The Little One

  • Barbarella

Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other. — Ed Howe

The gestation period had only been three months — from the date I conceived my little one to the moment she was delivered. During that time, my friends, whom I’d infected with my excitement, would ask me to predict the exact delivery date. But, as those sorts of things go, even after numerous consultations with experts, I was unable to suggest anything more precise than a two-week window.

“I’m thinking of throwing you a shower,” said my friend Jen, two months before the big day. Assuming she was kidding, I laughed it off. When she mentioned it again, I giggled at her continuing joke. But the fourth time she offered, I realized she was serious, and why not? A shower is celebration-inspired consumerism at its least apologetic. An event that unabashedly declares, “A welcome addition will soon enter this woman’s life; therefore, you must select and purchase for her an item from this list she has so kindly assisted in compiling!” Then it hit me — Jen had been joking; I had just been too obtuse to catch her more developed lead-up to an even grander punch line.

“I think I might take you up on the shower thing. I’ve even started to figure out what to register for,” I said to Jen while hiking with her in Torrey Pines.

“Shh, David might hear you, and that would be bad luck,” she said.

Mirroring Jen’s mock seriousness, I said, “Don’t worry, he’s behind me, my words are lost to the ocean breeze. Isn’t that right, David?” I said, in a slightly raised voice.

“What?” David huffed, more from frustration than exhaustion.

“Nothing, beh beh,” I responded, flipping my head to flash my love an adoring smile. Facing forward to Jen, I said, “See? Now, what was I saying...right, there’s this catalog. I’m only thinking of the things I need, of course, things I couldn’t possibly afford at this juncture, what with all the new financial responsibility I’m taking on. It’s not like I’m simply being greedy, you know. It’s just that I had no idea that a basic check up could cost so much. Oh, and I also came up with a few games we might play at the party.”

Jen smirked, perhaps remembering our conversations about the banality of such games, and my countless rants against the myriad vulgarities of gift registration. The subject was dropped in the next moment, as Jen pointed out a slate-colored bunny munching on a blade of grass just ten feet away from us.

My decision to dispense with the child-rearing phase of life allows me to spend what, to those who have chosen to breed, may seem a disproportionate amount of time and money on other subjects of my choosing, be it myself, my friends, or, most recently, my new car. Each day, after custom ordering my Mini Cooper Sport from England, I checked on its progress. I knew when it was being built, when it was placed on a ship to New York, when it was loaded onto a truck to be driven across the country, and when it was delivered to the dealership in Escondido. I picked it up and drove it home to meet its father, David, who was waiting to greet the new addition to our parking garage.

David pampers the car more than I do. He can hardly pass by the miniature machine without taking a soft cloth to some part of it, gently massaging away a fingerprint here, a black smudge there. I express my affection in other ways, like dressing my beloved new thing like me — that is, in red and black, the dominant colors of my wardrobe. Regardless of our different ownership styles, the fact remains that David and I are both enamored with our new toy.

After two weeks of exploring the streets around its new home, the dust-covered Mini was in need of soap and water. David insisted on joining me for this momentous occasion. Just after we pulled into the carwash, a white Mini pulled up next to us. David and I got out of ours and a man and woman exited theirs. Smiles were exchanged and then each couple noted the other’s matching dealer plates. “Hey, no way, yours is new too?” I said, bridging the grinning gap of silence. I learned the cars had been purchased from the same dealer within a week of each other. The four of us made our way into the store, where cards and air fresheners are sold on one side, while on the other, people peer through windows to watch their vehicles go through the automated wash.

“So what’s its name?” asked the woman.

“I’m Barbarella, and this is David,” I said.

“Oh, yes, sorry, I’m Barbara, and this is Frazer. And there,” she said, gesturing through the window at the cream-colored car, “is Pepe.” She raised her brows in expectation.

“Oh, its name, right,” I said. “We don’t have a name for her.” Her disappointed expression made me feel remiss. “I mean, not yet.” I breathed a sigh of relief as the smile returned to her face.

“People at work think I’m crazy the way I talk about Pepe,” she said. “But that’s how I feel when they talk about their kids, so...”

“I totally know what you mean,” I said. I was beginning to like these people.

“I noticed you have a ‘she’; that’s nice. Is this her first bath, then?” I nodded, and the four of us turned to monitor the Minis as they passed slowly by the window. David used his iPhone to take a picture of ours.

It’s common for two adults to make each other’s acquaintance because their children befriended each other at school or in the park. Without knowing a thing about each other, the parents socialize. Because of similar life circumstances, other commonalities are virtually assured and the two gravitate easily toward points of intersection. It’s harder for people like David and me, with our tendencies toward counterculture pursuits, to find likeminded others to whom we can relate.

I was considering all of this when, as if reading my mind, Barbara said, “We should schedule a play date!”

“You mean like take them for a ride to Julian or something? That sounds lovely. It would be their first road trip,” I said.

“Or,” said my new friend and fellow Mini mother, “the four of us can go have dinner or wine, like normal people.”

“I’m about as normal as I want to be,” I said, and handed her my card. “Please, email me.” I thought it might be nice to learn something, anything about these people before setting off on a day trip. “I have an idea — why don’t the two of you come over to our place? You like wine and cheese?”

“We love it,” said Frazer, in a Scottish brogue I hadn’t picked up on when he’d first said hello.

“Great, then. Shoot me an email and we’ll set a date.” The guy standing next to my car waved a blue towel in the air. “That’s us,” I said. “Better go before she suffers separation anxiety.” When I reached my car, I turned and waved goodbye to our new friends, and, as we pulled away, I beeped bye-bye to Pepe.

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The other day I went to Home Depot and bought a crescent wrench. It was the 12-inch model by Husky tools. In the self-checkout line, I noticed a man buying the same model I was buying. We exchanged smiles. He broke the silence by saying, "I've named mine Willie. What your tool's name?"
"Uh, I have a bunch of children that have names. I don't name my tools."
"You're missing out," he said. "Tools are way better than kids. They never talk back, they don't make messes, and they don't do ridiculous things like smile at you like and say, 'I love you DaDa.' Tools don't wear cute clothes. Tools don't keep you young and teach you to be less selfish. Tools don't sing and dance spontaneously. Tools don't awe you every day with their growing minds and imaginations. Tools don't say funny things that make you laugh. Tools don't..." Willie the Crescent Wrench's Dad broke into tears at this point, stumbled out to his pickup (named Burt), drove home, and drank himself into a stupor.

Wow, that sucks for Willie the Crescent Wrench's Dad. He should have reminded himself that tools also don't suck your bank account dry, tools don't convert your entire home into a tool shed, tools don't keep you awake at night, tools don't occupy your entire life and don't require 24/7 attention, making it difficult for you to take extended vacations and spontaneous excursions with friends, tools leave a minimal carbon footprint, and tools don't throw tantrums. I assure you, not everyone who prefers tools to children is crying at the end of the day.

Congratulations on your little addition to the family! Lets hope she never learns to roll over ;-)

Some tools, automobiles for example, leave rather large carbon footprints, don't they? They've also been known to suck bank accounts dry (thereby making it impossible to take extended vacations.)

People who prefer tools and toys to children may not cry over that fact at the end of each day, but they will at the end of their last day on earth.

If you don't want kids, fine. I think you'll regret it, but what the heck, you're a big girl (though not as big as you used to be :)) and can weigh the risks yourself. But please, don't name your car like that misguided lady at the car wash. Don't name your furniture, shoes, kitchen utensils, or crescent wrenches either. Nothing says, "I should have had kids" like naming inanimate objects.


P.S. A single hug and "I wuv you Mama Babawewa" from a little Barb or David is better than any extended vacation ever was. Believe me, I've had both. P.P.S. I wuv your column.

Thank you for reading, Joaquin, and for sharing your opinion. I do not require a miniature me saying "I love you" in order to feel complete in this world, though I certainly appreciate the joy many others get from parenthood, including my sisters, whose children (my nieces and nephews) I love very much. Just as I respect their decision to have children, they respect mine not to. Regarding regret, I point you to the quotation I chose to begin this article: "Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other." There are two sides to every coin, and it seems that both you and I are quite content with the sides we've chosen. Thus, I believe in this case, we can agree to disagree.

Not everyone who chooses to remain childless feels regret from that decision...and not everyone who's had a child feels fullfilled. Joaquin - be happy with your decision to have kids and leave it at that. I often wonder why people who have kids push others to do the same...it's not as though we have a shortage of humans...and there's no way you could know what's best for the rest of us...so...? That said, your Mini really is a cute car...I love it.

"I often wonder," says Jen, "why people who have kids push others to do the same."

Push is such an ugly word. I prefer encourage. The answer to your question, Jen, is we encourage you to have kids because we've found so much joy and fulfillment in it, and we want you, our childless friends whom we love, to experience that same joy and fulfillment. Bear with us, we mean well.

BTW, there's more to that joy and fulfillment than the happiness of watching a three-year-old dance around the living room or receiving a hug from said three-year-old. There's also the joy of learning to live your life for others. The joy of becoming less and less self-centered and more and more devoted to other people, the joy of learning the meaning of the old expression, "It is in giving that we receive."

While we're discussing things we wonder about, I wonder why someone would refer to a thing someone purchased as an "addition to the family." Families are made of people, not consumer items.

Finally, regarding the opening quote, it doesn't take into account the fact that people with babies were once people without them and therefore they have the more informed view point.

Hey Joaquin, before you run around telling people that having kids will make them happier, do some research...you might be surprised by what studies have found regarding parenthood and happiness.

Back in the late 80s, for example, the National Survey of Families and Households tested 9,000 American adults and found that, as a group, parents reported significantly higher rates of depression versus childless adults. This was especially true of parents with young children. On the other hand, "empty nesters" whose kids were full grown reported the same levels of depression as childless adults.

So here's the scientific verdict, which has been confirmed by dozens of subsequent studies: on average, having kids doesn't make people any happier, even when the kids are full grown - and while the kids are younger, parenthood is more likely to bum you out than to make you smile.

Put that in your crib and rock it, daddy-o.

Joaquin suggests,

"BTW, there's more to that joy and fulfillment than the happiness of watching a three-year-old dance around the living room or receiving a hug from said three-year-old. There's also the joy of learning to live your life for others. The joy of becoming less and less self-centered and more and more devoted to other people, the joy of learning the meaning of the old expression, "It is in giving that we receive.""

To which I scratch my head and think, Hmmm... I'm pretty sure Mother Theresa never had children.

So my earlier comment reads a lot jerkier than i intended. Didn't mean to cop the attitude. With the statistic I was just trying to point out that parenthood might not be for everybody. There are certainly folks who thrive from it, like Joaquin, and when that's the situation, everyone wins. My caveat is just that if you're not certain it's for you, or if you're certain it's not for you, the decision deserves a real good thinkin' over.

lightness is spot on, too...there are loads of ways to pursue the noble goal of serving others. Babysitting for your friends with kids comes to mind.

First I would love to be the first to commend Joaquin for going up to bat for those of us who have chosen the parenthood route. Yay, Joaquin! And well said at that. Second, how silly to suggest that Mother Theresa did not have any children. Birthing children through labor is not the only way to enter this journey. She would certainly have disagreed with your unenlightened-Lightness. In my opinion. As for the statistics of happiness in life... if motherhood has taught me anything it is that children pretty much force us to be exactly who we are, for better or worse. If you're a "jerk" (as I was forced to substitute here), there will be no hiding that fact once you have another life to care for. All of the energy that you have spent hiding that fact will be used (hopefully) while meeting the needs of your offspring. To this I commend all "jerks" who decide to not have children-- The world thanks you!! There might not be a statistic that takes into account the way in which our lives are enriched throughout this joyous/ arduous venture. If there was, most likely we'd be too busy to note what it had to say. I keep up on current events but leave the petty stuff to those with nothing else to do.

I think having a child is such a great experience I'm planning to do it again someday soon, but from my "informed viewpoint" (by Joaquin's standard) I don't think everyone without children will regret it some day or that they need to have a child to find out what giving really means. So unless you're a parent you don't know how to be selfless? That's a judgement call I'm not willing to make on someone.

Time with my daughter is amazing, entertaining, and inspiring. Are there also times on a Saturday night I'm up to my elbows in soap bubbles and rubber ducks and have a sad pang for sushi and a fruity martini? Of course, but that's the tradeoff I've personally made and am content with and I know it's not for everybody. Live and let live is my motto.

Your new car is really cute, Barbarella! I think it's so cool how you can customize them to match your style.

Dear obvious,

I think that to some extent we agree -- with, or without, children people are not one thing or another but fall somewhere on a spectrum from saint at one end to jerk on the other.

I think you may have taken my comment regarding Mother Teresa wrongly. My point was that, as Joaquin said, "learning to live your life for others. The joy of becoming less and less self-centered and more and more devoted to other people, and "It is in giving that we receive." does not require having children. If one desires to be a selfless person, a person dedicated to helping others, a person who takes joy in giving rather than receiving, then that is what one does. It has nothing to do with whether or not one has children.

Like jen and snackycakes, I am not opposed to other people having children -- loving them, teaching them, marveling at them, enjoying the patter of their little feet in the house, or whatever other satisfactions one may derive from child rearing, but it is not for me.

And just as I respect a person's decision to have kids, and believe them when they talk of the joy and satisfaction they get from raising a child, I would appreciate that one not be so presumptuous and condescending as to imply that I do not have the intellectual capacity to know what brings ME satisfaction and fulfillment in MY life and, even worse, to have one suggest that they know better than I do. It would be like a meat-eater suggesting to a vegetarian that they cannot possibly have a satisfying life without eating meat.

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