|Posted on November 12, 2013 at 10:25 PM|
The sound was between a gentle croon, a moist sob, and the whine of a cordless drill, and it continued more or less unabated for a good fifteen minutes. Occasionally, the endless, hiccupy drone was punctuated with something akin to a sob: “I….want…can…dy.” The instigator of this discordance was a boy who looked to be about six or seven years old, and who was having no hesitation about expressing his discontent to most of Fred Meyer’s customers, regardless of his tight-lipped mother’s expression.
“Don’t make eye contact,” I whispered to my partner at the checkout as he exclaimed, “Aw, poor little guy!” Focused as he’d been on finding rubber gloves for kitchen assistance (don’t ask), my guy had apparently been unaware of the boy’s manufactured distress. As we left the store, the mother was pushing the cart in a grimly determined stride towards the parking lot, her offspring still attempting to wail “I…want…c-c-candy!” despite being interrupted by wet coughing, more hiccups, and a general snarling whine. If I had been her, I would have been inclined to introduce my child to true deprivation: bedtime at 6:00, without supper.
Believe it or not, I used to want seven children. Yes, seven. I even had their genders figured out (how exactly this was going to unfold, God only knew): four boys and three girls. The boys would have been named Nicholas Patrick, Andrew James (Drew for short), Henry Alexander, and Christian Valentine (everyone would’ve called him “Val”). The girls would have been Samantha Juliet, Laura Annette, and Veronica Kathleen (everyone would’ve called her “Ronnie”).
Oh, they would have been a merry brood, indeed! Would I have dressed them identically, a la All Of A Kind Family or Cheaper By the Dozen to freak out the neighbors? Would enough of them have had musical talent (it runs on my mother’s side) for us to form a band? Would we have been our own soccer or baseball team? Would the holidays have been a happy cascade of shredded wrapping paper and shrieks of joy, with all of them lining both sides of the table for a prime rib Christmas dinner?
At this point, I’ll probably never know, as several things about parenting have become abundantly clear to me over the past twenty-five years:
1) You have to be willing to be on call 24-7 and always put someone else’s needs first to be a really good parent. This, I’ve slowly had to acknowledge, is not something I’m always willing to do at the drop of a hat. There is my partner to take care of, first of all. There are movies and plays to see, books to read, various writing projects (including this one) to complete, friendships to maintain, and a house to keep up.
On an average day, I come home from work exhausted, and contemplating lesson planning and grading work (not to mention my ongoing search for a full-time position), my arms spilling groceries, mail, and the results of various errands all over the stairs. I then cast a dubious eye at the phone flashing “NEW VOICE MAIL,” the computer overflowing with e-mail, the sink full of food to prepare for dinner, the dishwasher that needs emptying, the garbage and recycling that needs dumping, the DVR that’s been 91% full for three years, three giant stacks of newspapers by my side of the bed (and unread magazines stuffed in drawers), not to mention yard work, house work, keeping my ear to the ground about my dad (now 72, living alone in Tacoma, and starting to battle dementia), trying to hit the gym three nights a week for exercise, etc. etc. etc. Whew!
And I think, “How in the name of God or Gaga could I do all this and take care of just ONE kid?” (Especially if they were a toddler and/or still in diapers?)
2) You have to have a decent income to be a parent - and the life of a substitute teacher and sometime creative writer does not necessarily lend itself to that. By the time an average American kid hits college age (dear God, college tuition!), he or she tends to have cost his or her parents around $300,000 over eighteen years. Considering that my partner and I have not had a vacation of more than four days since our honeymoon to Hawaii thirteen years ago, the expense is somewhat mind-boggling.
The Duggars of 19 and Counting
3) You have to have the patience of a saint to be a parent, as my friend demonstrated one day by tightly holding a screaming, thrashing two-year-old on her lap for two-plus hours while he learned, “We don’t hit mommy.” As someone who once lasted about thirty minutes babysitting a kid who informed me – repeatedly - “I don’t like you” before I responded, in a Clint Eastwood-style growl, “I don’t like you either, kid,” I don’t foresee me handling these little life challenges well. To say nothing of various body fluids smeared on walls, broken heirlooms or bric-a-brac, or a kid who decides one day, in a fit of unbridled pique, to sit herself down on a sand dune at the Oregon Coast and just scream at the top of her lungs, in a tantrum that rivaled Alec Baldwin on a bad day. And this is before they become adolescents - a group I currently teach, and let me tell you, there’s nothing like a day spent with 6th grade girls (vain, superficial, and mean) and 8th grade boys (gross, violent, weird ideas about masculinity, video games) to make you come home and pour a vaseful of wine.
Moreover, as I age, I become more and more concerned about the state of the world we’re living in. What will we do with all the garbage? What about global warming or acidification? What about clean water? How will a planet that can comfortably support 2-3 billion people handle almost 7 billion, let alone 9 billion or more by the time I plan on taking my exit sometime around 2060? How can I justify bringing more kids into the world, just to satisfy my own ego? (“I only wanted to see my face in yours,” as Marvin sings at the end of March of the Falsettos.)
There are few people I hate more right now than the Duggars—those clean-cut, Bible-believing Arkansas folks who, as Clairee puts it in Steel Magnolias, look “like they’re carved out of cream cheese.” Every year or so, regardless of dark rumblings about the future of the planet (and let alone wife Michelle’s miscarriages), the Duggars crank out another kid, the better for the ratings of their TLC show 19 Kids and Counting. At the rate they’re reproducing, in a couple generations the Duggars will have enough family members to take over a town, let alone one of the smaller Southern states. (Take Mississippi or Alabama - please.)
The reason all of this has been rattling around in my head recently ties into the “baby boom” - or “gayby boom” - going on among many gays and lesbians. Many gays, of course, already have children from heterosexual marriages that imploded upon their coming out; their children, largely well-adjusted and happy according to COLAGE (Children Of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), are helping reshape the world’s ideas of what kids raised by gay parents turn out to be. Now, however, as marriage equality continues to spread and a variety of family-planning options continue to multiply, more and more gay couples are utilizing insemination, surrogates, and the like to have biological children. (Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s beautiful towheaded twins, Gideon and Harper, are just two extremely photogenic examples.)
NPH, David Burtka and the kids.
However, as the planet’s population continues to increase, and there continues to be a large reservoir of kids cycling through foster care and what we used to call “orphanages” - somewhere between a quarter million and a million each year - I do occasionally wonder about people, gay or straight, who are so determined to have “their own kids” when there are so many children out there in the system who are desperate for love and consistency from caring would-be parents or guardians.
Statistically, gay and lesbian people have always adopted non-white kids and special-needs kids at a higher rate than the general population, possibly because they knew that this might be their only opportunity or avenue to be a parent. But now, in our uber-competitive world, who wants to take a “risk” on a kid with a learning disability, with a physical challenge, with anger or emotional issues, with younger siblings? (If you read some of the case histories of the kids I’ve met in my life - kids with pages of parental neglect or abuse over the years - you’d have no trouble understanding the anger issues.)
I decided a long time ago that, if I wasn’t prepared or willing to have kids of my own, and if being “guncle” to my friends’ kids wasn’t enough, the least I could do was work in education, and try to be a caring adult figure to hundreds of kids every day, even if only for a few minutes. As a former gay kid who was bullied back before it was part of the national dialogue - back when it was accepted that a student could punch a smaller kid in the stomach hard enough to produce tears and nausea, and not even be sent to the office - I know all too well the value of the kind word, the understanding look, the listening ear, the image of a caring adult male in a world that values brute strength and jacked-up “masculinity” over gentleness.
Students in my classrooms regularly ask if I have kids, or even say “You’d be such a cool dad.” I always respond, “You’re all my kids.” Then, right as they say “Awwww,” I add, with just a touch of an edge, “I love you, I take care of you, I’m there for you - and then I go home. It’s quiet there.” That usually gets a big laugh.
Then I go home.
It’s quiet there.
I like it.
Categories: Other Voices