Resolve for the New Year

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:

(credit: http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2013/12/01/22-inspirational-homemade-christmas-card-ideas/)

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!

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Poll for Gen Xers: Parents

Please take a moment to answer this poll, I would love your feedback. I realized that I have some assumptions about my generation’s obligations to our parents based on my own microcultural bias, and I’d really like a broader sampling of opinion. In all scenarios below, let emotional care and involvement be assumed. This is anonymous, by the way. Your parents will never know how you answered…

Child-free series: snowballs of doom

In truth, I did not consult the urban dictionary before naming my blog. If I knew what “badonkadonk” meant to a certain subset of the U.S. population, I probably would have picked something else. But because badonkadonk is a thing, a Google image search of “badinkadink” yields this awesome LOLcat as a top search result, so… totally worth it.

I named this blog as I did to put the D.I.N.K in the ba-dink. That is, Double Income, No Kids. Though most people in my life have been supportive of my choice (and a few even encouraging), it’s certainly the road less traveled. As more and more friends start or expand their families, my circle of childless couples and singles shrinks. Now in my early 30s, I can count them on one hand.

Although no one is demanding that I justify my choice to be child-free, I recognize that this path is an unpopular one, and there are very few voices in the blogosphere to dilute the hundreds of thousands of mommy blogs out there. At the risk of further alienating friends with children, I want to vocalize the many reasons a person may choose not to have kids. After all, you can create babies on accident, but not having children requires conscious choice and thoughtful planning.

Our child-free choice was affirmed today by a Salon article about an electronics-integrated 3-D printed bionic ear. The article smacks of Gattica-like sci-fi, with claims that “a 3-D printer could build a bionic ear capable of detecting frequencies a million times higher than the normal range of hearing,” and that lab-made organs could give people superhuman abilities.

The scientist in me is fascinated by the theoretical potential of all of this, but the humanist in me is horrified that it could become a reality. Visionaries like Gene Roddenberry have already fleshed out (get it?) the cyborg concept with “The Borg” in Star Trek, a cautionary tale about the consequences of mixing man and machine. According to this Salon article, cyborgs are not some fantasy of the distant stardate 41254.7, but instead a reality already cultured in petri dishes and 3-D printers in a lab near you.

It makes me wonder if my friends’ children will become the first “enhanced” generation of humans. Will they regard their nonbioengineered parents as quaint and outdated relics of a pre-bionic time? Will they feel compelled to adapt and engineer their own bodies to compete in a shrinking job market, as the natural body becomes a burden and a liability?

I do wonder if these children will inherit a world of possibility, made infinite by technology, or rather a world bound by technology. True, the threat of a cyborg nation in itself is not a reason to forgo progeny, but it does give me pause. When combined with a dozen other pauses, I’m at a standstill.

One of the most common accusations lobbed at child-free people is that we are selfish. But if I have well-founded concerns about future access to potable water, economic instability, dangers of technological advancements, disappearing coastlines, pandemics, and governmental collapse, is it really selfish to choose not to bring a new person into this mess?

We often say that our children are our future, meaning that they will be the ones to engineer solutions to all of these problems. But they didn’t ask to be born into this snowball of doom, nor did they ask for the responsibility of pushing it back uphill. I don’t think it’s fair to assume the next generation is going to solve problems created by the generations before. I don’t want to pass the buck.

Yep, this post moved from LOLcats to cyborgs to snowballs of doom in just a few short paragraphs. I did warn you in the title. Depending on reader response to this post, I might patent the diplomatic strategy of “Saying Something Controversial While Using Cat Photos as a Distraction” and sell it to the UN as a viable conflict-resolution strategy.