Every year, we host a big bash called Friendsgiving where we put out a couple of turkeys and our friends bring the side dishes. Friendsgiving is a favorite holiday in our household, but it’s also the most perilous. Drew kicks things off by almost losing his eyebrows dropping the first bird into the deep fryer. Then we each drink enough red wine to kill a small rhinocerous, and the event comes to a ceremonious close the next morning when he takes down the Party City autumn leave streamers taped to the top of our 20 foot ceiling. Which requires standing on the top shelf of a 12 foot ladder resting on plush, wobbly carpet.
It’s no easy feat for him – but it’s even harder having to watch, and you start to understand where clichés like your heart being in your throat come from. Of course, I’m no help. I interject with clever advice like “BE CAREFUL!!!” and hover around the ladder like a volleyball setter, despite having exactly zero chance of doing anything to stop it if he were to topple over. But I do it anyways. Because I would die if anything ever happened to Drew. And it makes me understand, on some level, why my Mom would have a coronary when any of us kids came within three feet of a ledge, cliff or other such hazardous area.
And we were always approaching those areas! Partially because that’s just what kids do, but mostly because were entertained to no end by her legendary freakouts at the thought of one of us plummeting to an untimely death. Watching Drew on the ladder made me realize that I too would suffer a million little heart attacks if I had a couple of tiny tots wandering around in this dangerous world. Because there truly is no limit to the number of ways in which children can injure themselves, whether it be minor or grave.
When I was in high school, my mom, who was out of town at my brother’s tennis match, had to field a phone call from my neighbor who managed to convey that I’d been in a horrible car accident but neglected to say that I was mostly alright. By the time she arrived to find me in once piece, she looked like she’d seen a ghost. I think I lopped a solid four years off her life with that scare, or at the very least, contributed to a few grey hairs. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve cheated death more than few times since then. Six years ago, I stepped on the hem of my sweatpants while standing on the sink to paint my bathroom and fell rather ungracefully, my head missing the edge of the bathtub by a cat’s whisker. In college, I woke up in a pillow full of my own vomit (well…who didn’t?) that I’m still amazed I didn’t drown in. Just before we got engaged, Drew yanked me out of the street a millisecond before I would’ve jogged into a Mack truck. Literally, it said “MACK” on the side!
There are probably many more incidents from my childhood I don’t even remember. Just this year I heard a story about my brother and me wandering off and accidentally locking ourselves into a tiny storage space in a neighbor’s RV in hundred degree heat for hours. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle ANY of us have made it this far. And it’s fine to marvel at the unlikeliness of your own survival, but it’s quite another thing to add a few more souls to this Earth, knowing that you’ll feel it in the very marrow of your bones every time they lose a layer of tongue to a winter’s telephone pole or get kicked by a horse for withholding apples and affection. Or worse.
Could my ticker handle it? Would I be doing irreparable harm to my physical well-being? Or maybe it’s like spicy foods being healthy. Where despite that shock to your system, there are good things at work behind the scenes, like boosted metabolism and lowered cholesterol.
Or maybe the “it’s worth it / it’s good for you” mantra is just a Machiavellian scheme cooked up by parents and Tabasco executives…
This one’s a little close to my heart. Not because of the connection every woman made to her tragic rendition of “All By Myself” in her first few moments as Bridget Jones. But because the press has made it seem as if Renee’s baby-or-not pendulum is swinging as wildly as my own.
In 1999, she told PEOPLE,
“I’ve never been the kind of girl who sits there and dreamily says, Oh, when I get married… I think it sounds so pathetic when these girls are like, My dress will be like this, and my guy will get down on one knee. Get over it already!”
The sassy then-30-year-old lost a little of her edge two years later when she told HELLO! Magazine,
“Deep down, I’m a Texas girl looking for that big romance every girl dreams about. Biologically, I look forward to being a cornerstone of a family. I’ll be in my glory when I have a child on my knee.“
By 2005, she’d ended an impulsive four-month marriage to country singer Kenny Chesney with a source telling The Mail,
“Her biological clock is ticking, she is desperate to have children. Renee’s understanding was that Kenny wanted a family too. It was Kenny who got cold feet.”
But just three years later, Renee began making the Childfree site rounds with her comments to Harper’s Bazaar, saying,
“Motherhood has never been an ambition. I don’t think like that. I never have expectations like, When I’m 19, I’m going to do this, and by the time I’ve hit 25, I’m going to do that. I just take things as they come, each day at a time, and if things happen then all well and good. I just want to be independent and be able to take care of myself.”
Her Childfree slant seemed to strengthen in 2009, when she came under fire for talking about the horrors of babysitting her niece and nephew:
“My brother has two children now, so I’ve been playing Aunt Renee. They’re two and four. It’s chaos. Moms out there, kudos to you. The cool thing about being an aunt is like, I can leave. No offense to my big brother Drew, but that is slavery. I dare you to take a shower. You can’t do anything unless they let you. It’s a dictatorship. They’re little dictators in their crib.”
One would think this be enough to dispel rumors of Renee’s biological clock rearing its head, but the press did their thing again in 2010 when she split from Hangover star Bradley Cooper. An insider source for Showbizspy.com said,
“Renee Zellweger has issued a stunning ultimatum to her actor boyfriend Bradley Cooper: agree to have children, or it’s over. The Bridget Jones’s Diary actress, 40, is apparently desperate to become a mom while Bradley, 35, is keen to focus on his career. She has told Bradley in no uncertain terms that if he doesn’t agree to raise a child with her, she sees no future for them as a couple. Renee is even prepared to adopt if she isn’t able to get pregnant.”
But official reports on the cause of the split-up cite nothing to do with babies – only Bradley’s intense focus on his career.
So is this just the Mommy Mania media unable to accept that a 40-plus Childfree woman doesn’t regret her choices? Or has Renee truly been as indecisive as the headlines would make it seem? Maybe things will come into focus when she finally gets on set for the long-awaited third movie in the Bridget Jones series: Bridget Jones’s Baby. The producer said getting the script together has been a bit like herding cats, but it IS going to happen. One can only imagine the grilling she’ll get in the media after that one’s released. I, for one, will be very interested to see the drama her comments will no doubt incite. Maybe it will draw out an even more ridiculous comment than this one on Oh No They Didn’t, in response to her “motherhood is slavery” remark:
“She is beautiful, she is single and she is also a highly-successful professional. However, in spite of all these positive attributes, Renee Zellweger is not the perfect woman. Anyone who is planning to settle down with her and start a family needs to forego the charm of parenthood, because Renee is not at all comfortable with the idea of motherhood…Sigh! Renee is so uncool. A woman who compares motherhood to slavery does not even deserve to be a woman. Anyway, let’s pray that someday she realizes the truth that mothers are not slaves.”
Um, yes…will you all join me in praying that Renee comes to her senses and agrees that she will never be “the perfect woman” until she wants a baby?
There are a few things in life I don’t enjoy doing, but do anyways. Running. Waking up early for work. Working. Wearing pants with a defined waistband. Eating salads. Cleaning litterboxes. Cleaning the human litterbox known as the toilet. Writing. There are things I’d rather be doing instead. Eating a pan of brownies with a fork for breakfast. Calling in sick and watching re-runs of The Richard Simmons Show on hulu. Hitting every TJ Maxx in a twenty-mile radius instead of the treadmill. But I suffer through the first group of things and (usually) deny myself the latter because I like the final product of who I am and what my life consists of. My jeans fit (sometimes). My bank account is healthy-ish. I feel, at the end of the day, like a semi-productive member of society. And the list of things I don’t like doing to get there doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.
But if I became a Mom, that list of things I don’t like doing would expand exponentially. Talking baby talk or listening to other people do it. Doing farm animal noises while reading night-night stories. Listening to the Fisher-Price popcorn vacuum run across my floor (Oh, the irony of it not actually cleaning anything!). Watching failed adult actors dressed as forest creatures singing songs about numbers. Attending anything even remotely resembling a sporting event without being allowed to read a book. Chatting with other parents about how their child was a totally believable cornucopia in the Thanksgiving play. Hearing a blood-curdling scream in the grocery store over a package of Twizzlers and then realizing it was my own child. Helping with math homework and being forced to admit that I don’t remember how to do long division.
This list could truly go on forever, and one of these days I promise I’ll devote an entire post to it. But if I’m honest with myself, the list of things I WOULD enjoy about being a Mom to young kids can probably be counted on one hand. When I read other bloggers’ lists of reasons that having a baby is awesome, there’s typically not one item I would be able to cull and claim as my own. They cite things like “baby kicks” or “teeny, tiny baby toes!” – things that make me shake my head and say, I could never hang out with this person. My paltry catalogue would consist of things like buying tiny leather bomber jackets at Baby Gap, having a reasonable excuse to watch The Lion King for the fortieth time, and never having to attend a clubby New Year’s Eve party again.
But here’s the kicker: these two lists almost entirely invert if I look at what life would be like once the kids turn 18. I would love strong-arming them into going to my alma mater and then embarrassing them by being the drunk mom at the tailgate. Visiting campus and becoming the beloved dorm parent by taking all their friends out to dinner, à la the Olive Garden commercials. Sticking my nose into their love life. Helping them pick a career path that ideally wouldn’t consist of acting in the aforementioned children’s shows. Sending them care packages of all the baked goods Drew and I can’t eat anymore because our metabolisms will have expired. Helping them pick an apartment after college and start a life. Spending an ungodly sum of money on their wedding and thinking that entitled me to choose their first dance song (Meatloaf, Paradise by the Dashboard Light). Having them home for the holidays and forcing them to stay up till all hours until I win at least one game of rummy. Giving them dog-eared versions of my favorite old novels. Eventually becoming a grandparent and purchasing the little ones’ love with contraband bowls of Fruity Pebbles.
In contrast, being a Childfree person in my fifties would probably look an awful lot like my life right now. Which I happen to like! But by then I’ll likely have eaten at every posh restaurant in town and crossed off a majority of my bucket list. I might even be sick of rattling around in the same old big house I purchased with all that extra cash. The bloom of the Childfree life might be off the rose, so to speak.
So here’s the question: Is spending a couple of decades grinding it doing parenting activities I won’t love worth it if it gives me the life I want in the post-55 years? Assuming I could suck it up and do a good job of parenting, does it make me a terrible person to admit that there’s not a whole lot I’m looking forward to in their pre-18 years?
For years now, Drew and I have been tossing around the idea of trading in our condo for something with a little patch of grass and a long list of maintenance woes we’ll never properly address. We’ve yet to pull the trigger for a number of reasons – one of which being that we can’t properly budget for a house without having a final verdict on the kids-or-not issue. But that doesn’t stop us from trotting out to every decent open house in a twenty-mile radius or yelling at these fools on House Hunters (Why, why can they never see past the paisley wallpaper? And WHO is doing all this entertaining on their balconies? And why does every wife look at the master closet and say to her husband, “This is great for me – I don’t know where YOUR clothes are going!” Ha ha ha ha ha…).
And it doesn’t stop us from plotting various means to extricate our upstairs neighbor for a 3-hour window (free movie vouchers, bomb threats, etc.) so our open house guests can’t hear the earthshattering footsteps of her children. Yes, the pitter-patter of little feet eventually turns into the thundering elephant hooves of teenagers leaping down stairs three at a time. To steal a line from one of my writer friends, there are times we’re convinced they’re regularly hosting a midnight furniture re-arranging league. Not something we’d like to advertise in the listing.
But as we discovered last week, all our diabolical efforts were in vain – an eviction notice was tacked up to her garage door when we came home. In true neighborhood snoop fashion, I read through the details and found that she was behind on her rent by two months and was given three days to pay up or vacate the premises. I can’t say I was completely surprised, as I thought back to my one and only conversation with her: me coming back from a run about a week after she had moved in, and her heading out for a walk with the dog that had been barking its head off for days on end. Feeling bad that he was having trouble adjusting to his surroundings, I mentioned that the poor little guy had been wailing non-stop. She indicated that she was surprised that I could hear him, and I told her, as politely as I could, that our ceiling gave a Richter 5 rattle when her kids jumped down the stairs every day. All day.
Instead of an apology, she laid into quite a sob story about an ugly divorce, no money, no job, no prospects, poor dog has no yard, poor kids have no real house to leap about in, et cetera, et cetera. She bemoaned the loss of her former home (some 2,500 square foot gem in a pricey neighborhood) and her nanny. In case there was any doubt, she WAS, in fact, wearing a pink Juicy Couture velour jogging suit. I made sympathy noises and nodded until I felt I could gracefully escape back to my own sane-by-comparison life.
The dog barking eventually tapered off, but her children continued to canvas the hardwoods with cinder blocks tied to their feet. So I must admit that my first reaction to the eviction notice was relief, shortly followed by disbelief that this unemployed, newly-single mother thought moving into a $3,000 a month rental was a good idea. Setting aside the colossal stupidity and irresponsibility for a moment, I had to feel just the tiniest bit sorry for her. The life she’d imagined for herself had completely derailed and not only did she have to re-rack her own game plan, she now had to do it for two kids as well. With what appeared to be little to no support.
And here I am, vacillating back and forth about whether or not me and Drew – happily married, gainfully employed, in a home we can afford – can handle the idea of raising kids. Never once have I thought about how it would be to do it alone, on less than half the income. Or on NO income if I’d quit to stay home with the kids. Maybe that’s because I can’t even process the idea of getting divorced from Drew. But those same words have been uttered, and retracted, by more than fifty percent of all married people (whose spouses are named “Drew”). But let’s go with my wild confidence and assume we stay married – what if Drew lost his job? What if he died unexpectedly young? What if he hit himself in the head at the driving range and permanently wandered off in an amnesiac haze? What if we lost everything in the stock market? What if either one of us developed a debilitating illness that rendered us essentially useless as a parent?
I’m not really big on Chicken Little-ing things like that, but it’s hard not to when you get a front row seat to someone else’s complete and utter derailment. So is this one of those “big questions” everyone needs to ask themselves before having kids – would you still want to do it if you knew there was even the slightest chance you’d have to do it on your own, under much more adverse conditions?
Yeesh. I think I’ll have to come up with my “all things being perfect…” version of this answer first.