haploid, meet ova, you have lots to talk about

3/22/10

The entire time I was growing up, into my twenties and thirties, I had a tacit understanding with myself: I would have kids. The question, if asked, would not be if it would happen, but how many. Having grown up the middle of five makes certain things clear, and one of them was the inevitability of a family with progeny.

The hilarious thing is that I was as far away from having kids as a dude could get. Even as I turned 32, I was still besot by fear, depression, and widespread emotional immaturity that allowed me to sabotage every relationship I attempted, let alone one that would lead to having kids. By the time I had ended my suicide sojourn in the sun-forsaken folds of Beachwood Canyon, I had stopped even thinking about the possibilities of being a real member of society. And yet, deep in the recesses of my DNA, even then I couldn’t imagine a life without having children. My presumption knows no bounds, apparently.

I did the math in 2000: I knew I was pretty fucked up, and it would take at least 18 months to right my ship enough to be deserving of any kind of girlfriend. This “girlfriend” and I would have to date for two years before contemplating marriage, and I couldn’t see us being comfortable enough with the idea of children until we had been married for about two years.

So there I sat as a 32-year-old, telling myself the earliest I’d ever have a kid was around my 37th birthday. I was off by only six weeks.

Here’s the kicker: despite my so-called instinctual surety about having a child, I was pretty freaked out by the reality of it. While we were on our honeymoon, Tessa mentioned the possibility of us going off birth control. My stomach tightened, and I said, “Um, okay, but that means we can get pregnant tonight, you know.” I sensed her stomach tighten as well, and she said “Oh. Oh yeah. Maybe we should hold off for a bit.”

In 2004, we had begun our weird Hollywood adventure, getting a deal with the same company that was premiering “Lost”. Tessa and I decided we would see how far the deal went, and wait nine months before trying to have a kid. We got pregnant about five minutes later.

Nothing like “having no choice” to focus the mind, and from the instant of our pregnancy test, we had no regrets, and were off to the races. Since we have some folks out there who have been freaked out by the comments regarding having children and what it might do to your personal identity – or your relationship – I’ll just tell you a few things I learned.

Nothing worth doing in life comes without a huge dose of ambivalence. When I finally told myself it was okay to be scared of having a kid, and that I was frightened that I’d never sleep again, and that it was normal to feel like I was losing my sense of self, a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay that you’re not totally psyched “like you should be”. Nobody is grading you.

Everything huge in life – like getting married or starting a new career or having kids – will be accompanied by some amount of fear and sadness, AND THAT IS TOTALLY COOL. What is NOT cool is lying to yourself.

Lean heavily on others. Show me a woman who tries to be a hero for the first three months of her child’s infancy, and I’ll show you someone who drives her car into the ocean in a fit of postpartum despondency. Even if you’re in a hospital, get a midwife; once you’re home, use a doula. Breast milk is fantastic, but don’t forget a bottle so others can relieve you of your duties.

About six weeks into the Lucy show, Tessa had been going nonstop, and she finally turned to me and said “I’m not saying I’m having postpartum depression, but I can definitely see the offramp to postpartum ahead.” I ordered her to go to yoga in a different town, and I took Lucy – even though Lucy wouldn’t take milk from a bottle. Better for the Lulubeans to scream it out than to have Tessa actually go batshit bonkers. From that point on, I understood I’d have to be more proactive, and I wish I’d known it sooner.

This next piece of advice may be controversial, but if you have the money for good child care, a good babysitter, a good nanny… use it. I’m not afraid to announce how much help we’ve had; Laura, our babysitter/nanny, showed us a world where we could still work, still write, still travel, still have some alone time, and still dive for hours and weeks and months and years into the magical mystery tour of our daughter.

I realize that isn’t possible for everybody. But it is a night-and-day game changer if you can pull it off.

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The libido does return. Eventually. Read the comments to get a sense of when it might happen, but for almost everybody, it really does happen. In some cases, better than before. For us, it took about 6 or 7 months, when Lucy started eating solids. I know many people who got it back when they stopped breastfeeding. I read somewheres about making sure you have normal sex for a while again, good old-fashion fuckin’ for fuckin’s sake, before contemplating the next child, should you choose to go that route.

But again, ambivalence is not your enemy here. It’s okay that things are a little different. It’s okay that things are worse. This too shall pass.

Statistics are crap. I’m well aware of the studies that show that couples with kids are slightly less happy than those without. I mean, first off, I don’t know anybody who isn’t happier having raised a child, no matter the circumstances. Do you know anybody who wouldn’t do it, if given the chance to do it over?

Secondly, those studies give you a false assumption: you read them and think “Couples that have kids are less happy because of the kids”, when really it’s more like “Couples that have kids are less happy because they keep fighting over kid-related issues.” Or maybe I should just get straight to the point… most couples who have kids are unhappy because the mother is pissed off at the father most of the time.

I’d be overjoyed to be proven wrong, but it seems like we’re at this odd juncture in the sexual revolution: women have been told they should expect an even split in parenting duties, but guys are not holding up their end of the bargain. Sure, dudes are changing diapers (something my own dad – and probably yours – has never done) but on average, even women in “progressive” relationships are still doing more cleaning, more laundry, and yes, WAY more childcare than men.

I believe this is pissing women off, and while they love their child, they’re sick of having two of them. I realize this may not the experience many of you on the blog have had, but you’re a skewed example.

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, people with kids are from Uranus. Let’s face it: before you have kids, people with kids are goddamn horrifying. Their cars smell like barf, there’s cheddar goldfish crackers shoved into every seat, their house is littered with random doll arms, the DVD player has Barbie and the Three Musketeers in it, and if you have to listen to them talk about the new Bugaboo cup holders, you’re going to kill yourself.

Worse yet are the breeders who just keep on having kids like they need farmhands and dowagers, tons of screeching yard monsters shoved into burgundy minivans, GPS-calculated to head for the nearest Happy Meal. The parents have lost all resemblance to their former selves, cannot have conversations about anything not related to the kids, stuck in a constant revolving state of bragging and kvetching. They make jokes about how they can’t stay up past 9pm anymore and actually think it’s funny.

As a young person without kids, either married or unmarried, these professional American parents – whose last act of rebellion was finding a Kinks toddler t-shirt in a size 2T – represent the death of art, the death of passion and the death of hope. But I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be that way. It takes a little extra work to stay… I dunno, “cool”… but there is no “Parentzilla” gene that is switched on when you have a kid.

It’s your journey, and you can make of it what you will. If you don’t want the Maclaren Techno XT stroller, don’t get one. If you don’t want your house flooded with plastic shit, stick with wood. If Dan Zanes, The Wiggles and Barney give you hives, well, go with what you know:

God may help those who help themselves, but Nature rewards flexibility. Your best work may come from being turned upside down, your pockets emptying of old notions, an inverted view shocking your senses back to vibrancy. Having kids ain’t for everybody, but it’s for anybody who has them.

Plus, BABIES R CUTE!!!

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10 thoughts on “haploid, meet ova, you have lots to talk about

  1. LFMD

    Yeah, babies are cute, and parenting a child is a joy.
    I am moving into a new stage. . . .Now that my daughter is turning 11 in a few months, I am wondering what parenting a teenager will be like. My daughter is already my height, we raised her to speak her mind, and yet I am suddenly starting to feel the tables turn on me. She is a very sweet-natured child, but occasionally she will get very argumentative with me, and I think I am getting a glimpse into the future. Attitude. Emotional highs and lows. Lots of crying over minor issues. (Lately, she has been crying because she thinks our new dog loves ME more) Her friends’ parents tell tales of eye-rolling and backtalking, and I know it only gets worse.
    I know this pre-hormonal stage is normal, but it makes all the previous stages look like a cake walk. Any advise from other parents of tweens?

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  2. Lara

    Great post. And when I showed my 4 year old the Muppet Movie, we watched this scene over and over because it made us both laugh so hard. At the risk of sounding trite, those are the times that make it all worth it.

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  3. GFWD

    Laurie, quit feeding that dog bacon behind your daughter’s back. That’s straight from the Melvin Udall book of persuasion. Smile.
    Kids frazzle your nerves and try your patience but at least thrice a day, they do or say something so unexpected, they either melt your hear or make you feel like a hero. Or, as is starting to be the case, they embarrass the shit out of you.
    (While waiting for my wife in the parking lot of the pediatrician’s office, I was talking on the phone with a friend and commented on the appearance of a little kid walking in, noting that he looked like he had a horn on his head from a bump/bruise that was the size of a ping pong ball. My son was watching a video in the backseat. When we got into the waiting room, the little kid was in there with his mother. Jake went over and played with the kid and eyed the large hematoma like the distraction it was. I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t say anything. To his credit, he did not. He then came back over to me and said, in a voice loud enough for the world to hear, “Daddy, is that the kid with the horn you were talking about?” I could have died.)
    That’s PARENT-hood for you. Pun intended.

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  4. Megan

    I’m sure there are some parents who wish they weren’t. It’s just not culturally acceptable for them to express their ambivalence.

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  5. CM

    Well, this blog can be anonymous, so fire away!
    I would think that they may wish they weren’t parents, but they are glad the kid exists, now that they know him/her.

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  6. Ian

    Megan, that’s an interesting point – and CM seems right too. I’d be interested to know if anyone reading this feels that way.

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  7. Jody

    My parents had me in their teens, so having a child at 25 seemed completely normal. I really enjoyed my parents growing up and wanted my kid to have the same experience. As for those of you x-er parents with infants now…I cannot absofuckinlutely imagine it. It would seem very difficult indeed and having a child earlier in no way helps me imagine what it must be like, I just know what kids are like. It has also removed a great number of our 40something friends from life in the most complete way- but how could you have the gumption for anything else but child duty? An unfortunate part of this is that we do not have very many friends amongst our kid’s classmates’ parents (a dazzling apostropheric construction, no?) because they typically range from 45 to late 50’s
    LFMD: I have a 14 y.o. boy. Given what I’ve seen of his coed classmates over the years, I find them even more terrifying than my middle school years- so sorry, no insight, but good luck-
    Ian, when my parents visited SENIOR year at UNC they were 40. It’s strange to think about.

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  8. Sharon

    Late to the party, but to the questions above: There are days when I look at my childless friends with envy. They have more freedom, and can spend their resources (both financial and emotional)on their own wants and needs. But, I have this Emerson quote at my desk — “… to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.” I work at a job that is rewarding, but I’m not changing the world. I try to do some community service, but that’s limited too. I take some comfort that raising my daughters to be good citizens and compassionate human beings is my little contribution to the world. (And, they’re pretty amusing, most of the time.)

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  9. julie

    Love the post today. I got a big giggle this morning during the drive to school. Sometimes peer pressure can be good as I found out that there is a significant number of first grade boys who are reading “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” So mine now wants to read double the amount of time so he doesn’t get behind and get the “cheese touch.”

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  10. Joanna

    Sharon, I’ve loved that quote since I first read it on a high school graduation card in 1988. Later, I learned it is thought to be erroneously attributed to Emerson and was actually written by a Bessie Stanley in 1905. Here’s a discussion of the issue http://www.transcendentalists.com/success.htm
    Check out the link to a 1905 newspaper article about her award winning essay.

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  11. Joanna

    As for Megan’s comment, I wonder if she’s touching on “parenting” rather than being a parent. There have certainly been stages of parenting that have been more grueling than others. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is out the window when there’s a three year old who’s been waiting for help with his dinosaur puzzle. There were times I loved my children infinitely,wouldn’t have traded being their mama for the world, but really didn’t like my “job” because I was exhausted, isolated or completely stressed out. And that really is uncomfortable to admit.

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  12. jje

    Jody, right back at you! I can’t imagine having kids before my thirties. My husband and I were too busy enjoying the hell out of our twenties, especially on the travel front, and when we hit our thirties, we were ready to be fully there for children. I look at my mom, who had me at 24, and my MIL, who had my husband at 19, and I know that was not the right path for me. Clearly it wasn’t the right path for the majority of my friends, either, and I hardly think any of us are missing out on life because of child duty. I would say that as far as my social circle goes, we all make our lives outside of our children a priority. Heck, I’d wager that we’re better at prioritizing “me time” than the younger parents. On the other side of that coin, though, I know I’m also less selfish than I was in my twenties, not to mention more patient.
    And I do have friends who are in their twenties. At 38, I’m hardly a dinosaur and they’re not whippersnappers – somehow we manage to find enough common ground to be friends. I can’t imagine ruling out someone as a friend because of their age and I hope that won’t happen to me this fall when my oldest hits K. I’m fun and hip, darnit!
    Yes, I’ll give you that we’ll be pretty old when the kids hit college and beyond, but I’d like to think we’ll still be pretty young at heart…and that the gym and botox are nicely pickling us. ;-)

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  13. Anne

    No offense to anyone who chooses to be childless — I respect that — but I cannot imagine, literally cannot imagine not having or not wanting to have children! (I’ve stepparented two, adopted three, and had a biological baby shortly before I turned 41. Now we have a grandchild, as well.) I’m 58 and have one still in the nest until next fall, when he’ll go to college. I began stepparenting when I was 22. I’ve always had a good career. But no career, no amount of travel or designer clothing or BMWs etc., could ever have made me as happy as being a mom does. Plus, when you get old, who will care about you? Who will you send Christmas gifts to? Who will make you smile with a simple email or Skype video chat or phone call?
    Without having kids/babies, who or what forces you to be unselfish and humble and awed all the time?

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  14. karin

    Anne,
    I love reading your comments (and read your blog, too!). I am one of the childless who posted the other day and I feel compelled to respond to your comment today.
    Well, hell. I hope I have a lot of people to send Christmas gifts, too. I know right now that a lot of thought goes into 6 Christmases and 6 birthdays for nieces and nephews, in addition to 5 parents, a brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, my sister and our dear friends. Who will make me smile? Um, my husband, said nieces and nephews. Chances are they’ll all be around with me when I’m old.
    I have a successful career and work really hard (could care less about cars), do get to travel a good deal, occasionally splurge on a killer pair of shoes. But I don’t see those things as happening JUST BECAUSE I don’t have a child. They’re unrelated in my mind.
    I don’t have a child because no child should be born to a set of parents that just doesn’t want him/her badly enough. I guess this is hard to understand and it’s what I’ve struggled with articulating with years. But I know that friends of ours have had children just because they were supposed to and I see that disinterest in their eyes when they’re with their kids.
    Honestly, I sometimes wish that I wanted a baby because it would just be so much more ‘normal.’

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  15. amy

    anne,
    i don’t have children and don’t intend to, and no offense taken, btw.
    i must say that i am thankful that people who have such an innate interest in rearing children, such as yourself, exist. there are plenty of folks who have children who aren’t into parenting, as karin brought up, and that’s so painful to watch.
    i love my nieces and my friend’s kids. i think they are amazing and awesome beings, and i love being in their lives to the extent that i am. but as a full-time responsibility, it’s not for me. there are other parts of my life that make me feel passionate beyond measure. we shall just have to agree to disagree.
    and i hate to bring it up, but i’ve spent enough time with older people whose adult children don’t make time to see them, for one reason or another, to know that must be one of the lowest depths of misery: to raise a child, only to have that child not be there for you later in life. there are no guarantees, kids or no kids. do what makes you happy.

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  16. LFMD

    I have been reading the posts and want to clarify my story. I did not always want to be a parent. In fact, I was ambivalent about it for the early years of my marriage. I thought it was never the right time, was not sure whether I would be a “good” parent, etc. I had a lot of friction with my own mother, and was not confident I would be an adequate mother myself. I did not know if I wanted the responsibility. My husband wanted a child and there came a time around our 4th year of marriage in which having a child was so important to him that he was considering divorce if I was not willing to have a baby. I loved him, knew that HE would be an excellent parent, and I took the giant leap of faith that he could pull up the slack when my inadequacies surfaced. . . . on my 30th birthday, I announced that I wanted to have a baby. Ta da. . . .nearly 11 years later, we have a daughter. She is the joy of my life, and to my shock and awe, I am a much better mother than I thought I would be.
    And yet, as much as I love my daughter, I can still imagine a life without my child. It really could have gone either way 11 years ago. I would probably be divorced, childless, and living a very satisfied life. I would have a lot of time to focus on me and my interests. I would probably be thin and fit! I’d read more, travel more, have more money in the bank! I would probably have a bunch of dogs!
    Megan asked whether there are parents who wish that they weren’t. To that, I say, “Most definitely.” I know parents whose children have dealt with addiction issues, criminal issues, etc. I know parents who are estranged from their children. Parenting is not all sunshine and rainbows. There can be a lot of heartache.
    My husband recently reminded me that our daughter will be out of the house in just 7 years. I cried. I will miss her! She will probably be in college, then living her own life. Hopefully we will remain as close as we are now. But, there are no guarantees.

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  17. killian

    Anne:
    “Without having kids/babies, who or what forces you to be unselfish and humble and awed all the time?”
    In a word, the whole world! What’s NOT to keep me from being selfish, prideful, and bored? The world and the people in it are amazing and amazingly trying and I want to do right by them as best I can. That is my full-time job, my hobby, my greatest joy and greatest pleasure. I am a college professor, I teach dance to 3-year olds, I am an artist, I have friends and family and a beloved. Everything I do keeps me “honest.” Or sure tries to! :D

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  18. T.J.

    Hey, gotta ask: Unless the Final Four scoring is really weird, is there a three-way tie for first in the NIT brackets? And am I one of them? I don’t see that anyone in the Top Ten can score more than Carolina in the NIT Final Four. Lots of Illini, UConn, VaTech, and Arizona States.
    UNC: Trying to be first team since 1950 to hold the NIT and NCAA Championships at the same time!

    Reply

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