During a very brief, very weird and very recent period of my life, I interned at a literary agency when I was far too old to be an intern. But it was great fun and I read some amazing things, and one of the books that really stuck with me was submitted by a fellow blogger (Jennifer Richardson) who writes about many of the same topics I do. Her memoir, Americashire: A Field Guide to Marriage, chronicles her move from Los Angeles to England with her British husband after promising her grandchild-hungry parents that they would soon start trying for a baby. Taking up a noisy London flat eventually inspired them to purchase a very charming, very ramshackle old cottage as a weekend house in The Cotswolds. Where, of course, hilarity ensues with the locals. I truly couldn’t put it down. Not because it was witty, well-written and interesting (though it was all of those things), but because so much of Jennifer’s content mirrored my own wishy-washiness about motherhood:
Between all the house decorating, visits to the wine bar, and auctions, I had hardly had time to think anymore about motherhood. Only when my birth control prescription ran out was I forced to confront my own ambivalence on the matter. And unencumbered by any biological urges, I realized ambivalence was not a foundation that would sustain me, much less my husband, through sleepless nights and chafed nipples. Still I was ill at ease with my choice. I envied those women who have motherhood emblazoned on their brainwaves like Manifest Destiny. I had no tangible reasons to avoid it—good jobs, a home, a willing husband—yet I had no real urge either. More infuriating was that I didn’t feel any particular passion about remaining childless. I was on no high horse about what a crappy world it is to bring a child into or that I was saving the planet by not contributing another carbon energy-consuming being to the cosmos. When I held friends’ babies in my arms I cooed, enjoyed the baby scent, admired their perfect skin, and marveled at their tiny fingernails. And then, after ten minutes or so, I was happy to hand them back.
I too have found myself lacking a determined passion one way or the other for years now, almost wishing for something major to happen (what, I don’t know) that would sway me (which way, also don’t know). After Jennifer’s move to England, she spend a few months avoiding the parenthood thing before she ran into her “something major”: an unexpected diagnosis of multiple sclerosis-like symptoms. Feeling like this latest news was good cause to put the kids issue on the back burner, her doctor made an off-hand comment about new research suggesting that pregnancy – of all things! – could potentially prevent them developing into full-blown MS. Six months passed and the symptoms began to wane on their own when she ran into another something major. And this time, being approached with a job offer finally helped clarify her thoughts:
Toward the end of August I flew to Boston for work, where I was to meet with a particular executive for the first time. We sat in his corner office, his chubby face peering out at me over his desk as he slow-burned through a series of roundabout questions, culminating in whether or not I was “in a good place in my life” to take on more work. It dawned on me that this was the politically correct way a white American male asked a woman in her late thirties if it was safe to promote her. Was she preoccupied by young children? Was she planning on announcing a pregnancy anytime soon? These were the questions that shimmered just under the surface of our chatter. My response, which felt like an awkward confessional, came without hesitation: …
Wait, did you really think I’d blow the ending for you? What kind of jerk do you think I am?
Besides, it’s best you read the whole thing for yourself. Many of you who relate to the issues we talk about here will really feel at home in this memoir. And you’ll get to take a lovely trip through The Cotswolds while you’re at it, where you’ll learn, amongst many other things, how to make the perfect martini (as told to Jennifer in a country pub):
The instructions for the dry martini and the extra-dry martini were provided by the late, legendary David Foster-Ward and require going to New York in the nineteen seventies and grabbing a stool at the old Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel. Upon ordering a dry martini from Bill the bartender, he would simply hold up the glass of vodka and whisper the word “vermouth” over it. If you ordered an extra-dry martini, Bill would call the bartender at the Waldorf Astoria and have him say “vermouth” over the phone as he held the glass up to the receiver.
Even if her book doesn’t help you make up your mind, at least you’ll be left with a collection of country pub lessons such as these. And couldn’t we all use a good dirty martini legend?
After a good deal of speculation in the media, Portia de Rossi’s recent interview in Out magazine finally addresses the question…
Are Ellen and Portia going to have kids?
The answer: A resounding NO. I have to wonder if her portrayal of Lindsay Bluth Fünke on Arrested Development – generally regarded as one of television’s worst, or at least most neglectful, parents – in any way seeped into her subconscious and influenced this decision. Mother to teenage sass-pot Maeby with her husband Tobias, Portia seems to operate much like parents think the Childfree do. Drinking till the wee hours, spending all her money on shoes and make-up, always wanting to try out the hot new restaurant. And she’s consistently slammed for it by her brother Michael (a real stand-up dad).
Perhaps she thought that if she and Ellen had a child, she’d wind up following in the footsteps of her slipshod character by:
1) Being awful at motherly activities like cooking up a homey meal:
Narrator: Michael had asked Lindsay to do the housework, and to his surprise, she was sort of doing it.
Lindsay: Hey, I found that canned ham that we’ve had forever, and I put it in a pot of boiling hot water, and guess what we’re having? Michael: Soup?
Lindsay: Hot ham water.
2) Not remembering important stats about her child:
Jessie: I think it’s best if you got a job.
Lindsay: Oh, come on! I’m a parent, I care about my daughter every bit as much as Michael cares about his son.
Maeby: What grade am I in?
Lindsay: What kind of job?
3) Ruining her sex life:
Michael: Tell me, at what point did you realize that you and Tobias had no chance at a physical relationship?
Lindsay: …Oh, my God! Tobias and I have no chance at a physical relationship?
Michael: …So, just now?
Yes, playing Lindsay for three seasons and now gearing up for Arrested Development’s much-anticipated comeback on Netflix might have had a little something to do with their decision. But I suspect it had a lot more to do with the fact that she and Ellen are happy as hell with the way things are.
“Married life is blissful, it really is. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.” ~ Portia
Who would want to mess with a thing like that? Not someone who’s got a pretty clear head on her shoulders when it comes to understanding how much having a child would change her life:
“There comes some pressure in your mid-30s, and you think, Am I going to have kids so I don’t miss out on something that other people really seem to love? Or is it that I really genuinely want to do this with my whole heart? I didn’t feel that my response was ‘yes’ to the latter. You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies.”
Fine by me, because if a cast member pregnancy had caused ANOTHER delay to the new Arrested Development season coming out…well, let’s just say I would have had to hit the liquor cabinet, Lucille Bluth-style.
Indicating that she’d like to have kids someday, country singer Carrie Underwood doesn’t fit the mold for my usual Childfree celebrity spotlights. But I chose her for today’s post because she’s said some things that I hope will serve as a good reminder to the press hounding all the other starlets who are constantly fending off baby bump accusations.
Carrie on motherhood:
That’s never been my focus. My sister [Emily] was always very motherly, babysitting and stuff. I like kids, and I like being around kids — but it was never an ambition, something, like, I need … I like working. That’s what I like doing. I like to work.
A great reminder that we all have ambitions beyond parenthood, and some of us will choose to pursue them exclusively – and that’s okay! That’s what gives people time to create great music, art, writing, whatever. And it’s what’s given Carrie the opportunity to fully capitalize on her big break after winning American Idol back in 2005. Would she have gone on to become a multi-platinum artist and start dabbling in television and movies if she’d opted for the motherhood path in her twenties? Maybe, maybe not.
“We just want to be together and keep it as simple as possible. And I think a baby would just make things so complicated right now.”
I know no one’s going to draw out their tiny violin anytime soon, but celebrities DO have fairly complicated lives. For Carrie to recognize that, and make a conscious decision to wait until things have calmed a bit, should send a message to the press that she’s not going to have a baby just because everyone else wants her to. It’s also a good reminder that for some of us – even the non-celebs – things won’t ever calm down, and maybe that’s not the best environment into which to bring a baby.
“Everybody, like, is on this baby bandwagon, I don’t know what the deal is. But I would really like to figure out what it’s like to be married first, and I know he would too.”
Imagine that! Taking some time to figure out how you function as a unit before bringing a third party onto the scene! Or just enjoying hanging out with the person you loved enough to pledge your life to! What a novel idea.
“We’re good. I’m super busy and he is super busy. We are still newlyweds. I honestly think that if we brought a kid into it would mess things up right now! We’re good right now!”
The old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. Which should send a nice message to nosy relatives and friends everywhere that there’s no need to press things you’re not ready for when everything’s perfect as is. But that doesn’t seem to have reached this reporter, who said Carried revealed that “DESPITE her incredibly happy marriage to hockey player Mike Fisher, they’re going to hold off on starting a family.”
Or the author of this article on Taste of Country that says, “EVEN THOUGH Underwood and Fisher are as happy as two clams, there are no baby plans in the near future.” The implication being that if you don’t want kids yet, you must be in an unhappy marriage? Alright, I know I’m reading too much into what must be some fairly on-the-fly writing and reporting, but all of these comments are subtle reinforcers that the general population thinks there’s just something quite WEIRD about a happy couple who doesn’t want kids, like, now.
To wrap things up, here’s a comment from Carrie that resonated pretty strongly with the ole Maybe Lady:
“To be honest, one day I’m absolutely fine and happy and start legitimately thinking about the idea of having kids,” she said. “And another day, I’m like, ‘Oh, gosh, no. No. What?’”
I hear ya, sister. Turns out even celebrities aren’t immune to the Maybe Baby, Maybe Not pendulum. But I thank you, Carrie, for speaking up for the Fence-Sitters and Childfree everywhere. Not that the Paparazzi are going to take your hint, but we appreciate it just the same.
Last year, we had a heated discussion (literally, it took place in our hot tub) about whether your child’s Godparents should already have kids or at least be planning to have kids someday. The real question being…
Are the Childfree more or less equipped than parents to play an important role in a child’s life?
The evolution of the Godparent role has always been a little fascinating to me. Originally meant to serve as the person who would ensure your child continued their religious education, the role expanded at some point to include some element of mentorship and getting them out of jail without telling their parents when they smash their car through the front of a 7-Eleven after one too many Boone’s Farm Wild Strawberry’s. [Philosophical question: Isn’t one Boone’s Farm Wild Strawberry’s “too many”?] But I think the Godparent gig has gone a little lax of late. Some are now little more than glorified wallets, setting Outlook reminders to send lavish gifts for birthdays, holidays and important milestones to children who don’t recognize the significance of the relationship.
In fact, I didn’t even know I’d been baptized Catholic (and thus assigned Godparents) until high school when I ran across this gem in the family photo shoebox line-up:
I don’t know who looks snazzier here – me in my golden-striped bib or my mom in the lavender couch cover. Perhaps it’s best I have no recollection of this event, but part of the reason I don’t is that the subject of my Godparents was never raised. I never received any flowery cards on kindergarten graduation day signed “your loving Godmother” or some other such rubbish. According to my mother, whom I interviewed upon drafting this post, my Godmother is actually my Grandma Betty. Who, quite obviously, already had children of her own. Five, to be exact. Which isn’t to say she didn’t have time for me. Why, just look how thrilled she looks to be spending time with us at some event involving Town & Country buses! And us with her!
[note: those are my brothers to the left, but I have no idea who the blonde is whose rear end I’m giving such a disgusted look]
In all seriousness though, she was there for us as children and did wonderful things and gave us gifts and welcomed us to her home on vacations, etc., but she did it as a Grandma, not a Godparent. Which makes me wonder about the opportunities for those who don’t have kids of their own, or even nieces and nephews, and therefore haven’t been an automatic candidate for Godparenthood.
Through this site, I’ve gotten to know plenty of Childree people who have no desire to have kids of their own, but do crave some sort of interaction with kids and want to secure an important spot in their lives. With all the free time, relatively undivided attention, and, well, cash, wouldn’t it stand to reason that they’d be great candidates for Godparenthood? But most of the babies I’ve seen come over the past few decades have been assigned to someone who already has kids or is definitely planning on having them.
Some might say there’s no need for official designations, that you can choose to ingratiate yourself into any child’s life simply by stepping up and being there. But for someone like me who’s naturally awkward around kids and disinclined to form a random attachment, the formalization of a role would be all that I would need to really excel as a Godmom. And despite all my blather on this site, I think I’d do a damn fine job at it. But prior to uploading this post, I’m pretty sure 99% of my friends and family would’ve said I wouldn’t have wanted the job.
So here’s my public announcement: I am currently accepting applications for Godchildren (must love cats, REO Speedwagon, and bacon egg and cheese biscuits), and those of you who don’t know me and are going to have children – don’t overlook your Childfree friends and family, because they just might be your most eager candidates.
Ahh, The Wonder Years. Who among us didn’t laugh our asses off when Wayne lurched his car down the street while “Butthead” tried to hop in? Or cry our eyes out in the final episode when (spoiler alert) Kevin and Winnie didn’t get married?
With any good show, I’m always curious how much of it is the result of a stellar performance and how much can be attributed to the actors playing roles that parallel their “real” lives. Turns out the Kevin/Wayne rivalry wasn’t too difficult to muster up, with Jason Hervey (Wayne) describing Fred Savage (Kevin) as a “little know-it-all” and Savage admitting that it was hard for him to separate Wayne from Jason in the first season. Danica McKeller was a true-to-form goodie-two-shoes, always deep in her studies during set breaks and eventually graduating summa cum laude from UCLA in Math. But what about Norma and Jack? The ultimate sixties housewife and grumbly working-man dad? Turns out, they couldn’t have been further off character: these beloved 80’s sitcom parents never had any kids of their own.
“I just wasn’t the mother type,” Alley Mills once told People Magazine. “Not only do I not have children, I wasn’t married. And here I was representing a whole generation of mothers who stayed home.” Dan Lauria, who played her husband Jack during the show’s six-season run, even questioned at first whether they could make her look like a believable housewife. But a bathrobe, a pair of pedal pushers, and what Alley calls a “dorky Doris Day hairdo” seem to have done the trick.
It wasn’t just the Costume department that helped her put out that motherly vibe. In talking about Fred, Jason, and Oliva d’ Abo (who played their older sister Karen), Alley said, “I really do feel like their Mom, in a way.” Just one week after filming the final episode, she married Orson Bean of game show panelist fame. Though this was her first marriage, it was the second time around for Orson (who just so happened to be 23 years her senior). So at age 49, Alley found herself a stepmother to two grown children. They now live next door to one of the kids (plus two grandkids) in Venice, California – not too far from my own hood! “My whole life changed,” she said on becoming a stepmother. “I never expected to have a family. I feel blessed.”
Alley’s on-screen hubby Dan Lauria got a taste of vicarious parenting as well, with dads all over the country identifying with Jack’s struggles. After the episode where he brings Kevin in for Take Your Son to Work Day, he received loads of letters saying, “Thanks a lot. Now I know why my son thinks I’m such a jerk.”
Though he and his charity-fund-raiser wife, Eileen, have no children of their own, it’s clear he feels a fatherly affection for Fred. When Fred indicated an uncertainty about continuing in show business after the end of The Wonder Years, Dan said, “I think he’ll become the next Ron Howard—a marvelous director.” And it’s a two-way street, with Fred saying, “Dan’s always been a really big influence in my life.” Dan was even trying to get Fred to follow in his footsteps after the show ended, determined to broaden his interest in the theatre by making sure he’s a semi-regular performer at one of his own frequent haunts, the Coronet Theatre in L.A.
This creative pseudo-parenting from two Childfree celebs is a great reminder that you can have rewarding relationships with children without having to change a single diaper.