Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's not an island, you just can't see past the hills...

I had the most fabulous dinner out this weekend. I laughed so often that I swear shrimp almost came out of my nose. We all finished dinner and sat around annoying the waiter for at least another hour. When we departed, the conversation lingered in the parking lot as we were all reluctant to end the night. That's nothing remarkable to blog about - getting together with friends is always fun, and sometimes you find a group that just particularly gels together. I have lots of different circles of friends, and we all have fun in different ways. But this dinner was different, and I couldn't figure out why the night was so fun until one of the attendees pointed out that everyone at the table was over thirty and childless. (Although I'm sure that if someone read a transcript of the conversations that we had, they would put the age of the group at somewhere around 18.)

I was surprised at what a nice change that was. For once, I didn't feel like the 'crazy one who doesn't know what she's missing because she doesn't want kids.' We had dinner on a Saturday night and lingered with no timeframe in mind. We discussed a group skydiving trip and 6 out of the 8 in the group were in. I went back to a friend's house and we stayed out until 2:00am. We talked about group trips and didn't have to plan around school or baby sitting etc. etc. It was different, and that itself was surprising. So many of my friends now have children that making considerations for children when we make plans is just commonplace. (Note: it is not a burden to make considerations for children. Please please please don't take it that way. I am not here to bash my friends who have kids - especially since so many of them are awesome. This is just an observation.)

I've accepted that I'm in the minority since I don't want children. Each time a good friend of mine announces a pregnancy, I greet the news with joy and I attend the baby shower with a gift that I try to put some thought into (but seriously, I don't know the good things to get. I try, though! Specific instructions that don't include the words "breast" or "pump" are always appreciated...) I ask about updates on the pregnancy, I can't wait to know the sex and the name of the new addition... I even follow a blogger who is about to have her second child, and I anticipate each update as much for her writing and observations as for the subject matter and pictures. But I'm always a bit hesitant. Is my latest newly pregnant friend going to turn into "that mom?" You know the one. This is the woman who has a baby, usually quits her job, and is suddenly incapable of speaking about anything other than her child and the day to day "achievements" or "challenges" that she faces, much less hearing about the lives of others who don't involve her child. Dear God, just shoot me now.

Luckily, I've been largely unscathed. I can do a shout out to all my awesome mom friends individually, but that would take much too long. I can point out the people I've known who have become "that mom," which would be a much shorter list, but I'll keep the gloves up and try to be nice. I'll suffice to say that the awesome moms realize that there are different friends for different discussions. They help me out with the updates on their children (they know that I don't know what to ask, but they help me out with the important information anyway.) At the same time, they still keep it on a level that I'll understand. (The real in-depth mommy talk would be over my head anyway.) The awesome moms also still ask about my life and what's going on with me. Our conversation is not simply dominated by baby-talk, even though I'm sure they would like it to be, but it's also not dominated by dogs/school/politics like I would prefer it to be. :-) The effort put forth by both parties ensures that the friendship between "maternal" and "non-maternal" will endure. I might be biased, but I think that you need all sorts of friends in your life with all sorts of viewpoints, no?

I don't begrudge women their decision to have children. I just seriously dread the women who become "that mom." I thought it was mostly because of the loss of my friend when they morph into this completely self absorbed creature, but now I'm realizing the pressure that comes with "those moms" and how much that affects me, even if I don't want it to. My intense reaction to "those moms" is for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious one is that I don't like being called out for discussing topics other than their child (ahem.) You had a child, and they are your whole world. I know. But they're not mine. If you can't understand that I'm not going to want to talk about your child 24/7 or if you are incapable of discussing any other topic, well, it's going to stress me out to spend time with you and I'll probably do my best to avoid it*.

I thought that was it. But after a dinner with other childless friends, I realized that what I feel is implicit in that refusal to discuss anything other than the new child is a judgment on me for not wanting to have children. "Look at me! My entire life has changed in such a profound way! It is so awesome! This is obviously the right decision! Best thing I ever did! Emily, you should so totally be interested in this - what's wrong with you if you aren't? This experience is just so awesome. I mean, I just can't put it into words. It's just so....great. You wouldn't understand." Whether that's actually being put forth by some moms, or if it's in my head, either way it's a subtle pressure that I'm feeling more and more as those around me have children, plan to have children, try to have children, or can't wait to get married and have children.

I get it. I really do. Having children is awesome. It truly changes your life, perspective and everything in between. I just don't think it's a decision for me.

Feeling that pressure is my problem, and I get that. I have to work on that. But the thing is, I don't feel that pressure from the "awesome moms." All I feel from them is joy over their children. That, in turn, makes me enjoy spending time with them and their children whenever it's possible for us to get together. So then, what's the difference between seeing my "awesome mom" friends and going out with a group of childless friends?

Well, I guess that not only was the subtle pressure gone, but I see other people who have made the same decision I've made... and their life looks pretty darn good from where I'm sitting. In the absence of a "What to Expect" book to tell me how to circumnavigate life with no children, it was nice to see that others have gone before me and they're satisfied with their life and how they lived it. The decision not to have children isn't worse than the decision to have children. It's not better than the decision to have children. It's just a different path. I guess I didn't realize how nice it was to have that path reaffirmed every now and then.

*I tried to keep the gloves up. Really I did.


The Carrels said...

Here's a comment from a momma friend who hopes to GOD she's not what you consider to be 'that mom.'

I just want to offer a couple of points to your blog post from my perspective both as a mother and as your friend...

*I really appreciate your honesty about how refreshing it is to experience a fun filled evening out with friends who don't have children. I totally took those nights for granted before having a child and becoming pregnant with a second. I seriously dream about a fun dinner out that doesn't have me worried about how bed time went or what time unGodly time he'll wake up in the morning requesting ""

*Parenting is flipping hard work. Anyone who says it is "great" or "awesome" is lying to your face. There are parts that are great and awesome, but for the most part I am worried. I worry if I should really spend $6.99 on a gallon of organic milk without all of the hormones and additives the regular 2% has for less than half the price. I worry if while Max is in school and he 'toots' if he says, "momma.toot.dadda.toot.max.toot" and giggles to his teachers. I worry if I am impressing positive values on him and he will be a contributing member to society when he is grown. I worry if he is sleeping enough. I worry if "Elmo's World" is really how we should spend an hour of our afternoon. All of this worry can't always translate to "great" and "awesome."

*I think it is wonderful that you have recognized that motherhood may not be for you. There are too many people who have fallen to the pressure of graduating from college, planning the perfect wedding (notice I said wedding and not marriage...that's another rant of mine), worked at their career for 3-5 years then their Friday nights turn from dinner and drinks with friends to registering at Babies 'R Us and discussing their birth plans and where their kids will go to preschool...all while they have completely lost themselves along the way. If you know that you don't want to have children and you'd rather travel, skydive, etc then that is what you should do.

*There probably have been moments when our conversations have been focused on me and my child. Honestly when you are 'in the weeds' as a new mother and your life has been turned upside down and you are responsible for another human being and this particular human being relies on you for nourishment and nurturing it is very overwhelming. There are days when you don't get ANYTHING done besides feeding and bathing the child and the rest of the time you try everything humanly possible to get that child to sleep. And when that child is asleep you choose between bathing yourself or sleeping. I can really see how when you have a chance to get out with friends you don't know what is going on with the world, you don't follow funny, witty blogs, you haven't read a book besides "Goodnight Moon" and "Green Eggs and Ham" and you really don't know if you can even put a complete sentence together. But you know that you baby slept for 10.75 hours yesterday, had 3 wets and 2 dirty diapers and that you nursed him for the remaining 11.25 hours in the day. That may be all you can add to the is sad, but it is true. Those are the moments when you feel like you are on an island - all alone and you can't see past the hills. That doesn't make it right or wrong, it just is what it is.

Farmerspice said...

Well, as another of your un offended momma friends....I pretty well know that I'm not that mom by any stretch of the imagination. Believe me I have many of the worries others do but the plain and simple truth of what happened in my life is that I got knocked up and ended up a single mom now for 6 years. I think I'm doing ok...I've been able to buy my own house and continue to work full time to keep a roof over our head. It's not ideal but I need a break 8 hours a day and he needs one from me. I was lucky enough to have a Grandmother who was able to care for him for four year and my parents are close and that's a bonus. It's not as easy for those who don't have family close by and if it weren't for them, I'd have never been able to do it.

Fortunately for me, I've also had the luxury of child support and visitations. My son can and does go to his dad's as often as possible. We are able to have time apart and they are able to have time together. My life before school was different. Now we have football practice and a bus schedule and a routine bedtime. I have to be even more responsible so a little of my freedom from the past is gone, but I get the best of both worlds...I get every other weekend to spend time out having dinner, drinks, etc with friends and I get to have fun nights with my son.

I do look at other moms who have the marriage and the family and am jealous. I'm jealous that they get to stay home and I don't. I'm jealous that they have play groups and play dates and go the extra mile and buy organic (fyi Jill Prairie Farms just released info that they don't use hormones etc,...the school just sent home that information) however, over the last 6 years I've had choices to make and while they haven't always been the best ones, I think that even though it's just me (and my awesome family support system) I do ok...and I truly hope that while I'm with my friends I can make plans with or without the regard to the school schedule and I hope that my son gets to do some really cool things too. We all deserve it. I may not appear to worry as much as the next mom but believe me...once you become a mother you automatically become a worrier and if I let it, I could become a real nervous wreck.

Enough said. I'm not the best mother and will never win mother of the year in the court of public opinion, but as long as he thinks I'm momma of the day that's all that matters to me at the end of the day.

AnnD said...

I loved this blog. I have done my best to avoid becoming "that mom" because I can't stand "that mom" either.

I actually really feel sorry for "that mom" because it is "that mom" that will have a complete nervous breakdown when their last child leaves the nest. It's never a good idea to have your whole and complete identity wrapped up in any one aspect of your life whether it is your career, a hobby or children. Because things can disappear pretty damn quickly and you'll be left with NOTHING.

Having said that, I totally understand why people don't want to have children. Ironically, I didn't BEFORE I had a child. But, now that I have a child...I completely understand it. In fact, I consider those women who haven't have a child and who choose NOT to have children to have a deeper level of insight than what I'm blessed with. Not that I regret having a child because I don't. And I will have one or two more....maybe....

All of the cliches about being a mom are true; the good ones and the bad ones. It was the best and the worst thing that I've ever done to my life. I don't know how that works but that is the reality of it.

And any mom who isn't willing to discuss or admit to the sucky-ass portions of being a mom is either a LIAR with a serious self-esteem problem and a need to be seen a certain way or completely out of touch with who they are as a person, a person with no introspection skills.

The sucky parts: I've never met a more selfish creature than a newborn infant. I don't know how there are so many of us on earth. They are controlling and totally 100% selfish...I guess they have to be. They don't know how tired you are or that YOU haven't eaten...nor would they care even if they had the capacity to understand. Thank God infants turn into toddlers...who, though they have their own challenges, are much more rewarding in my opinion.

I also love the first commenters internal debate about organic milk. That is a debate that I have every time I go to buy food for my child; wanting her to have the best, but unwilling to break the bank in certain moments to do so. Then, feeling guilty for not breaking the bank after the fact.

I also am now terrifed because I love another human being so totally and completely that I would literally want my life to end if anything should happen to her. NOBODY but my daughter has that power over me. It is a scary, scary feeling to know that your brain will essentially become mush if one person should no longer walk the earth. Like that quote, having a child is truly like having your heart walking around outside of your body.

AnnD said...

PS. I commented on your other blogs before this one. Sorry it took me so long to see them. I was at my pity party, remember?

Candace said...

I am glad that I there are still women out there with whom I can be friends with without the child thing. There are not many of us left.

BSJ said...

Holy crap, those are some long "comments". Here is my theory; If there is someone pressuring you to have kids, it is because they are jealous of you not having them. Some part of them (perhaps a minuscule part, perhaps not) wishes they didn't have kids (read: time/money sinks), and they want to drag you down with them. Misery loves company.

P.S. Politics is one of your preferred topics of conversation? Ugh.

P.P.S. My "Emily-goal" from now on will be to see you laugh shrimp out of your nose.