so many thousands of generations, that now terminates in me, murdered by sophistication and economic calculation.
On the other hand, there are certain people like me and my wife whose call in life is not to have children but to do other things. Are we not a social benefit?
We who do not have kids leave a different kind of mark.
We cannot do everything. We must choose. We must choose and that reminds me of that Yeats poem, "The Choice."
The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night's remorse.
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