Perhaps one of the worst ideas I’ve had recently was to ask a classroom of children how old they thought I was. Results were mixed at best. There was a lot of frowning, head tilting, and insane-sounding numbers like 53 being tossed around for a while before I let them all down by revealing my (much younger) age. One of the more precocious students then informed me that my white hair made me look much older.
Well. Needless to say, he scored very poorly on his spelling test that week.
Questions about my age (and what “stage” of my life I’m currently going through) have been a bit of a theme lately. I keep getting questions from co-workers and (adult) students about when I’m going to settle down and reproduce. Besides the fact that it’s wildly personal, it also strikes me as odd that despite this being 2014, despite feminist battles from days of yore, etc., my future is apparently not a proper future until there are mini versions of myself running through it.
Is that it? The only way I can solidify future plans is to procreate, and until then everything I do is just killing time?
The best laid plans happen in pubs
Over pints with a good friend a while back, I tried to dissect the idea of other people’s ideas of my having a child. My friend and I are both at a stage in our lives where, in the eyes of many, we are meant to be getting on with the business of repopulating the earth. This is only slightly tempered by the fact that we don’t actually want kids, and that even having to bring up the topic for conversation is kind of a waste of quality pub time in our case. We talked about other people we knew and the reasons behind their decisions. For those people who have children, do they do so because they’ve really thought about it and made the decision that yes, they would very much like to take part in raising the next generation? Or do they not think about it and just do so because that’s what one does?
Yes, yes, I know there are a multitude of reasons why people have kids. And, big shocker here – there’s an equally long and varied list of reasons why people don’t. The part that I struggle with is why we don’t seem to value decisions equally when it comes to choosing what warrants a respectable future. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that “care” is a deciding factor. One of the reasons we celebrate parenthood is because of the care that goes into raising a child. It’s hard, admirable work and it deserves respect and note. However, I find it irrational that other care (such as that required in looking after an elderly parent, or a sibling with a disability for example) isn’t measured the same. You’d still hear the same questions about when you’re planning on having kids even if you were caring for someone already.
Social norms, signatures, and suitcases
One of my co-workers asks me quite frequently when I’m going to start a family. And each time I tell her I’m not going to have kids she says the same thing: “But… what will you do?” When she first started saying things like that to me, I felt really irritated. Who was this woman and why did she think I wanted to hear her opinion about my ovaries? When I asked her, she told me that she didn’t want me to become bored with my life. Bored? I’m not sure how she thinks that’s going to happen, considering the life I’ve carved out for myself. I don’t really have the opportunity to be bored. But maybe this is another reason why a life like mine encourages others to worry for my future.
I suppose it goes against a whole host of western social norms that someone comfortably in their 30s would be making no inroads on the property front. I have never owned anything that I couldn’t pack into a suitcase, and haven’t really considered investing in anything beyond sturdy luggage, to be honest.
I can see the draw in home ownership. It’s so much more final than putting a damage deposit down on an apartment. And it isn’t that you can’t get rid of a house, but it’s just so much more work to get it in the first place that you sort of feel obligated to make it permanent, don’t you? And besides, a home is symbolic in so many ways – as everything from an escape from the cruel world to the promise of a roof over your head until you go ever so gently into that good night. It’s hard to separate the idea of being a fully formed adult from the signing of mortgage papers.
The view from here
Despite the best efforts of my six year-old students, the increasingly frequent nagging of my co-worker, and other norms of socially acceptable stages of life which are hoisted onto me, I do feel quite young most of the time. No, not young – youthful. I’m also sure I have a future. It isn’t anything I think many people would recognize as a future. It looks an awful lot like my past, really. It’s filled with windy roads that have bumps and a slightly foggy-looking shoreline somewhere in the distance. I don’t hear the pitter-patter of little feet. I don’t see any white picket fences. But I see nieces and nephews, old friends and new faces, foreign lands and the unintelligible chatter of a language I’ll eventually learn. The lack of children of my own or a house in my name doesn’t darken the picture. The future looks pretty bright to me.