The Hazards of Remaining Childfree in the Age of Possibility
One summer between my junior and senior year of college, I spent about six weeks doing absolutely nothing on Purdue University’s campus. Classes had ended and I wasn’t yet slated to start my temp job through the agency I always used. Imagine it! All day long to read books, shop in the glamorous Tippecanoe Mall (a JC Penny AND a Sears), snag free hot dogs at Jake’s, sew up next season’s Breakfast Club costumes…
It was, without question, the worst six weeks of my life. The only time since then that I’ve felt my sanity slipping away in much the same fashion was when I took eight months off of work last year to write. In both cases, in the infinitely wise words of STYX, I had Too Much Time on my Hands. The world was too much my oyster, the possibilities too endlessly endless. And I was somehow blowing it all by not enjoying the hell out of it or accomplishing anything worth talking about.
Which is why when I came across The Age of Possibility in the NY Times, I wasn’t nearly as insulted as I think many Childfree people should have been by his suggestion that, “People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”
This comment was taken from the context of his larger argument that young adults today have far too many options available and do themselves a disservice in trying to leave all their doors open by not committing (or committing way later in life) to things like marriage and having kids. That in leaving those doors open, they essentially become overwhelmed by the possibilities and make themselves wildly unhappy. Where if they’d just chosen a door to walk through, and thrown everything into it – their heart, their mind, their money, their time – they’d be better off. It strikes the same chord these wise people:
Happiness is never stopping to think if you are. ~Palmer Sondreal
Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. ~Iris Murdoch
The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not. ~George Bernard Shaw
It should come as no surprise that I’ve often wished for something else to “transcend my personal choice” in the absence of having a true desire to have a baby. But what does that say about me as a person, to want my choices to be limited? To want to just put my head down and work hard at something so I won’t have to figure out what else to do with my time?
Somehow it doesn’t sit quite right. Seems to fly in the face of the whole “the unexamined life isn’t worth living” thing. And yet, who can argue with the results? Later during that college summer, I took a job at which I should have been miserable. It started at 7:00 am, I had to wear pantyhose (!), and spent eight hours a day punching health care codes into a business calculator.
But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t happy as a clam for the rest of the summer. The evenings off felt earned and I relished them with a renewed passion (that’s code for “woke up so hungover I had to sit down in the work elevator every morning for fear of throwing up”).
Would the same be true if I saddled myself with the responsibilities of parenthood? Would the rare dinner out with Drew taste that much better? Would drinks with friends be a much-looked-forward-to escape? Would a good night’s sleep become a heavenly treat instead of the Saturday/Sunday norm? Or would I simply resent the limitations that would be imposed on me for the next couple of decades?
There are others who can do this all better than I can. Those who would’ve enjoyed the hell out of six weeks off in college, and would currently be making the absolute most of the Childfree life by trying every restaurant in Los Angeles, throwing fabulous dinner parties, zipping off to weekend getaways. And Drew and I do some of that. But you know what I do more of? Sitting around wondering if there’s something else I should be doing instead.
I’d like to stop that. One way or the other.