My parents came to dinner this week. This is no small feat, considering that it is a seven-hour drive between our houses.
I marvel often at how perfect my life is–but perfect in an off-center kind of way. As the four of us sat around my dining room table and enjoyed good beef, asparagus and twice-baked potatoes I thought how much of my life is as I always wanted it. Not how I pictured it, but how I felt it should be.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be different things. A writer, a psychiatrist, a housewife and mother. I wanted to have my own sno-cone machine. I wanted to be able to drink Cokes with every meal and to stay up as late as I wanted. And of course I’m a writer because that is most definitely something you ARE as opposed to something you DO. The actual writing of things is a craft, but the personality is as much a part of you as your lungs and saliva. Being a writer means that I get to practice psychiatry for imaginary people, and while it doesn’t pay as well as the more popular brand of shrinking, it also didn’t require eight years of medical school. I have an ice maker that makes too many ice cubes and the Cokes I drink with dinner add to my insomnia so I’m not only staying up as late as I wanted, I’m staying up even later.
But I married the man I loved when I found him early. I gave up some things to do it but I don’t regret it in the least. Because loving my husband is my favourite occupation, my favourite pastime, as much a part of me as my writing.
Why am I going into all this pap? One word: The Duggars.
Before my parents got here I was watching some old episodes of However Many Kids And Counting. I go in spurts with that show; I won’t watch it for months and then I’ll raid the TiVo and breeze through a dozen episodes and counting in one sitting. Why I picked this week to do that, I’ll never know. Maybe because Easter always reminds me of family things.
Anyway, when I was really young, back in the early ’70s, I wanted to be Michelle Duggar. No joke. I wanted to be a good Christian mommy with at least 8 kids. I wanted to wear the prairie dresses and the waist-length Modest Woman Crowning Glory hair. I think in the evangelical culture of the 70s that was our version of the Hippie Commune. So anyway, whenever I go through a spate of Duggerviewing I feel these pangs of envy and inadequacy. After all, there are all those Bible verses that talk about how having a bajillion children is an imprimateur from the Heavenly Father, a stamp of approval and a sign of wealth. And there are all those other Bible verses that talk about the shame of barrenness. As a barren woman how am I supposed to feel? Like a well run dry, a tapped-out mine, a withered husk. Meanwhile, Michelle Duggar sits in a chair in a rented house, hooked up to a machine milker. Not unlike a dairy cow. Her mother in law spends the entire day doing laundry and her younger babies are reared by her older children who are in turn reared by computerised homeschooling lessons. None of them have ever read To Kill A Mockingbird. None of them have ever seen The Godfather. (There’s another close family with a lot of kids who all live together set apart from the outside world.)
I honestly don’t know how or what to feel about the Duggars. I write about it on occasion because I wrestle with it. Am I less of a woman because I’ve had no children or am I a better woman because I haven’t had more children than I can afford? Am I a better steward because I haven’t wasted the life of a child by refusing to allow them the opportunities to be the most they can be by seeing the world and finding their own place in it? Is it selfish to keep having children because they are a glory to you, even though the life they have is complicated by being lived in a zoo, having to earn their own keep by performing for the cameras?
I’m a libertarian. At the root of it I believe the Duggars should do exactly what they want to do. But as a barren Christian woman I do have thoughts about how my life looks when held up to the funhouse mirror of theirs. I honestly don’t know the answer. Like light syrup the Duggars confound me. Can you be both a responsible Christian parent AND have two dozen children? Can you be syrup and yet be not sugary sweet?