Lileks has a daughter. On his website she’s Gnat, in his Star-Tribune columns she is Child(TM). I know he’s biased, but from his anecdotes, she sounds like my dream child. Today, he linked to this story about a Chicago eatery that has committed a grievous wrong. They have posted a sign on their front door asking that children behave while eating there.
There is a war ongoing in our culture, so the article says, between the childless and the parents. I know, because I’ve been a reluctant combatent for the last 10 years. I want children but don’t have any. This means that I’m not technically Childfree, which is fine with me. I don’t see the need to refer to pregnancy as “Baby Rabies” or disparage every infant born as a “fleshloaf”. Those terms bespeak a deep-seated hatred springing from somewhere beyond the now.
Yet I do have scars inflicted by the “other side”. People tell me that it’s a shame I don’t have a family. As though a lack of offspring renders my marriage somehow lesser. I’ve been asked to work overtime to fill in for coworkers who have children, as though evenings spent doing adult things are more easily tabled than Gymboree classes. I’ve filled two posts while “the other girl” is out on paid maternity leave–without any extra pay for myself. And of course there’s health insurance. My spouse and I pay the same “family” coverage premium as do folks with 2,3,4 kids. That message is clear. We aren’t a family unless we need to be for subsidies’ sake. (I, however, do my best to make the insurance thing come out even, as I have a chronic illness.) Worse, though, than any of these was sitting in my old church last Christmas Eve and being told by the “pastor” that the reason we are alive is to have children, that Christmas is for and about children and that the only purpose of celebrating is to bring joy to children. My unmarried sister, gay brother, husband and I were all kinda crushed. “Merry Christmas, you sad and selfish bastards!”
These are the messages that the childless endure at every level of society. I can only truly speak for myself, but I do think that a lot of the impatience we register with other people’s children is an extension of that. We’re repeatedly reminded by society that we’re inadequate. Yet we’re expected to play by the rules. We pay property taxes to fund schools and are the first hit up for fundraisers since we have all the extra money not spent on braces and BuildABear. Miraculously, there also seems to be another set of rules. Children are both sacred and hard to manage. Forgetting that we childless didn’t spring whole from the head of Zeus, we are asked to excuse behaviour our parents never excused in us.
I never wanted to be in a war. I never wanted to be the enemy. When I was a kid I just wanted to grow up so that people would treat me with more dignity. This greener grass hasn’t been working out so well. Now I’d just like to eat my dinner and watch my movie in peace.