June 20, 2017

Two Children or Three?

Small and romantic road

Romantic Umbria (Credit: adamo1978)

Time for a timeless flashback… Topic? Children versus adventure. Children versus carefree, fiesta marriage lifestyle. Children versus spontaneous travel. Remember this riff?

In The Juggle,  WSJ.com blog about “choices and tradeoffs people make as they juggle work and family” John J. Edwards III waxed nostalgic for the early days of marriage before he had children.

Like many married-with-kids jugglers, my wife and I look back fondly on our pre-children days… we had many fun times and adventures, from frequent parties in our apartment to a surprise long weekend in Paris. (WSJ.com)

He ruminates on the lifestyle freedom enjoyed by couples who opt not to embrace parenting but concedes that

it’s a cohort that often finds itself misunderstood or even ostracized as friends procreate. (WSJ.com)

He refers to a story posted at DINKlife.com by a woman who has endured countless painful experiences due to her childfree choice.

“but the statement we feel best sums it all up was when a very close couple told us that they did not see us in their lives anymore as we were making the ‘unnatural choice.’ ” (WSJ.com)

The author wraps up with a palpable yearning for the days when he and his bride could zip off to Umbria, Italy like his childfree colleagues at work, but is quick to admit that his suburban social bubble is kid central with nary a childfree couple in the mix.

In fact, the big question generally is “two children or three?” rather than whether or not to have kids. (WSJ.com)

Why no kids? Childfree celebrities!

George Clooney, one of the world's favorite childfree celebrities

George Clooney, one of the world’s favorite childfree celebrities

“You really don’t plan to have children?”

“No.”

“Really? Like, ever?”

“Like, never.”

“Weird. Why no kids?”

“Childfree celebrities.”

“Oh, you mean like George Clooney?”

“Right. Like George Clooney.”

“Oh, and Patrick Swayze, he was childfree too, right.”

“Right. Though not by choice, I’ve heard. Perhaps childless rather than childfree.”

“So, you want to be like George Clooney, not Patrick Swayze.”

“I’m not a great dancer. Enthusiastic, but not great. Not even good. But see where my hair’s going gray? I am good with that.”

“Right. I can totally see where you’re coming from. So childfree, not childless.”

“At this stage, I qualify as both, I think. Still working on the George Clooney part.”

“Well, good luck with that. He’s such a hunk!”

“Still working on that too…”

 

Childfree Celebrities Role Models?

As mundane and fictional as the foregoing dialogue may be, it’s not unrealistic. I could have cribbed it from a chance encounter during an urban elevator ride or in a rural grocery checkout line. In the North Country or in the Southwest.

Celebrities are de facto role models (often despite concerted efforts to ditch this mantle), and we rely upon them as credible spokespeople for saving dolphins, building oil pipelines and losing weight.

Recently this has become especially true for celebrities without children, especially celebrities who are childfree by choice. Having a hard time explaining to your mother-in-law why you and your wife have chosen not to have children? No worries, plug in George Clooney.

“Oh, George Clooney’s childfree? I love George Cooney.”

Mission accomplished. Or so it would seem.

 

Searching for Childfree Celebrities

In recent months Why No Kids? has experienced a dramatic spike among folks looking for information about childfree celebrities. Over the last few months four of the top eight search queries delivering new readers to the WNK blog have been:

  • celebrities without children
  • childfree by choice celebrities
  • childless celebrities
  • childfree celebrities

Curious. This is good news for AmyWNK who is our resident expert on all topics pop culture and celebrity-hood. But I’m a bumbling dunce when it comes to celebrities. My bride would offer a more colorful description.

In short, I’ve never been particularly fame-centric, childfree celebrities or otherwise.

That said, I’m fascinated with the fact so many others are drawn to celebrities in general, and especially intrigued by the increasing numbers focused on childfree celebrities. Here’s a quick glimpse at some non-WNK coverage:

Can we infer anything from the this trend? Are more and more people looking for childfree celebrity role models?

From Birth Rates to DINK Perks

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Bill og Melinda Gates unde...

Bill and Melinda Gates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t been active on the Why No Kids? Facebook page lately, then you’ve missed out on some good childfree reads. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here’s the recent hit parade:

  • Melinda Gates’ New Crusade: Investing Billions in Women’s Health “[Melinda] Gates made a decision that’s likely to change lives all over the world… she has decided to make family planning her signature issue and primary public health a priority. ‘My goal is to get this back on the global agenda,’ she says.” (The Daily Beast)
  • Teen Birth Rate Hits Historic Lows “The teenage birth rate declined 9 percent between 2009 and 2010, hitting an all-time low, according to new data released by the National Center for Health Statistics.” (US News and World Report)
  • Growing Number of Women Want to Become Moms to Get Out of Work Apparently pregnancy is looking more and more appealing to British woman, who, according to a new survey, are more likely to want to get pregnant these days so they can score the 52 weeks of maternity leave that is standard in England. Yes, you read that right: Women want to have babies to avoid working for a year. (Glamour)
  • Procreation vs. Overpopulation “In ‘Fruits of Philosophy,’ Knowlton took up the subject of sex… Knowlton was worried about the hazards of fertility… Unlike Malthus, who saw no remedy except plague or abstinence, Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction.” (The New Yorker)
  • Why I Love Being A DINK Although this article trots out rather inane seed answers to to the following question, we know that you can do better! Why do you love being in a dual income no kids relationship? (Business Insider)

Thanks WNKers for your reading recommendations. Please keep them coming!

Childfree Women Lack Humanity

Childless women lack an essential humanity. (Miriam Schaer)“Childless women lack an essential humanity.”

Embroidered across the front of a delicate white toddler’s dress in scarlet letters, this searing slander offers a 21st century modern twist on the proverbial “scarlet letter”. Miriam Schaer a multimedia artist and teacher (Columbia College, Chicago), directs her creative wizardry on childfree women in her online installation for the International Museum of Women‘s MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.

New York artist, Miriam Schaer, has created a series of almost disturbing pieces about the perceived value of a woman who chooses not to reproduce… I think you’ll find Schaer’s toddler dresses embroidered with expressions of both confusion and disdain, hurled at women who choose not to have children, both unsettling and thought-provoking. (Strollerderby)

Almost disturbing? I’d suggest that these images are disturbing.

But they also are provocative in their simplicity and their “scarlet letter” resonance. No audio guide is needed to engage the viewer or to invite reflection. These quotations are familiar to the childfree, and they drip with prejudice and downright hostility. But rather than hurt or defensiveness, they trigger a more profound (and more important) question: Why? Why are childfree women threatening? Why do childfree women lack humanity? Why do childfree women meet with intolerance?

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance. (Miriam Schaer)

Each image vibrates with smug intolerance, but collectively the images tell a different if somewhat elusive story.

I detect a theme of fragility, of an almost desperate attempt to denigrate and disempower women who have not chosen to be mothers. I detect fear, fragility, urgency, desperation and intolerance. I detect an unquestioning, un-curious, bullying theme. And why? I suspect it is because childfree women are actually gaining respect and acceptance.

Prejudice increases in proportion to the perceived threat, and the perception that more women are choosing not to have children threatens the beliefs and biases of many. In short, the prejudice is a barometer of the increasingly mainstream conversation about a woman’s reproductive freedom. Childfree women are increasingly visible, respected and vocal, so it is inevitable that their detractors will grow louder, angrier. But underlying these images of intolerance is a message of hope, a message of tolerance and perhaps even growing acceptance.

Do you share my optimism? What is your reaction to Miriam Schaer’s images?

Why no kids? Rattlesnakes!

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had rattlesnakes on the brain for the last few days.

Timber rattlesnakesCrotalus horridus.

And even Massassagua rattlesnakes. Sistrurus catenatus.

It’s spring in the Adirondacks, and spring means critters, LOTS of critters. I witnessed a hawk shredding a live pigeon about three feet from our breakfast table before my bride donned her pink dish washing gloves, chased the hawk away and saved the wounded pigeon. Sort of. It died, but not in the hands of a vicious raptor.

The hawk’s an efficient and frequent diner at Rosslyn, and judging by the fresh piles of pigeon feathers every few days, we’re up to a half dozen in just two or three weeks.

And two nights ago we startled an ermine imitating a boa constrictor, coiled tightly around the bird feeder. I’m not sure if he was digesting a woodpecker, suet or birdseed.

A little earlier in the spring we had a red fox that cleared out about a half dozen squirrels.

Spring. Critters. Predation…

All of this backyard safari action got me to thinking about kids. Actually, it got me thinking about kids and predators.

Especially the hawk. That bird was a killer. And powerful.

Wikipedia doesn’t list human children as part of the diet of any of these critters, so I should be relieved. I mean, I don’t even have any kids to get eaten alive by a hawk.

And yet while whipping up a couple of posts about rattlesnakes, in particular one massive and extremely lethal looking serpent who appeared and promptly vanished in my rhubarb patch three years ago, I realized that it’s a pretty major relief not to have to worry about these critters getting hold of my own progeny.

I haven’t successfully identified the snake, but I suspect it was a rattlesnake.

I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes. (Rosslyn Redux)

Rattlesnakes! (Cochiti Pueblo, NM)

Rattlesnakes! (Photo credit: virtualDavis)

I’m probably wrong. Odds are it was a timber rattlesnake (we have a large, healthy breeding population just a few miles up the road) with unusual coloring for our area. Or possibly, at least in the opinions of some naturalists I’ve spoken to, it was a Northern Copperhead that had wiggled a bit north of their usual northern limit which is apparently a couple of hours south around New Paltz, New York. Global warming?

Lest you’re missing the bottom line, these cool looking snakes are all venomous. (Read poisonous.) Adult fatalities are rare if medical attention is immediate. But kids? Especially little bitty kids? The odds are a bit spookier.

Fortunately rattlesnakes tend to be reserved, preferring to avoid contact and altercations.

Most resources concur that timber rattlesnakes only strike if/when provoked. And common sense should compel anyone happening upon a timber rattlesnake in the wild to avoid provoking it. If the snake is behaving aggressively, coiling and preparing to strike — perhaps even false striking — its defensive behavior indicates that it perceives a threat. Avoid further threatening the snake and withdraw cautiously, slowly. In all likelihood the rattlesnake, no matter how large and menacing, will slither off without striking. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

Good news as long as your tyke is prudent. But it’s a bit of a gamble, no?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no alarmist. I grew up in the Adirondacks’s Champlain Valley a short bicycle ride away, and I never had to ward off a hungry hawk or get pumped full of anti-venom to save my bacon. But I could have…

So, rather than worrying all the conscientious parents out there who are 100% attentive, shepherding their kids through life’s wilderness perils, I’m just taking a moment to savor the profound relief I feel about never having to worry that junior could stumble across that 3+ foot long snake in my rhubarb patch. The one that’s probably poisonous.

Have a great week!

Doomed Parenting

Cover of Parenting

Image via Wikipedia

Ah-ha! My suspicions all along…

A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. “Our research suggests that while  overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life’s difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood… [and] anything between those two extremes is equally damaging…” (The Onion)

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the inevitable unhappiness of the parents! 😉

Fast Forward

fast type

Image by mightymoss via Flickr

Wednesday already? I keep bumping the fast forward button!

Seems like only yesterday Susan, Amy, Brian and I were bumping along the highway from Costa Rica‘s Papagayo Peninsula to Lake Arenal psyching each other up for windsurfing with crocodiles, slurping up coconut milk from roadside vendors, and brainstorming a blog about our childfree lifestyle choices. Fast forward and we’re entering our 9th month and 107th post. Wow!

Thank you for making it possible. Thank you for reading our posts, commenting, sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and submitting guest posts. You continue to inspire us, and we’re enjoying every minute of it. Even when I bump the fast forward button…

While everything’s zipping past in a blur, there are a couple of quick snippets I want to showcase, sort of a “Wednesday WNK Digest”. First up, Brian nailed it in a recent post about how taboo a topic the childfree choice remains. Though he focused largely on celebs (a category that I’m thoroughly unqualified to address), the following excerpt about gender distinctions is oh-so-spot-on:

when a mother DOES speak out against mothering… she’s entering taboo territory, a place where people overreact and use the word “crazy”… Because these are words that mothers aren’t allowed to speak. “Don’t have kids” or “I wish I didn’t have kids” are somehow heard as “I wish they weren’t alive” or “I hate children”. It seems… From where I stand, men are given much more room.. to vent, admit, complain or translate their desire for silence and freedom and fresh air into advice or comedy… Mothers seem to police themselves, vigilantly. (Celebrities, WiNKs, Taboos and The Childfree Apology)

Another highlight? The clever crew over at The Onion nailed it with ‘This Is The Happiest Day Of My Life,’ Lies Man Holding Baby. Just to tickle your childfree fancy:

Looking out at a sea of expectant faces, new father Dan Rudloff commemorated the birth of his daughter, Elizabeth, by holding the small, vulnerable child in his arms and blurting out a series of lies and half-truths about how happy he was at that moment.

“Oh my God,” said Rudloff, staring down at the squalling, vernix-covered infant who will depend on him for everything from eating, to bathing, to keeping her head upright. “She’s beautiful.”

Realizing he was now forever tethered to this utterly helpless new life… Rudloff rattled off a series of patently false pleasantries about being overjoyed with his new baby girl. (The Onion)

For overly sensitive readers who sometimes miss humor, farce and send-ups, this is funny. Not snarky. Or cynical. Okay, maybe it’s all three!

Onward. Julie, The Hiking Humanist, took a protracted and reflective look at the term, childfree, in a recent post that’s worth passing along. She explains why the word is necessary descriptor to distinguish those who choose not to have children from those who are unable to have children.

We don’t want to be encouraged to have kids, or pitied for not having them, or seen as lonely or sad, or as selfish and hateful. The word we identify with exists to legitimize our choice, and to be a word for the lifestyle that we’re keen to talk about among ourselves and encourage acceptance of in the public sphere… This word is “childfree.” The word differentiates us from the childless, and from parents. More importantly, the word communicates that the absence of children is a positive thing for us, something we’re happy about and do not wish to be pitied for. (Defending The Word “Childfree”)

Julie’s a little huffy, but many of us have been at one point or another when slighted bingo’ed one time too many.

As a follow-up to Amy’s recent post on “Childfree Getaways” and my post on “Childfree Dining Tips“, I’d like to pass along a few childfree travel suggestions from Child Free Nation:

Here are a couple quick tips for avoiding the diaper set during your getaway:

  • Spring for Luxury
  • Consider a Private Resort
  • Enjoy a Bed and Breakfast
  • Read the Reviews

(Seven Tips for Child Free Travel)

That catches me up a little bit… Of course, I’m liable to bump the fast forward button again before long. Sorry!

Childfree Dining Tips

Restaurant Enoteca

Image by Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains St. Moritz via Flickr

We’ve covered this territory before of course, but a the risk of seeming a bit curmudgeonly I’d like to pass along a half dozen simple, straightforward childfree dining tips “borrowed” (Thanks, CFN Editorial Team!) from a recent Child Free Nation post, “Eating Out: How to Enjoy a Childfree Meal“.

It’s no fun to go out and listen to the soundtrack of crying infants, whining, or even the sounds of responsible parents trying to discipline their children.

It’s not that these kids are necessarily doing anything wrong. Babies cry. Toddlers lack adult communication skills. Parents do need to intervene (please oh please) when their six year old is chewing with their mouth open.

That being said, it doesn’t mean we want to witness the experience! (Child Free Nation)

Sound familiar? For sensitive readers in our midst, exhale. I’m not bashing restaurants that allow kids. In some cases I’m a fan. Other times not so much. But that’s not the point.

The point’s just to remind adamantly childfree diners (let’s call them ACDs), that ensuring an agreeable supper normally is an easy enough ambition if you follow some obvious pointers.

  1. Avoid Family Friendly Restaurants
  2. Sit in the Bar
  3. Ask for a Quiet Table
  4. Adjust your Timing
  5. Dress for Dinner
  6. Consider Take-Out

No brainers, right? Right. Except when they don’t’t work. In which case you move on to “Plan B”. And that’s the real point of this post… What would you suggest for #7 on the Childfree Dining Tips?

Joys of Shopping with a Child

Watch this video if you’re considering having a kid!

Yes, it is Halloween and no, we shouldn’t be thinking about shopping — certainly not Christmas shopping — yet, but we are. Correction: I’m not thinking about it, but it’s by sheer force of will that I’m resisting.

The Halloween candy isn’t even off the racks yet, and my mailbox has been brimming with Christmas catalogs for over a week. I know the economy’s stuck in the ditch, but for the love of all that is spooky can we please hold off until after the jack-o-lanterns have rotted?!?!

I’m not a shopper, not a willing shopper, at least. Not in any conventional, recognizable-to-twenty-first-century-humans sense of shopping. Third world markets suit me well for brief photography forays, but Christmas shopping in October? Bah humbug!

So when you add dysfunctional minors into the equation, things are liable to get unhealthy quickly. And kids are synonymous with shopping. Though not always in markets… Or maybe they are less annoying and more intriguing when studied through a camera lens.

Happy Halloween!

Why I Said ‘Yes’ to Kids

Today’s guest post is from Ana June, a mother, wife, writer, photographer and jewelry artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

In the spring of 2008, I sat down late one night to write the first installment for a newspaper column I called Planet Mom. While my youngest son slept on the couch next to me, I stared out at the night sky and tried to conjure my muse. By midnight, I had it–a relatively clear, concise, and honest introduction to the life I live as a mother to four. (Full installment is here.) In it, I wrote the following:

“This act of mothering is life in the raw. There are moments that threaten to unhinge me, followed closely by those that offer a glimpse of enlightenment.”

Nearly 3 years later, the truth in this statement still holds. Being a mother, especially to a brood the size of mine, is absolutely dichotomous. It’s unhinging and enlightening, sometimes all at once!

Choosing to become a mother was, for me, a no-brainer. I always knew I would have children…. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to have children. This desire must have been hardwired or something–I can’t explain it much better than that. Having children gave me so very much–the opportunity to lose myself and find myself… the thrill of finding and dancing on the very edge of my every possibility. Being a mother has made me more human, more frazzled, more fully alive, more tired, more fully in love, and more humble than anything else I have ever done.

That said, motherhood doesn’t define me entirely, and it shouldn’t. I am also a photographer, a writer, a graphic designer, and a jeweler, though not necessarily in that order at any given time. I own my own business, set my own hours, and have been turning a profit for several years now. Today, Wednesday, I am a writer and a jewelry maker. I am both writing this and babysitting my jewelry kiln as it sinters tin and copper into bronze (making two sets of custom wine charms!). Next to me, dull gray pendants that will soon metamorphose into fine silver await their turn in the fire. I am an alchemist.

I am also a traveler. I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York several days ago, where I was photographing a friend’s wedding. I was blissfully childfree for this journey, and it was awesome. It was awesome as well to come home and see my family again. A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my husband, kidfree, to Baja to shoot the Baja 1000 with and for a group of firefighters who ride for The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (the prelude to that story is here. I apparently never posted the actual story). In a nutshell, that adventure was awe-inspiring, remarkable, incredible…. fill in the blanks. But again, it was also awesome to come home and see my family again.

Family is the absolute ultimate for me, and of course that is defined in large part by my children. Because of this, I simply don’t see parenting as duty-driven more than I see it as motivated by a deep and abiding love. It is not a job, it is my heart.

I can’t and won’t sell it to anyone, however. It is not something to do unless you feel that undeniable drive within you to create a child. It is never something to take lightly. It should never be a should. It was absolutely never a should in my own life–in fact, quite the opposite, since I was very young when I got pregnant with my son. I chose to have my children when I did–Soren, who is now 17, was born three weeks after I turned 22. I birthed him at home, with a midwife, and when I looked into his little face for the very first time I saw God. This agnostic borderline-atheist truly and absolutely saw God. You see, God isn’t some big judgmental guy lurking about the heavens waiting to smite sinners or whatnot. No… God was the design of my son’s newborn face. God was his first cry.

And I can’t expect anybody else, not even my son’s father, to understand that moment like I did. That was my moment as a mother, and I was fortunate to have three more like it in the years that followed.

It was for moments like this that I became a mother. My decision to do so had very little to do with economics or leisure or opportunity for myself. It had everything to do with feeling and expressing a love that eludes definition. It wasn’t happy happy happy, but it wasn’t sad sad sad either. It ultimately isn’t any one thing. As I recently wrote in another post on my blog (full post here):

“…motherhood is the end-all-be-all of a woman’s existence…except when it isn’t. Motherhood will thresh your very soul and lift you to heights of joy you never thought possible… except when it doesn’t. Motherhood will sweep you up to the pinnacle of beauty…. except when it’s anything but beautiful. When you have shit on your hands because the baby decided to do gymnastics after you removed the stinky diaper and the phone is ringing and the dog is barking and the older kid is whining about cookies or some such… and the diaper pail is full and the room smells like digested green beans and you haven’t showered in two days and your breasts start leaking and then the baby pees all over the changing table and all the while you suspect, in a grim sort of way, that your mortgage check will bounce this month….

Nope, that’s not beautiful at all. Motherhood isn’t always anything except raw, demanding life. Base and beautiful humanity.”

And though it is a commitment, that sometimes makes you feel like you should be committed, it can be–should be?–one gleaming facet in a multifaceted life.

It should follow the sentiment I have tattooed on my upper left arm:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

No matter what we choose in this life–parenthood or not–there will forever be more to explore, more to learn, more to love. Or at least, there should be. And that is the only should that I, personally, understand.

Postscript: For anybody who is still unsure about having a child, ask yourself this: if you attempted to place your coffee mug in the cup holder of your car, one frenetic morning, and found that the space was already occupied by a large piece of dusty, hairy, dessicated bacon left therein by one of your children (one of your teens, in fact!), how would you feel? Your answer to this may help clarify your child-bearing decision…. at least a little bit. 🙂

You can follow Ana June on her blog, Non Compos Mentis Mama, or visit her professional site, Ana June Creative.