An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~ G. K. Chesterton, On Running after One's Hat, 1908

Monday, November 29, 2010

Baby, Decide My Future

When I was in my early twenties, my mother asked me when I planned to have children.  "When I'm 28."  A glib answer, but even so, it seemed so reasonable, so normal, so in the distant future. Twenty eight seemed like a very grown-up age.  Twenty eight came and went and here I am staring down the barrel of 37. 

And, I'm still not ready.

Some days I still don't feel like a grown up. I check my mileage at all the milestones. I do all of these very grown-up things, and yet the immaturity lingers.  I ever-so-briefly dated a man who told me on our second date about his checklist. He asked about mine. Besides the more prosaic home-ownership, which I attained about the time I should have been following the biological imperative, my checklist of things has long included writing a novel and flying in a hot air balloon.  After a master's degree, he planned the house, the wife, the kids, ... the political career.  Our date was part of a larger plan. I ran for the exit. Or, maybe he did.

Part of the problem on my side was that I would make a terrible politician's wife. The other part was the plan. His plan and mine.  I wanted to be married but to someone who wanted to be with me -- not with a guy who needed a wife.   I've struggled with two philosophies of life:  for life to happen naturally, which is not so much fatalism as a belief in serendipity, and the desire to own my decisions. I've bounced back and forth between these and it might explain why some friends would probably describe me as both flighty and methodical, depending on the occasion.

A friend of mine was appalled a few years ago when I told her I might not have children. She was taken aback that I'd even consider straying from the course that most people take.  That was decision-owning mode. On the flip side, there is the go-with-the-flow, accidents-happen mode. Sometimes the two philosophies converge in odd ways: tidal-wave riding with a life vest.  For years, I've stashed away PTO for a maternity leave I've never planned to take. Accidents happen.

I just recently went from being flighty and methodical for one person to doing so for two. Our checklist now includes building a garage -- albeit a parent-aggravating sustainable one ("It's going to be made of what?") and maybe, just maybe, the possibility of expanding to three.  I went from very ambivalent, but prepared just in case, to game to the possibility.  One baby is doable. One baby is portable. One could fit in our little house.  One baby is a good excuse for a middle-aged woman to make sock puppets.

I also could train physically for one. And, I will have to train. I have a shifty vertebra and need to keep a strong core just to walk. And, so again, the methodical me kicks in.  I'm stronger than I've ever been, but need to be stronger. Let the training begin.

My husband's training seems to be sharing information on the lifetime costs of child-rearing, studies that point to decreased happiness for people with children and articles about how having children changes your life for good and bad.  He's interested in the subject and nothing deters him.  He's an optimist. I ignore these suggestions for reading material and enjoy books such as Baby Fix My Car. I don't even have a car, but like the idea that a baby can be so useful. I'm an optimist, too.

We recently had reason to think serendipity had struck despite our most methodical of practices and plans for the not-so-near future. We walked to CVS where I bought a New York Times and a plastic stick that would decide the rest of our lives.  Planning ahead, I sprang for the economy twofer with an expiration date of December 2012.

It took less than a minute to get the answer.

I'm not going to lie. I was relieved. Mostly. But, I had the PTO just in case.


  1. Having kids is a serious decision, one I think our generation does belabor, because it really ends up being a crap shoot. John likens having kids to writing his dissertation so maybe you should write the novel. Sometimes I wonder what if only one since we have 3? Or imagine if we'd just opted out, but it does seem unimaginable, which leads me to believe I made a good choice. You just jump in and the water IS cold and you don't always warm up quickly. Cliches are there for a reason. It's also okay to not swim.

  2. The linked article "All Joy and No Fun" was fascinating. Best line re children: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.”

    Growing up I remember listening to a Bill Cosby album (it must have made an impression on me) about his experiences having children and him remarking about how he ceased to be able to have any intelligent conversations whatsoever post-children. My own experiences with my sister confirm this. No conversation can go more than five minutes without being interrupted by some disruptive child. When we are able to talk, it is almost always about the children.

    But the most interesting part of the article you linked was this question of whether we should value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of our lives. The idea being that kids make the daily moments of our lives utterly miserable but its all worth it because in the end (literally) when you reflect upon it all, you feel like your life had meaning. I think this question can be applied to many different contexts, not just kids, and I don't think the answer is obvious.

  3. What a great post! Kids - your greatest joy and your greatest disappointment. Motherhood changed me in ways that nothing else could have done. However, I do believe the surveys that point to a greater happiness for those without. I think one can be happy either way but they are very very very different lives. Profoundly so.

    I had Jack when I was 38, having married at 36. You're right about the training part. The stronger you are going into it, the better off you will be.

    You didn't ask, but if you have one, have another soon after. It's my greatest regret that I didn't. Not because I want another kid - but because it might have been better for my son to have a sibling and easier for us that they have each other. Who knows?