Selfishly Child-Free. And Happy About It.

I’m really looking forward to NOT having my boyfriend’s babies. He is equally excited about this. In fact, whenever we see a child screaming, we’ve taken to looking at each other, excitedly whispering “NONE” to each other while shaking our fists like a 2-year old about to be handed a popsicle (the irony is not lost on me). Hell, we do that even when a passing child is being all well-behaved and cute. It’s not that we’d be terrible parents, or that we’re just not ready yet, or that we don’t like children.  We just really truly do not want to have children ourselves.

Growing up, I kind of always assumed that when I’d get to, oh, about the age I am now, my hormones would be all aflutter and I’d feel this emptiness in my womb that compelled me to reproduce. Hasn’t happened. I don’t think it’ll ever happen.* And I don’t feel bad about it. In fact, I feel like it might be a good thing to have fewer diapers in landfills. Less lost sleep by neighbours. Fewer restaurant meals interrupted by screaming and food-flinging. Less electricity and water usage (kids = mo’ laundry, mo’ dishes, mo’ baths). But then today, I come across this article that calls me (as part of a now-and-hopefully-forever child-free couple) selfish for not wanting to have children. And here I thought I was lessening my burden on the world by hanging a “Closed For Business” sign on my uterus.

Imagine a scenario where, on a Friday night, after running around like a beheaded chicken at work all week you get home, smooch the person you love, grab a glass of wine and enjoy the silence, the blissful quietude of being a committed and adoring couple — without kids.

For harried couples, it is a fantasy we might indulge in with our partner or spouse before our little darlings jolt us back to Planet Parent with their runny noses to wipe, hockey practices to get to and homework assignments to help with.

But for a significant number of Canadian couples the daydream is just another day in their no-strings and no-brats life.

No brats! Sounds good to me. No strings? Well, I still have bills to pay.

I have at various times considered the possibility of having children. Raising them in an extended family that I’d marry into (having a rather tiny family myself). But it was always this faraway thing that might happen in some nebulous future. Not once have I ever come even remotely close to being all like “Honey, I’m tossing my birth control pills, let’s make a baby!”

And the older I get, the more I enjoy my child-free life. My 7.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Being able to accept spontaneous invitations because I’m not scrambling to find a babysitter. The trips I get to go on because my paycheque isn’t being sunk into daycare and diapers. My body being unburdened by babyweight**. My ladybits not being stretched and contorted and torn to eject a 7 pound squirming football. (Admission: for as long as I can remember, I’ve had this absolute fear of childbirth. FEAR. If, somehow, I were to find myself with a baby inside me and needing to get out, it’s C-section all the way. Judge away, I don’t care. Don’t give me this “natural childbirth is such a beautiful thing” spiel. Don’t lecture me on non-essential surgeries. I’m not listening. And it’s my body. I’ll birth my nonexistent children however I please, thank you very much.)

People of my generation can barely afford to buy a shitty shoebox of a condo (never mind a house), and now we’re being SELFISH for not wanting to take on the financial burden of a child? (Aside: To our boomer parents, it’s your fault we can’t afford to give you grandkids***).

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?

Firstly, fat-free dairy sucks. Seriously. Just fucking skip the dairy if you’re going to take out the very thing that makes dairy so damn delicious. Secondly, if you’re having children so that they will take care of you as you age, then you’re even more selfish than those of us proudly child-free folks. I think I’d rather be in an old-age home being taken care of by people who get paid to be there than my children who are doing it out of guilt. And should be out making their own lives rather than taking care of mine. I suspect that the cost of my eldercare would be less than the expense of child-rearing. It’s a lot of $$ either way. I’d rather not add a heap of familial guilt on top.

I will admit the possibility that the whole article might just be satire. But then I can’t rant about it. And ranting is fun. So I’m going to assume that the piece is, as my sister puts it, ‘a shitty, misinformed, judgmental piece of “writing”‘.

So call me selfish. I can sooooooo live with that.

* Because I not a fortune-teller, and also because I am a statistican and wary of making predictions, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I will not change my mind. I’d say the odds of a change of heart are small and getting smaller all the time.

** Though I almost wish I had an excuse for the extra pounds I’ve been carrying lately. It’s all bacon and beer weight, I can’t lie.

*** I have the best mom. She has never pressured me to have babies so that she could have grandkids. Her take on it has always been on the lines of “I can’t lie, it wouldn’t suck to have some little ones to play with from time to time, but you are your own person. Have them or don’t have them. It’s your life.”

Ushering in a Season of Personal Austerity

September has always been a time of reflection for me. It is my new year. It is my birth month. It is the time to add a blanket on the bed after a summer of sweaty nights. It is the month of reacquaintance with favorite handknit sweaters, even if only in the evenings as the sun sets earlier and earlier. It is the start of a new school year, a new semester (and while I am no longer a student in a formal capacity, but with 10 years of post-secondary behind me, let’s just say I’ve had a LOT of back-to-school Septembers). I still have a ritual of going to the drugstore right around Labour Day to buy myself some new pens (Sharpie fine point pens are my fave) and the September issues of Vogue and InStyle. Because fall fashion is visual comfort food for me. Rich colours. Wool coats. Knee-high boots. Cozy sweaters.

Last September was a time of almost overwhelming optimism. I’d just come back from my first Burning Man, which left me not only with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, but also an amazing group of mostly new friends that I now consider to be among my closest. I’d spent the summer accumulating a variety of new experiences. Expanding my boundaries (while learning that some borders were just as rigid as I’d always thought). Letting go of notions that no longer served me.

This September has blown in on a different wind though. The end of August brought a visit from some familiar but unwelcome dark storms, and it’s really only been in the past week or so that my disposition has returned to its more usual blue-skied self. And instead of a renewed desire to explore, to experience, to float on the whims of the universe*, I feel a need to contract, to tighten, to slow down, to nourish, to turn inwards.

It feels like a spell of personal austerity is in order. A time to repay the self, if you will. In several senses.

1. Financial austerity: I recently cancelled a planned trip to Cuba as I need to finish paying off the excesses of summer (hello Visa balance? You are about to be history.) Time to start actually saving for things before I buy them. Like I used to. I know, crazy concept.

2. Dietary austerity – long afternoons of cocktails and bacon-laden burgers,  late-night snacks of, well, more bacon, plus much birthday cake** have left me dreading putting on my jeans in the morning. My favorite pair still fits. But barely. And right out of the dryer? It’s a struggle. Involving some strange yoga. I refuse to buy another pair in a larger size (see point 1 – I’d rather spend my money diversifying my wardrobe rather than replacing it). It’s less about vanity and more about just wanting to (literally) feel comfortable in the clothes that I already own.  I owe my body a break from the too-regular indulgences of late. And I owe it a bit more exercise. I’m never going to be one of those gym-every-day, super fitness-y people (props to those people though… I respect the dedication), but a bit more cycling, more swimming, and more yoga are definitely in order. And less bacon. But not NO bacon. Come on now.

3. Temporal austerity – Firstly, I need to start getting more sleep. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but ya. Sleep. Good. I have two jobs. I have a lot of interests. I need time for creative endeavours. I am blessed with a (seemingly ever-growing) number of amazing friends who I do like to spend face-to-face time with, because text messages aren’t enough.  I’m still trying to figure out how best to balance all of the various ways I could choose to spend the hours of each of my days. Sometimes it feels like a big game of Tetris… 8 hour sleep block… 3 hour friend hang-out block… 1 hour cooking block… 2 hour knitting/TV block… I need more lazy blocks. This whole weekend was pretty much one of those. And lo’ and behold, I woke up EARLY on Monday. Well-rested.  And had a productive day. FANCY THAT!

4. Mental austerity – I have a whole stack of books, some half-read, some not yet started, that I intend to get to. Like soon. Mostly non-fiction books about topics that I care about and would like to delve into in a deeper way. Education, sociology (I’m particularly interested in motivation and choice), pedagogy, sexuality… so many fascinating ideas to meld with my own opinions and notions about how the world works,  how brains work, and how I work. (And really, finding out how *I* work has really been the most fascinating part of the last few years.) So it’s time to focus on some of these intellectual pursuits. And maybe even take some time to write about them.

Yes, I realize that points 3) and 4) are going to be in conflict. I never said this was going to be easy. It is necessary though.

Will there be a cost to these austerity measures? Sure. I’ll miss out on events that I’m sure I’d really enjoy because I’m staying home to read. I’ll put myself to bed early, even if it means that Breaking Bad will have to wait. To my friends who will surely order a bacon cheeseburger in my presence, only to have me steal a bite before returning to whatever I ordered, I apologize in advance. (Although I already just help myself to everybody’s food. I’ll just have less decadent things to offer in return LOL.)

But when I emerge from my season of parsimony, I’m sure I’ll be renewed, nourished, energized, and ready to explore and expand again…

* I don’t mean universe as a euphemism for anything spiritual. I mean the set of experiences that go on around me through no agency of my own.

** NOT a complaint. I will never complain about birthday cake. Especially the amazingly decadent chocolate creation that my friends bought me. But there’s a reason cake is a sometimes food.

Dear evil thought monster: I reject your (false) reality and substitute my own.

So, for the first time in about a year and a half, I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk the last three weeks. I won’t quite call it a depression (as I’ve been there and this isn’t the same all-encompassing pit of darkness that turned me into a sobbing puddle of a person for longer than I’d like to admit). But it is familiar. And awfully persistent. And seems to be getting worse. And I know where this road leads.

I know exactly when it leapt out of dormancy… I got home from a wonderful (but too short) family vacation, having had the most AMAZING drive home through the Kootenays. And the near-euphoria I felt that day (Okanagan peaches! ice cream! gorgeous clouds and mountains!) burst into a fireball of anger when I plugged back into the internet, just as the whole “legitimate rape” business was tearing across the Twitterverse like wildfire. I had this whole vision of ragequitting my uterus, which in my twisted mind involved me cutting open my abdomen, ripping the damned thing out of my body and flinging it across the room, like a strange new kind of hara-kiri. (It didn’t help that I had just watched the original 1962 samurai movie Hara-Kiri the week before). That was the trigger.

And then, through my rage-goggles, it was fascinating to observe the reactions to the whole incident, on Facebook, on Twitter, on the blogs I follow, etc. And my own reactions, both to the comment in question, and the aftermath thereof. It seemed like whatever thoughts and feelings I had, somebody else had already expressed them. And more eloquently than I would have. I wrote a couple of blog posts. And then deleted them. I couldn’t imagine what I could possibly add that hadn’t already been said. A feeling of irrelevance.

It got worse when I counted and realized that I had almost a dozen nearly-finished posts that I’d written in the last 6 months. And I’d never gotten around to just hitting “Publish”. Because I never felt that they were “good enough”. Or “interesting enough”.  Or “witty enough”. A feeling of irrelevance.

It got worse during conversations with friends who are amazingly talented and doing terribly interesting and awesome and impactful things with their lives. While I feel like I’ve been stagnating for years. A feeling of irrelevance.

It got worse when I started thinking about my upcoming birthday, and how I’ve had a few birthday experiences in recent years where I feel like I could have disappeared and nobody would have noticed. No, I never tested that theory. I wasn’t willing to risk that the hypothesis might be true. Because that would confirm my feeling of irrelevance.

It doesn’t help that I’m an introvert. It doesn’t help that I’m a highly sensitive person. It doesn’t help that I’m in a field where the work is pretty  much solitary and where there is very little affirmation of relevance. Ever. (Academia rather sucks as a source of affirmation, unless you are brilliant at self-promotion, just plain brilliant, or and/or super passionate about your field – guess what, I’m none of those things!)

I know I need to make some changes in my life and find ways to create more meaning for myself. I know I need to keep connecting with the amazing people in my life who support me, celebrate my quirks and weirdnesses, and are as willing to share my pain as well as my happiness. Because I know they’d notice if I just disappeared.

But I’m also making a conscious choice to not let this thought monster get the better of me. And so here I am. Writing. For me. (And for my sister, who is obligated to read everything I write. ‘Tis the nature of our familial obligation.) I guess this is my way of giving myself permission to be relevant.

And to say to depression: you can just fuck right off.

I love you.

I’ve decided not to go on my usual anti-Valentine’s Day rant this year. It’s so easy to be a hater, so I’m going to put that aside, pour myself a nice glass of scotch and just say: I love you.

To everybody who’s made me laugh in the last year, I love you.

To all my dance friends who have taken me for a spin around the floor, I love you.

To the friends who have let me cry on their shoulders and sat with me in my moments of darkness, I love you.

To all my companions on my many and various crazy adventures in the last year, I love you.

To everyone who has listened when I asked for help, or given me a hug, or just a empathetic ear, I love you.

To those who have held a little piece of my heart if even for a short while, I love you.

To those who have seen me in my moments of craziness, and stuck by me, I love you.

To N, for continued friendship and grace in the heartache of transition, I love you.

To my mother, for embarking on new adventures of your own, I love you.

And most of all, to my inspiring, brilliant, empathetic, curious, vulnerable, funny, beautiful, brave sistertwin, I love you more than anyone can understand. I still remember the moment when I realized that even if you died, I wouldn’t have to miss you all that much because you are so much a part of me. That said, don’t go anywhere just yet. We have a whole world to take over.

And, because everything is better with music, here’s my current musical crush The Civil Wars doing a cover of one of my favorite love songs.

Tuesday Tuneage

Been in a mega programming haze at work since New Year’s. Trying to do whole new analysis with a dataset I’d never worked with for a deadline next week. Taking longer than expected. Might be a few late nights coming.

There are two things that keep me going when I have to sink myself into lines of code for hours and hours at a time: coffee and tunes. The tunes might even be more important than the caffeine. This week it’s been mostly bassy ambient-ish shoe-gazey dubstep-lite type stuff. Swarms. Star Slinger. Bonobo. Stuff like that. But usually there comes a point in the afternoon (oooo, around 3pm when my body is angling for a nap), when I need something upbeat, light, and maybe a bit silly to perk me up. This song has fit the bill most days the last two weeks.

I don’t really care for the original. But the remix? Cute, goofy, ridiculous, catchy. Almost makes me want to scour the thrift stores for my own velvet Elvis. Almost.

Alex Winston – Velvet Elvis ( Crystal Fighters Remix)

2011. Hot damn.

For me, this has been the kind of year that knocks something loose in your soul, that rearranges the furniture in your heart, and after which you will never see the world the same way again.

Explanation of blog name change to follow eventually. Suffice it to say (for now), the original premise has expired.

The Coles Notes version of the plot of 2011 is as follows:

– Quit my PhD.
– Husband and I separated after 9 months of marriage. (We are still friends, love each other and remain each other’s greatest supporters. No really. Airing of dirty laundry not forthcoming.)
– Went on a slew of crazy (for me) adventures this summer. Relationship adventures. Friendship adventures. Thought adventures. Camping adventures.
– Burning Man. ‘Nuf said.
– Met some AMAZING people. Reconnected in a whole new way with other friends I’ve known for a while. Renewed and deepened my wonderful relationship with my sister.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few big BIG lessons:

1. When people do things that are hurtful or (self) destructive, it serves them in some way. They get something positive out of it. We can’t begin to fix the problem (in ourselves or others) until we recognize this. I’ve had to apply this both to my own behaviour, and to that of others around me. (Thanks Aram for naming this. It’s resonated so profoundly for me.)

2. I am weird. I LIKE my weirdness. I only want to spend time with people who also like my weirdness. Thankfully, these people exist.

3. I don’t need to change my introvert HSP self to fit into the world. I can, however, change my corner of the world to fit me one little bit at a time.

4. Depression is real. It is so easy to fall into a pit of darkness from which there seems to be no escape.

5. Love comes in more forms than I had ever imagined.

6. To truly enjoy life, you need to let go of expectations. Especially the ones you have of yourself.

7. It is incredibly humbling and liberating to realize that you can blow up your world and there are people who will help you remove the shrapnel from your soul and hold your hand while you start healing.

8. My sister is the most special companion a girl could ever ask for. In some ways we are polar opposites. In some ways we are thought twins. Don’t ask me how that works. Spend some time with us and you’ll understand. Or be totally weirded out.

9. When you truly, fully, completely surrender to the universe the most amazing and wonderful things happen that you could never have planned or foreseen.

To everyone who has brought some light and laughter to my year, whether it was a funny Facebook post, a hug, or a roadtrip, a million thanks. It’s been the worst of times and the best of times. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

I’m still alive.

I know. Blogs are supposed to be updated regularly. And in the last three months, I’ve often thought about it. Written entire posts in my head. But then stopped because I wasn’t sure I wanted to release all of the intense emotions of the last few months out into the world. I’ll give you the big picture though.

Jumping out of the Ivory Tower: Right after New Year’s, I decided to quit my PhD. Probably the hardest decision of my life. But it had to happen. I had never been so miserable. It felt like my soul was eating itself from the inside out. My marriage was probably on track for a quick end (I don’t want to how much longer I had left before N pulled the plug. It probably wasn’t long at all.) My normal happy, easygoing personality was being subsumed into a quagmire of extreme self-doubt, depression, pessimism. A year and a half of misery. The worst of it though was that I kept being told that in order to get through this program, I’d have to basically do nothing else. No dancing. No social life. Someone actually suggested that it was perfectly OK to not do laundry or dishes (ever? I asked myself, incredulously – I’m sorry, but there are very few reasons that I would ever re-wear underwear without a toss in the washing machine. A thesis is not one of them). Spending TIME with my friends and family? Effectively out of the question. And then I realized that this would all be for nothing. I don’t really want to do a thesis. I don’t want to be a professor. I figure if I’m good enough at what I do, I should be able to get whatever job I want, degree or no degree. And more than any job, I want a LIFE. A life that includes all the things I value, like my friends, like travelling, like sleeping, like dancing, like sitting in a park reading a book if that’s what I bloody well want to do.

So I jumped. Scary as hell, I thought I was going to vomit the whole way up the hill to tell my supervisor I was quitting, but I was caught by an amazing parachute of support. The best thing anybody has said to me after quitting: “You’re yourself again”. Who the heck else would I want to be?

Leaving a house, but gaining a place where I can live on my own terms: I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that when your father-in-law moves back in on a day’s notice, you start looking for a new place. So we left my husband’s childhood home (that we’d lived in for almost two years and gotten married in) and, in a bit of a hurry, and with a bit of couchsurfing along the way, found ourselves an apartment. Two blocks away. Which is just far enough. We’d had pipe dreams of raising children in that house, but alas. At least we’re still in the ‘hood. But for someone who is extremely sensitive to space (being an HSP and all), having a month where I didn’t know where I was going to live was unnerving to say the least. Now we’re all moved in.. but it doesn’t feel like home yet. Half of our stuff is still in storage, so there are empty bookshelves and things that don’t have a proper spot. And it feels temporary in a way I can’t quite describe. Maybe this will force me to become completely at home within myself, so I no longer need to define “home” as a collection of space and stuff.

Surviving a week in San Francisco: Combine a four-day salsa festival, my troupe’s biggest performance to date, sweaty nights of dancing and partying, a cold that came out of nowhere, a crazy long hike, sleeping in five beds in ten days, a fair amount of wine (almost all swigged straight from the bottle, classy girl that I am), and the only city I’ve ever visited where I could actually see myself living in (like actually envisioned in my head what my life could be like there)… and you get a physically and emotionally drained girl. (Add in coming home to an empty apartment as the Man is on the other side of the country for three weeks). To add insult to injury, I was channel-surfing late last night and happened to stumble across a travel show about the Bay Area. My heart actually ached to see all these streets and neighbourhoods that I’d been in just hours before. Oddest sensation, that.

30 has been the most intense year of my life so far, kinda being a continuation of the craziness that was 29, but with lower lows and higher highs. I keep hoping that at some point things will chill out. I could use a break in the clouds.