Every Christmas we send an annual newsletter that features photos of us and our dogs–a bit of a wink to the camera (because we know family photos are supposed to feature kids), but also just an accurate reflection of our life. Like this photo meme that has been circulating the interwebs:
I would like to believe the guy in this photo thinks he’s hilarious. I believe he staged it, picked out the perfect knitwear from Goodwill, and found the only photographer in the rural midwest still using this late 70s−early 90s “ghost” photography technique, and then gleefully sent it to friends and family as his Christmas card. I believe he wanted to turn the Christmas card trope on its head. But the Internet, the cruel, cold Internet, has laughed at him, poked fun at him, warned everyone against the danger of becoming “this guy,” because what could be sadder than a Christmas card of a man in a handknit sweater, holding his cat (in a hat)?
This year, for the first time, I wondered if our friends thought us sad. Did they see a kid-shaped hole in our Christmas photos? We’re in our 30s. The major “adult” achievements have already passed:
- Started on career path, check.
- Bought first house: check.
- Repaired first house: ongoing and no longer exciting, check.
- Started a backyard flock of chickens, check.
When our cat joined our family 7 years ago, that was very exciting news, especially since our friends hadn’t started having babies yet, and same story when our first dog joined the family the following year. But by the time we added a second dog, the birth announcements (for children, not puppies) were beginning to show up on Facebook almost daily, and we didn’t gleefully announce the addition of our new puppy to the same mailing list we had before. Compared to the birth of a first child (or second child, or third or fourth) a new dog isn’t a big deal. When friends generously tried to share my new puppy enthusiasm, I brushed them off, feeling a little embarrassed that a new fur kid was the highlight of my year.
Last year we traveled home for Christmas, “home” being where our families live in the Midwest. We really do consider our house in Bellingham home as well, but when you’re talking about going home for Christmas, everyone knows what you mean: it’s where your parents are, or your nieces and nephews, or your siblings.
We spent time getting to know our three nephews, who are in that magical stage of awe and enthusiasm. The holiday was very much about our nephews, and we were glad for it to be. But it was also a huge shift. In past years, family gatherings had been about our parents’ post-retirement travels, our brothers, our jobs, our families’ adult hobbies and interests. The presence of kids changed everything. Without my own anecdotes about kids to share, I felt suddenly that I had little to contribute. I was embarrassed to talk about my chickens, or dogs, or job. They sounded very insignificant next to tow-headed toddlers, who were, rightfully, the center of their parents’ world.
The problem is me, of course, not them. When someone asks me “How are your puppies?” or “How’s your job going?” I’ve gotten in the habit of answering with the deflective “fine.” It’s a conversation stopper, when the asker is really just looking for an avenue into more meaningful conversation. But I’m afraid of being that person who corners someone with a 10 minute story about her Aussiedoodle’s health dramas. (Last week Ursula helped herself to an entire beef bone and spent the next day vomiting blood. She appears to be fine now.)
I struggle to assert that my life has value without children, that I can still be interesting without stories about the crazy things toddlers say and do. So that’s my 2014 challenge. I will ignore the niggling voice that says I’m uninteresting. I will corner you at a party with stories about chasing chickens out of my neighbor’s yard (they DO cross the road, who knows why) and home ownership mishaps. And I will be unapologetic about making my animals pose for glamour shots.
Here’s to 2014!