Living in the margin

illustration via Drawing Saudade

My friend Saudi is a gifted artist, loyal friend and first rate human being. She’s lived on several continents, has a love of all things Disney and pulls no punches when speaking her mind. She’s a tough cookie, but a kind one. She’s used to playing the role, I think, of defender.

Saudi’s not only my friend; I was, strangely enough, her boss for a brief time, and I distinctly remember the fact that she always had a protective sensibility about her — a mama cub energy of sorts — always sticking up for the little guy. She was the good-hearted troublemaker in the back of the meeting who never actually made any trouble — really, she was productive, thoughtful and in many ways had a glue-like quality that helped hold the team together with humor in times of stress. She’d occasionally grumble just loudly enough to hold the title of “rebel,” and I think she took pride in that. There’s really no messing with Saudi, even though she’s a generous soul; she just has a tough exterior. So, needless to say, the image of someone marginalizing her and sending her home in tears isn’t only odd to me; it’s wholly unacceptable.

That’s an image I had to try to picture, though, when I read something she wrote this week. She shared a link to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper in which the writer at first appeared to give a somewhat balanced, if not particularly well-researched, accounting of the fact that fewer Canadian women are having babies than ever before. Balance flew out the window, however, in the latter portion of the article as it spun off its own rails with asinine conclusions — and then, of course, there’s the headline: Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish.

“I thought this was an Onion article,” Saudi began, and then went on to explain how much crap she gets for not having children with her husband. “I get, at the very least, one serious talking to from a stranger every other week, more if I happen to meet new people and have to exchange small talk with them. I try and ignore it and not let it bother me, but after a while it starts getting to me and I end up going home and crying, feeling terrible about myself.”

The article, at first blush, made me laugh — not an audible guffaw, but more a quiet series of eye rolls. I think my favorite parts were these three little nuggets of gold:

“Indeed, there are more finite calculations involved: Career demands. Timing. Not having a partner, or not having the right partner. Flaky fears about overburdening our already overburdened planet, personal choice and a bunch of other hooey that serve to hide the fact that happy couples that choose not to have kids are, at root, well, let’s see: selfish.

In Canada, a new normal could be on the rise, a great divide where, standing on one side will be the old guard — the haggard, the proud, the poor-looking schleps with their baby strollers and shrieking brats — while on the other will be childless twosomes, sipping their lattes and skipping off to a 10:15 a.m. appointment with their personal trainer.

What will it mean, for us, as a nation? What could be lost? And what will become of those trim, fit and fat-free-yogurt loving folks when decrepitude inevitably creeps in; when they age, as we all inevitably do, and the children they chose not to have aren’t around to look after them?”

Now, maybe this guy’s the Andy Rooney of Canada… a lovable old grump who likes to grouse and moan. Maybe he’s contradicting himself on purpose. Maybe there’s an intended wink in there somewhere (personal choice equals “hooey?”), and maybe it’s just lost on me. But after I let his words roll off my shoulders, I remembered they were still sitting squarely on top of Saudi’s.

I grapple a bit with my own questions about parenting… about creating life… about leaving something good behind. But as far as geriatric care goes, I’ve got news for this guy: if Canada’s treatment of its parents and grandparents on the whole is even half as abysmal as some of the atrocities we commit stateside, he needs to find another argument.

That job where I worked with Saudi?  It was at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, and you don’t even want to know how many hundreds… thousands… of seniors we came into contact with who hadn’t heard from their children in months or years, regardless of the fact that their health was declining, that they were being subjected to all sorts of maltreatment in the long-term care facilities in which they’d been placed, and that all they really wanted was just to connect with the people they loved who seemed to have once loved them. But we won’t go too far into that.  It’s been said that we can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its elders. In that regard, we have a long way to go — grandkids or no grandkids.

Parenting is far from easy.  I’ve never tried it myself, but I can tell from a mile away that it isn’t something to be taken lightly, and as a result, I have a ton of respect for those who enter into it and take it seriously. As for me, I very well may spring out of bed someday and exclaim, “NOW! Now’s the time when we do some kid-raising!” and then again, I very well might not. The verdict’s still out on that one. Even still, I wholeheartedly squeal at every birth announcement I get in the mail, every sonogram that pops up in my newsfeed, and every tweet sent from a hospital room that “mommy and baby are doing just fine.”  Because life is beautiful. Babies are awesome. And I’m as much of a sucker for the pure, clean slate of possibility each one holds as anyone else is. I don’t disagree with the act of having children; there’s not one molecule inside me that looks down on it at all.

My friends’ kids are some of the most engrossing, engaging, entertaining people I’ve ever met, and they can’t even spell their own names yet. There’s something to be said for that, and I can say with honesty that I take great joy in seeing my friends’ contentment over raising their families. But there’s also something to be said for those of us who are as yet undecided on the topic for ourselves, and certainly for those who’ve made the choice to contribute to the world in other big, bold, courageous ways instead. In the end, there’s more than one way to leave a legacy.

So, to the people out there with quips, sideways glances, raised eyebrows and opinions about friends and strangers alike who don’t have bambinos of their own, here’s a revolutionary idea: let’s try to coexist. You inspire us with stories of your families’ shenanigans and we’ll regale you with tales of our travels. We’ll write books and illustrate children’s stories while you teach tomorrow’s leaders how to read them. It doesn’t have to be either/or. There’s really no need for an air of competition. For anyone on either path to say one is better than the other isn’t only ignorant; it’s… yep, you knew this was coming: selfish.

The next time I hear anyone give someone a hard time about not having children — whatever the reason, whatever the argument — they just might get a stern, old-fashioned talking to, in much the same manner my mother would have given it. If I sound overly protective of those of us without little ones of our own, well… perhaps that’s my maternal instinct talking.

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9 thoughts on “Living in the margin

  1. Amy says:

    Well said! Parenting a child is amazing but sometimes being an “Aunt”, blood related or just emotionally tied, is even better! I mean take last fall, you got to skip (literally) merrily down the street with Cameron without a care in the world but you totally missed the whining on the way to the house because he was overly tired and out to late..You got the good part..Score!!! There are some days that Cameron is a plane ticket away from living with you. :) The guy that wrote this is probably the same idiot who thinks I am “Selfish” for only having one!! I get that lecture from complete strangers and family at least once a month!!! Some people are never happy!!! I hope your article made her feel better!!!

  2. Betsy says:

    Wow. That article is disturbing in so many ways. A major problem I have with it is its one-dimensional view of selfishness. First, there’s such a thing as healthy selfishness, and it goes hand-in-hand with great self-awareness–it takes great (and rare) self-awareness to realize that you don’t want to do that thing that everyone assumes everyone else wants to do, and it takes a great confidence, love of yourself and your own happiness, or a “healthy selfishness” if you’d like, stick to that unpopular decision that you know is right for you. Second, the writer completely misses the extreme selfishness (the unhealthy kind) of having kids you don’t really want just so you have someone to take care of you in old age, or just because (much more common–alarmingly common, even) everyone is doing it and you feel like you’re supposed to do it too.

    Saudi sounds like a fun, amazing woman, and she should know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her choice. If I have any advice, it’s to start telling those people who lecture her every other week–in as polite a way as possible–that it’s rude of them to tell her how to live her life, and she would never dream of doing the same to them. Something like “I appreciate your concern, but isn’t it a bit off to judge my choices that way?” After all, they’re being incredibly rude, and so I think she has a license to be politely-rude (is that a thing?) back. I have a feeling that soft confrontation might shock a few people into silence, and maybe they’ll think twice before subjecting someone else to a life lecture in the future.

    • Agreed 100 percent. I went through it word by word *twice* just to make sure I wasn’t missing some sort of veiled sarcasm, but really, I think the author’s just in love with the sound of his own voice, so to speak. Saudi is, indeed, fun and amazing, and I agree that a wide-eyed, “Wait, thank you for caring so much about my personal life, but truly — I’d appreciate you keeping your thoughts about it to yourself… I’m sure they’re great, but I didn’t ask for them” would stun people into silence, and maybe even a self-audit of their own rudeness. The weirdest thing is, I’m sure most of them think they’re doing her a favor by imparting their opinions on her, when really, they’re just showing their own emotional and intellectual limitations.

      I have a theory that the more dissatisfied people are with their own lives, the more likely they are to tell others how to live theirs. If they can’t exert control over their own existence, they figure they may as well extend it outward. It’s sad, really. In a way, I feel more sympathy for them than I do for Saudi, and that’s saying something, because I really wished I could fly to Florida and give her a bear hug when I read her words the other day.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment, by the way. Hope DC is being good to you! Give a shout the next time you’re in Austin and let’s grab drinks. In the meantime: happy last day of summer!

  3. As one of those “undecided” married women, thank you SO much for writing this! Perfectly thought out logic and wonderfully worded. =)

    (btw, I found your blog because of Saudi’s and your vintage typewriter is awesome!)

    • You’re welcome, and thank YOU! Saudi is fantastic, and I’m glad so many people are able to see her work and get to know her through her blog. And as for yours: “This week it occurred to me that all creative things begin with The Mess.” ~ !!! ~ Love love LOVE. :)

  4. Pingback: Just a girl | onesmartpoptart

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