Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Childfree Birthday Blues

Friends, I turned 29 yesterday for the fourth consecutive year in a row. And for the first time since, well, birth – I wasn’t really in the mood to celebrate. For no particular reason – nothing had gone wrong, I wasn’t bemoaning the fact that I was sliding further into my thirties, no one important forgot the occasion. In fact, everyone went above and beyond for what I would consider a relatively benign aging milestone.

Drew surprised me on Friday night with a little last-minute jaunt down to Hermosa for the 10 Comics for $10 with a few friends. He organized a Saturday dinner out, followed by drinks at the local nautically-themed watering hole. He made a double-decker chocolate cake from SCRATCH that experienced some sort of tectonic shift in the car on the way to the restaurant, but tasted delicious nonetheless. He got me thoughtful gifts, only 50% of which I intend to return (a new record in our house). BOTH my brothers remembered to call. My parents sent a card full of glitter, cats and money – my three favorite things. Jacques and Olivia got their furry butts up at 4:45 am to make me breakfast. Wait, maybe that was the other way around…

Even some of my friends with kids battled Santa Monica traffic to make it out to dinner, though little Sienna couldn’t possibly have been more bored.


As you can see, it certainly wasn’t for lack of anyone else’s trying that I didn’t have an exhilarating birthday. So what’s up? Maybe I’m just worn out. Admittedly, the last few birthdays have been over the top. Last year, I dragged everyone out for a heavy Indian meal and then made them. For my 30th, I made Drew (affectionately known thereafter as Jeeves) rent a van to cart us from a Moroccan dinner to a karaoke bar. I forced the boys to belly-dance.








And I was totally jazzed to do it all. It would stand to reason that it’s difficult to sustain that kind of frenzied excitement, year after year. But up until last week, I had. The arrival of my birthday was a much-anticipated event – Drew called it my birthmonth in response to how long I dragged out the festivities. I snapped the old-school equivalent of a roll of film at each, but the only photo I took this past weekend was the fuzzy baby photo above. So where’d my birthday zest go?

Is it any coincidence that the time at which your birthday loses its luster coincides with the age at which most people are now having babies? Are we trying to re-capture the excitement of our youth through the eyes of our kids? A Spiderman cake and a bowling alley party is about all it takes to send a youngster into the clutches of ecstasy. I mean, look how thrilled I am just to be watching my brother open a gift:



I imagine my parents got a pretty big kick out of it too. So there’s something tempting about letting your own birthday slide into the sunset in favor of planning celebrations for someone else who’ll be over the moon about it. Put simply, it takes some of the pressure off generating your own zeal.

But the idea of living vicariously through kids in any way has always made me a little wary. Does it mean we’re not capable of sustaining enthusiasm for our own life events beyond our twenties? Are we taking the easy way out of enjoying our own lives by having kids, or are we simply moving on something new? Are we giving up on ourselves or just giving our all for someone else (or are those the same thing)?

Ideally, if we become parents, we should be doing both. Unfortunately, I think it becomes all too easy to let your own grand plans, desires and dreams fall by the wayside. As well as your spouse’s. Luckily, Drew’s needs often mirror those of a child’s. For the past five years, he has been unwavering in his birthday demands: pizza and a pool party. Now if he ever wants to move it to Chuck E. Cheese, we’ll have to have some words.

17 Responses to Childfree Birthday Blues

  • Zen_Trekkie says:

    The big three-oh is just months away for me, and I’m feeling pressure. Questions like:
    1. What if I had done this instead of that?
    2. Why haven’t I accomplished more?
    3. Why has it taken this long for me to find my calling?

    …are going through my head. I think that we all have regrets; it’s part of being human.

    Birthdays are our important celebrations. We don’t celebrate holidays much, except for decorating. My birthday and our anniversary are in September, and hubby’s birthday and the dog’s (estimated) birthday are in October.
    Sometimes, we do dinner and a movie; other times we have a quiet dinner and watch a DVD at home after the presents are doled out. Hubby works as a truck driver and his schedule is rather – flexible, erratic – so we just play it by ear. If we don’t get to celebrate on *THE DAY* it’s no biggie. ^_^

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Funny that I didn’t feel that pressure at three-oh like I think most people do. I guess I’m on the California Delay. So we’re in the same boat even though I’m a little older!

  • Stacey says:

    First of all, HaPpY bIrThDaY, even if it was bluesy.

    “Unfortunately, I think it becomes all too easy to let your own grand plans, desires and dreams fall by the wayside.” I’m not sure if you meant this regarding birthday plans or lifetime plans, but it might be true of both. Does it have to be? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to enjoy being married now because everything changes if you have a baby. Does every single facet of my life have to revolve around the baby? Can’t the baby fit into my plans a little bit? I want a family (I think!), but I also want to travel and have some kind of career that enables me to have a positive impact in the world. I realize I won’t have the high-powered, high-paying position I might be able to reach if I chose not to have children (because personally I couldn’t work insane hours and be OK missing out at home), but I should be able to have some kind of ambition, right? Is taking care of yourself and your dreams forbidden once you have a baby? A lot of what I read makes it sound like it is, but that sounds fishy to me. If the hubs and I are saving responsibly to help our kid go to college, are we not allowed to spend some money on ourselves and plan a trip to Italy? So long as the kid has proper childcare and isn’t left home alone, am I not allowed to work part or full-time? As long as my kid feels special on his/her birthday, am I not allowed to make grown-up plans for my birthday? To me, it seems like there’s this crazy idea floating around that if you don’t dedicate every single waking minute and all of your energy to your kids, you’re some kind of terrible mom. Where’s the balance?? Human beings are dynamic creatures. If we are constantly evolving, growing, and learning, we risk becoming stunted versions of ourselves if we focus too much on any one thing. Am I completely insane for believing that having a family might fit into my plans instead of ruining all of them?

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I think it becomes this weirdly self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone acts like you need to give up everything when you have kids, so they feel bad if they don’t…so they do…and then so does everyone else. But I think you’re on to something here, and it reminds me of how a lot of married people talk about marriage, saying stuff like “oh, it’s a lot of hard work!” Really? Does it need to be? Probably not for everyone. Maybe the same is true of babies.

      • Kate says:

        Parenting (and I should say “motherhood”, because men seem immune to this) has become some weird super snarky judgemental contest, where if you’re not doing tummy time, piano lessons, and 9000 other things for your kid, he/she will end up a failure and it’s all YOUR FAULT.

        I think you’re absolutely right about the self fulfilling prophecy – the friends I have who have lost themselves to motherhood are the ones who make it seem like A HUGE DEAL. The friends who have maintained a non-mom identity are the ones who are more like “yeah, babies changed a lot of things, but I’m still me”.

        If you like hiking, you don’t have to give up hiking for 18 years just because you had a kid. You’ll take the kid with you, in a sling/stroller, and go on shorter and easier hikes, and maybe you don’t hike as often as before. It’s a matter of adjusting your expectations – it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision.

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          Yes, how DO the men seem to be immune to this?! Definite future blog post topic…

          • DowageratWork says:

            Because when we think parent we think mommy. I have to say, that was a big reason I don’t like the idea of parenthood. Being a mom has…mutated into something that frightens me. It’s creepy. But dudes are off the hook. They still get to be themselves. It’s weird.

          • Maybe Lady
            Maybe Lady says:

            So weird.

  • Marie says:

    Happy Birthday! I was just trying to remember how I stumbled upon your blog. I’m a parent so it wasn’t because I looking for MaybeBaby advice. Who knows. I like to read it because what you and commenters write reminds me so much of myself before I had kids. I’m not sure if you want a parent’s perspective on this but I’ll indulge myself.

    Before I had my kids, I thought exactly the same things – what is wrong with these people who say that “it’s all over when you have kids?” My husband and I bought a house that required at least 1+part time income to afford because, you know, people who say it’s hard to work and have kids must be inferior humans who haven’t tried hard enough. Plus I happen to have a job that matters to the world, so don’t I owe the world my time to complete it? I swore up and down to my friends who don’t have kids that I was definitely not going to be “one of those people” who has kids and then fades away. Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    Of course it’s possible to “still be yourself” after having kids but after a few years of being a parent, I’ve decided that the degree to which you can maintain your own hobbies/interests/birthday parties depends heavily on your financial resources. When I was pregnant with my daughter and looking for childcare, it was shocking to me to find out how many daycares just totally suck. And how much a good nanny costs. And then I learned how devastating it can be to leave your child off with someone when they are reaching out for you with a look of terror in their eyes so you can join your friends for a beer. So “proper childcare” like Stacey says, is not just hanging around with lots of open slots at a reasonable price, waiting for you to walk through the door. But if you can afford a good nanny, then the whole world is your oyster. (Not to get sidetracked, but daycares are major germ vectors and so unless you can afford a good nanny, and relatively few can, if you have a kid in daycare, then you will someday become that parent who leaves work early because you have a sick kid even though you swore that would never be you. Not that I ever said that, and then left work during this wretched cold season to claim my feverish child.)

    And, it turns out that babies, helpless creatures that they are, toddlers, kids, teens, all need a heavy investment of their parents’ time if they are not to grow up to become brats or psychopaths. Kids who run amok in restuarants get all the (negative) attention from adults, but rarely does anyone notice the kids who are not running amok, and more importantly, realize that behind that kid is an adult who works extrordinarily hard to parent their child.

    Children need to be attended to on an almost constant basis. That’s how they learn not to run in the street and not shriek when they want something. And by “attended to” I do not mean “indulged” there is a subtle difference. Indulgence creates brats. Attention creates well-behaved, grounded kids. So back to my point about financial resources, if you as a parent want/need to work/travel/go to pilates/play poker/etc., then you need to pay someone who isn’t a gum chewing teenager who spends her afternoon sexting her boyfriend to be with your children. And that costs $$$. If you don’t have the money (or relatives to sponge off), then no Italy. We don’t have the money but I don’t mind because I have found a way to still enjoy my life while spending most of my non-work time with my kids.

    I don’t think Stacey is insane for hoping that a family would fit into her plans versus the other way around. But a tremendous degree of sacrifice is required for a family to be successful – mostly by the adults at first but as kids get older it equalizes more to include them. And how that “sacrifice” plays out varies from family to family. What I have decided to sacrifice for my family might be different than what you do. Maybe you still have super awesome birthdays but every other year instead of every year. Maybe you travel but to Costa Rica instead of the museums of Europe. (Not much sacrifice there!)

    There is this mysterious “parent martyr syndrome” that some parents seem to have. The whole “I live for my kids and nothing for me” thing. I don’t quite understand it. I would suggest not paying much heed to those folks. Just by the fact that you are writing/reading this blog, you are unlikely to develop “parent martyr syndrome” so it’s not terribly relevant.

    Now, people told me all this, what I just wrote about sacrifice and all that. And I did not believe one word of it. What did they know? As I said, I was pretty sure they did not have the super high-quality insight that I as a neutral third party observer had. I scoffed at their notions and you too may scoff at mine. Oh and I LOVE that picture of you gasping at your brother’s present.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Thanks for your comment, Marie – you’re always so good at bringing in an honest parental perspective. It’s so true that money would solve so much of this. Everyone says money can’t buy happiness, but when it can buy you a nanny for a few hours week, or a maid so you’re not spending those hours cleaning, and you can use that time to stay in touch with your old life or write your novel or run errands or just SLEEP – how can that NOT be considered buying happiness? For me, money with kids would equal TIME and SANITY. And on that note…I’m off to buy a lottery ticket, just in case.

    • Stephanie says:

      Brilliant comment, Marie. One of the best I’ve read on here. You provided a wonderfully balanced and nuanced look into the actual world of parenting. You so often hear the extremes, both good and bad, from the parent and child-free sides, but rarely a balanced view. That’s what I like about both your comment and this blog. That’s why I keep coming back.

    • Stacey says:

      Marie, thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my comment in such an insightful and thoughtful way. As someone firmly planted on the Baby side of this conversation, I think we can all learn something from your valuable perspective. Your balanced and honest post is way easier to digest than the extreme, mommy-martyrs out there, which sometime make me feel crazy for even considering kids. Even though I’m sure there are tough times, you seem like you’ve found an overall balance. It IS possible!

      Like you, I don’t remember how I stumbled on this blog but I really appreciate YOU, Maybe Lady, and the community here.

      I would totally bring my kids to your dance studio!

  • Marie says:

    Oh thanks, I was worried about getting flamed. :) I didn’t mean to make the whole thing focus so much on money but just wanted to make the point that someone has to parent the kids so if it’s not going to be you some of the time, then you need to figure out who it will be. It’s really a bummer that some Einstein-ian 4th Dimension doesn’t open up when you have kids to increase the number of hours in the day so everybody just keeps doing their thing.

    I was talking to a friend of mine recently while my daughter was at her dance class. He’s single and gay and that is exactly the perspective a bogged down parent needs. So he said that we parents are going about this all wrong – sitting at dance class reading Facebook 5 times. Instead, I should open a dance studio for kids that has a bar on the other side of a two-way mirror so everyone could sip martinis while our kids tapped and did cartwheels. Now isn’t that a great idea? You could have your daily 7&7 or whatever it was…

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I actually can’t believe that dance studio doesn’t already exist out here in L.A.! Well, maybe it does…

  • DowageratWork says:

    Happy Belated 21st birthday (I’m willing to go along with the pretending).

    I really am sorry about the confusion you’re going through. You truly are a fence sitter. Lately, though, it seems as though you’ve been leaning to Team Babyhave. Or maybe, for fence sitters, it’s a matter of alternating between long periods of yea and nay?

    As a person who is pretty much childfree, I still have the thoughts and questions, more so now that I’ve been thinking about the future. Part of me is like you, wondering about moving on to the “next thing”, not wanting to “miss out”, being a part of that cycle of returning enthusiasm that seems to come with having a kid. The idea of having something clear to do. I like the idea of the “kodak” moments, going on vacations and birthday parties. Then I hear a child screaming and I scramble over shelves to get away. And I unconsciously look for my tubal ligation scars. Course, I already decided to adopt if I wanted kids, so there’s that…

    But honestly, I really do hope you have an easier time figuring things out soon. Some people I can see as being one way or the other: in your case, I think you’d be okay either way. It’s darn confusing for me, so I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for you.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say it’s long periods of swinging from nay to yay and back again. I bet if I went back through all my old posts (which sounds horrifying), I’d probably see a pretty clear pattern of that! It’s very difficult to trust any feelings you have when you realize something like that. But oh well, one must go on!

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