Thursday, November 18, 2010

More to Life.

This question was sent to me several days ago during a Q & A session, and I thought I'd reap the greatest benefit from it by replying not only to the asker, but to The Empty Cradle in general. I've altered very little from the original response, because it was already an acceptably tidy explanation of where I stand on the issue, but it needed expansion and touching up.

"I read your blog regarding choosing to be childless. What advice would you offer those women who are having trouble coping with being childless not by choice?"

Firstly, I would tell them that it's all about perspective - I am not childless. I am childfree. "Less" implies that I lack something I want, "free" implies that I'm free of something I don't want.

Secondly - if you have explored all reasonable options to conceive/have a child in your life and, for whatever reason, it just can't happen, then I would encourage you to look past the posed holiday photos, cheerful toy commercials, and those picturesque family moments that parents shrink down to wallet-size for proud accessibility during office conversation.

Those are part of parenthood, but they are not the bulk of the deal. Look.

Look at the fresh crop of suddenly-serious arguments that appeared in the marriage of your best friends when they added another baby to the equation.

Look at the lamentations of parents to their friends that, no, they can't join you for lunch/dinner/dancing/gym/class/a play because they can't find a babysitter/their spouse refuses to watch the kids.

Look at the mess that some people's houses are because they can't stay on top of both children and housekeeping.

Look at the drained, embarrassed faces of parents in Wal Mart whose kids are on the floor, beating their little fists against the tiles and wailing because they are upset, sometimes at an age that's too young to explain why, sometimes at an age that's damn well old enough to know better. Look at them, drawing annoyed glances from other shoppers, being judged, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

Look at the constant struggle to balance rising costs of raising a family with lessening quality of sleep.

Look at the heartbreaking cases of empty nest syndrome and the quiet depressions that occur after some children move on, in people who thought that kids were all they could ever want in life, but are now realizing that wasn't true, but now they feel too old/broke/sick, etc to find out what was missing.

This is not the experience for all parents, and some who do experience it say that it's a small sacrifice for the love they find in return. But these scenarios do happen, and often, and not everyone who's had children is happy with their decision.

I'm compelled to repeat that - not everyone who has kids is happy about it. It's only fair to combat the constant recitations that are leveled at me yearly that "so-and-so didn't have kids and regretted it when she was fifty." Yes, some childfree people change their minds. So do some parents.

So, my advice is to look. Really look. There's a risk you take in this endeavor that it won't turn out to be that enlightening, life-perfecting thing you've always imagined. Not everyone is cut out for it; personally, I think more people aren't than are, but they've decided that it's their right to have a baby, because they want a baby.

If you've considered all of that already and still find yourself unhappy and "childless," then I truly feel for you, and I hope that you're able to conceive one day and live out your dream.

But if it doesn't happen, or in the meantime, do many, many, many other things! If you're involved, wake your partner up at midnight on a Tuesday and go for a long, long walk - without calling a sitter. Spend every ounce of your disposable income one paycheck just on yourself! Have sex on the living room floor at 2 pm on a non-school day; loud, raunchy, hands-in-every-crevice kind of sex. Take up a hobby that's a little bit reckless, because you don't have to worry about what you'd be leaving behind.

Enjoy your oneness. If you're part of a couple, enjoy your twoness. Life as a twosome has been the most rewarding, indulgent, beautiful adventure I could have ever imagined. Maybe children will happen for you one day, but I've yet to understand those who rush toward parenthood. Enjoy you. Enjoy JUST you, the spectacular individual that you are, the layers and layers of you there are left to peel open.

There is more to womanhood, to romance, and to LIFE, than devoting your every waking moment to the maintenance and upkeep of your offspring. There is more to life than marching down that pre-determined path of school, marriage, pregnancy, PTA. There is more to life than parenthood, even for the best and happiest of parents.

There is still much more to life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

All The World's Love Couldn't Satisfy You

Walked but forgot it was Sunday; the city was half asleep and the buildings were empty. Found only one open door. An old woman shuffled busily in and out of it, creating a display on the sidewalk that might entice weekend treasure hunters to stop by.

She lamented to me with her eye turned down the street toward a row of 'sorry, we're closed!' signs, "A bunch of the other owners told me they'd start opening up on Sundays, too, but nobody has."

Inside, I touched everything. I am now a part of the history of those items, another pair of hands that have held them over the years. Whoever goes home with a certain antique sideboard will be taking a piece of me along. When a young woman maneuvers carefully around in those 30-year-old silver slingbacks, I'll be a shadow in her step.

I don't know how else to leave myself behind, but I know that's what I'm always trying to do. I remember being 12, stuffing glass Coke bottles and my mother's empty wine containers with notes, letters, poetry and short stories. I would take them, one by one, to any body of water I happened to be near - Sloan Lake, the struggling puddle of ducks in Holliday Park, even the Florida shores during a visit I don't remember the circumstances of. I spent hours of my youth fantasizing about the lives of those who might find them - what they would think, and what they would go on to do once they'd dropped the bottle and returned to their lives.

Maybe that's where I began my love of characterization.

But I think that, more than anything, I wanted to get a response. I don't know how I imagined they would know who I was or how to get in touch with me, but what I wanted most was to be communicated with by the recipient. I was such a strange child. I reached out in a hundred different ways to a hundred different types of people; I was socially inelegant and unable to harness my emotions when they left me, it's no surprise I was so often spooked from.

It must have been the natural progression, necessary but subconscious, for me to eventually give up and find other methods of connecting. Leaving messages in bottles in the lake. Writing things in the bathroom stalls that were heartfelt and sincere, rather than aggressive or insulting. Sneaking behind a computer screen to create a world I could live in unseen, through characters more interesting, enjoyable and lovable than myself.

13 years later, thirteen, that little mass of years, and even with my advancements through awkward, lonesome, stifled and silly youth, I see I'm still the same girl - though settled and in love, surrounded by the brilliance of others and finally part of a family, a network of affectionate people, I'm still sending messages in subtlety out of habit; still stuffing my notes into bottles, so to speak. Still thinking that if only I put my hands on something old, then I, too, will be old, then I, too, will become part of the lives of whoever purchases that thing I've touched.

I took my chances on the pleasant feeling of nostalgia the whole scene gave me and asked the old woman, now bespectacled and sitting primly behind the counter, if they needed any part-time help. She took down my information to give to the same woman who sold me my polka-dotted dress from 1964. "You have perfect timing," she said, licking her finger to thumb through a notepad for something blank that I could write on. "She was just saying to me last night that she wanted to hire somebody to help out with new items and arranging, and the register when she's making a sale."

It will not swell my bank account, be sure, but how settling and satisfying it should be to spend a few weekdays there, surrounded by homemade or decades-old decorative clutter and helping cheerful old women rearrange furniture.

I want to be a part of what's around me.

On my way back I passed a funeral parlor, watched from across the street just long enough for an Autumn gust to ghost through and shake loose a hundred burnt golden leaves or more on the roof of a single white hearse.

I thought of how to work the scene into a story and walked home.