About three months before I turned forty, I went out to lunch with a group of coworkers from what had not yet become the Vortex of Doom. As is often the case with my work groups, thanks to my so-called career in and around accounting, I was one of only two men at a table of ten people. I'm used to this. It's nice. So when the topic of conversation turned to children, I was neither surprised nor unhappy. I love kids, and I know that it's generally a good idea to let the people around you talk about what they want to talk about.
One of my newer coworkers asked me the question I had known would eventually come my way.
"Do you have children, Joe?"
It's such a simple question, and yet so very loaded. It needn't be, but it is. Before I go any further, please know that I am fully aware of the intensity of people's feelings on this subject. Volumes of books, research studies, advice columns and websites, television and cinema and blog after blog after blog have been - and are still being - produced on the subject of what follows.
Oh, if only we could say "nope" and be done with it. It usually helps to say "No, how about you," but she had just been talking about her kids, so that wasn't an option, this time. Naturally, her follow-up question was immediate.
"Are you and [Maris] planning on having children?"
I'm aware, thanks in part to [Maris]'s sharing of hundreds of stories and discussions from Etiquette Hell, that to some people, just being asked this question is bile-inducingly offensive. I am not one of those people. I know that 99% of the time, it really is simply conversation.
Here's where it gets a little dicey. Sometimes - okay, once - I've managed to change the subject and derail the question train. That was not to happen on this day. In my experience, there are two ways this will go. If my questioner is boundary-sensitive, or perhaps a man, the next thing I hear will be some (usually lighthearted) quip about how I'm not getting any younger, and "better hurry up and get started." Again, many people find horrible offense in that stuff. I don't. But, more times than I can count, my questioner has taken the other route.
"Why aren't you having children?"
Sometimes, you can actually hear the judgement in this question. The urge to jump up and say "None of your business! Why do you [something outrageously personal and intrusive]???" is almost overpowering, when I hear that judgemental tone. That was not the case, this time around, but what I did hear was if anything just ever so slightly more unsettling. My coworker, whom I still didn't know very well, was UPSET that I wasn't going to be a parent. It was as if I had told her that I had cancer, or a loved one had just passed away. It actually hurt her feelings that I wasn't going to have children. I know this is an extreme reaction. I had never seen it, and haven't since, but it haunts me still.
Now, I know I'm a blogger and we're supposed to be all about over-sharing and whatnot, but this post is already longer than I'd like it to be, and this topic is huge, so I'm going to withhold any serious sharing of my reasons for not having children, for now. I will say that they are numerous and thoughtfully, exhaustively-explored. So meanwhile, go ahead and assume anything you like, on a spectrum from "I can't have kids and it breaks my heart every waking minute" to "I'm a selfish, immature asshole." We'll return to the topic when and if I'm good and ready.
I will share [Maris]'s response to the "WHY NOT?" question, which is "Because I don't want them." But there's is also no shortage of fun to be had with people too interested in one's procreation decision:
"The judge said no."
"Because [Maris] is human and I'm, um, not, and we're just not, you know, compatible. Here - let me show you... Where are you going?"
"Because robots can't have babies."
"Because we're allergic."
"Because we still have stuff to talk about."
"Because she's hot, and we don't want to ruin her."
"We'd love to, but there's this old witch who years ago gave us a win over the cowboys in exchange for our firstborn."
"Because we drink."
"Because we drink enough already."
"Because the mere thought of being pregnant and/or giving birth makes [Maris] want to vomit and cry and hide under the bed for a week."
"Because they talk through Nats games and other important events."
"Because without sleep, we would undoubtedly murder them."
"It's a matter of national security, and that's all we're authorized to say at this time."
"Because clearly we are horrible, horrible human beings."
"To stand in glorious judgement of your decision to have them. Obviously."
I could go on, and I've actually forgotten some of my more amusing and/or biting retorts, so I'll stop here.
Watch for future posts in which we tackle the unwieldy subjects of "Seriously, why?" and "you'll change your mind," and the inevitable tangential discussion of hurtful judgmentalism in general. Someday, I might even talk about how close I came to becoming a parent with my first wife, when two miscarriages stepped in to say no. Yeah. How about that? It might get all kinds of emotional, up in here!
Until then, I remain,
Uncle Joe (the best uncle in the whole wide world)
*And no, I'm not really a slacker. I really do love the word, though.