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What? Me Reproduce?

"The perpetuity by generation is common to beasts; but memory, merit,
and noble works are proper to men.   And surely a man shall see the
noblest works and foundations have proceeded from childless men, which have
shought to express the images of their minds, where those of their
bodies have failed.  So the care of posterity is most in them who have no
posterity." - Francis Bacon

It’s a persistent drumbeat, a siren’s call, this biology. It has been asked of me, implied as my destiny, shoved under my nose since my adolescence. It is a question that perfect strangers feel justified to ask me, on very short acquaintance.

Them: "Got kids?"

Me: "Nope."

Now, you’d think that my one-word reply would put an end to that conversational tack, and the subject would be changed to Something Completely Different- and in every other case, it would be. But not this subject. Oh, no.

Them: "Why not?"

Me (beginning to morph into my Grouchy Polar Bear alter-ego): "Don’t want ‘em."

Now, most observant folks would see my chin and eyebrows rise, and ever so little more white showing around my normally friendly violet eyes, and would back off and change the subject. But there are some baby-vangelicals who are oblivious of their rudeness, and its effect on others.

Them: "Doncha like kids? Right guy didn’t come along? Think you’re too good to have ‘em? Who’ll take care of you when you get old? Children are a gift from God! You’re not a true woman if you don’t have babies. What’s wrong with you? You must be selfish or a child-hater. Science can fix you if you’re infertile. Why don’t you adopt? You’ll change your mind! {insert pronatal cliché here…}"

Me (Channeling Darth Vader and targeting the miscreant for annihilation): "The subject is closed. Do not bring it up again."

Ah, yes- total strangers in this country are mostly polite, except for this intimate and very personal subject. Ones reproductive capacity is automatically part of the public domain, and any more, there is no way to avoid the discussion. Still, I consider such questions intrusive and the height of rudeness, and will refuse to play along. If they persist, and I cannot escape, my Polar Bear alter-ego will usually dredge up an intimately squicky sexually or biologically oriented personal question to shut them down with. I only had to resort to this once in my 21 years in the public domain.

I have no children, and I have known since I was prepubescent that I didn’t want to have children. Caring for a brother 9 years my junior was mommy-time enough for me, thank you. I have put more thought and effort in avoiding pregnancy and motherhood than most people ever put into actually having kids. Statistically, more than 50% of pregnancies are unintentional. That means that over half of the people wandering around the malls, driving slowly in front of me, plowing under arable fields for more homes, overcrowding the schools, and bursting from the seams of this planet were accidents. Pretty scary to consider. I was conceived 5 years into my parents’ 45 year marriage- so I know I wasn’t an accident. My sister landed on the planet three years to the day after my appearance. And my brother was an oops-a-baby.

 No, I don’t hate kids, but I don’t particularly enjoy their company, either- especially the younger ones. More mature ones and teens I like. They can usually speak and think rationally, and I find their company refreshing and inspirational. Babies and tiny tots leave me cold. The cries and shrieks of infants and toddlers send me rapidly in the opposite direction of the noise. I am extremely sensitive to loud, high-pitched sounds. And I am averse to chaos and disorder, unless I have created it. (Then it is creative clutter, because I know where the heck everything is.) And I gag at bad odors.

Kids are demanding, time-consuming, and expensive. They may carry the parental DNA, but they are individuals. Many parents don’t understand this basic tenet, and try to mold their kids into their own image and expectations. When tempers explode and defiance occurs, sometimes the parents ‘throw away’ their kids emotionally. Many parents have this absurd idea that their offspring is a tabula rasa, a blank clay slate to write their hopes and dreams upon and mold into the shape they desire. But everyone has their own personality- even as tiny babies. It takes a keen awareness to detail and subtle behaviors to see these proto-traits in small kids, and most parents have no clue about this. Some people have kids ‘to have someone to love them’. Hello! Love is a mature emotion! Your kid won’t understand ‘love’ until he or she is at least 7 or older! If this cluelessness to detail continues, heartbreak is waiting down the road.

Our culture dotes on parents and kids. "Family values" and "for the children" are cliched cornerstones in the political discourse, signaling that parents and kids will get most of the attention and entitlements. Yes, they should get a few, because parenting is a difficult and dirty job, with few ‘Kodak moments’ to enjoy. But the politicians pander to families to the exclusion of everyone else- singles, empty nesters, child-free and childless infertiles. If you are single and have no kids, you are transparent and don’t really register on the cultural radar, unless you’re looking for a mate. If you are poor, single and childless, you basically do not exist. There is no medical care, shelter, money, or other perks for you because only your kids count- you, a viable adult- do not.

This reversal of value is disturbing, and points out a major flaw in our culture. We revere our babies more than our elders. A baby matters more than an adult. Younger trumps older. Youth is the prime demographic. Elders over the age of 45 don’t even register. This is strange. Consider this typical event: A medivac helicopter carrying a sick premature infant to a hospital crashes. Everyone on board dies: the four adults and the baby. The headlines scream, "Baby killed in tragic crash!" And as an afterthought, often in much smaller type: "Four adults also die". Yes, it was tragic that the infant died. But what about the four trained, experienced adults who were doctors, nurses, and pilots who had spouses, perhaps their own children; and friends, acquaintances and colleagues? Their loss will leave a far larger hole in many more lives than one tiny baby. Yet these adults are barely mentioned, and their lives and professions glossed over. The baby will leave only its parents and immediate family. It has hardly made any impact on the world, except for perhaps its birth announcement. This is totally puzzling to me, yet it is the norm in America and many other Western countries.

I grew up overseas in a culture that, if the house was on fire, and one had to choose to rescue the wizened grandparents or the newborn baby, there would be no question that the venerable elders would be the first ones carried out of the door. They hold all the wisdom and memory of the family, they have all the experience and authority. A baby does not. Babies are valuable, but in Asian and Native American cultures, they gain more value as they mature. The older you are, the more valuable you are. If you are laid up with your foot in a cast and unable to walk, would you choose the wandering toddler or the helpful 8-year old to bring you your tea? Will the 12-year old or the highly trained and experienced IT tech be the one to troubleshoot and replace your PC’s power supply? Yeah, some would choose the kid, but I’d pick the tech. And I’d let the kid watch and learn. I watched and learned when I was a kid.

Ok, you might think me heartless, but this is common sense. However, I have noticed that common sense is rather uncommon, especially where kids are concerned.

I have also noticed that the style of parenting has changed considerably from when I was a kid. If I acted up, I was corrected, sometimes spanked. It did not matter if I was at home or in public, my actions had swift and sometimes painful consequences. I learned that by behaving, I could avoid the pain and humiliation of being paddled. I was taught that being out in public wasn’t a right, it was a privilege, and I’d better be on my best behavior. Act like a lady. Look, but don’t touch. No "I-wants and the gimmes". Proper table manners. Please, thank you, and excuse me. Do not interrupt grown-ups talking. Don’t bother strangers. Bring your own entertainment. Sit still, be quiet. You will get to go there and do that when you are older. Childhood was fun, but it was also preparation for being a responsible and likeable adult.

Sometime between the late sixties and today, I must have been transported to the Planet of the Spoiled Kids, because the tenets of my childhood outlined above are now the exception rather than the rule. Today’s kids rule the roost. They are not adults-in-training. They tantrum and roll in the grocery store aisles, scream and backtalk their parents, and use hideous language. They demand everything they see, loudly. They wander up to strangers’ tables in restaurants and beg for food, or try to snatch it off plates. They demand constant attention and entertainment. They are taken to venues inappropriate for their ages and interests. And the kiddie-whipped parents expect all around them to yield to them and their offspring, because they are Parents, and can do no wrong. Unless they actually do discipline their kids, in which case they’ll be jailed. "It takes a village to raise a child," they happily quote before turning their little angels loose to raze the village. And we the villagers dare not complain about or correct the kids, or else we will be branded child-haters, or sued.

Some of these kids turn out OK in spite of this lack of boundaries. They become intelligent, articulate, responsible and productive adults, and a joy to work with. Many others, unfortunately, see adulthood as childhood with a paycheck, and act as selfishly and oblivious to the needs and feelings of others as they did when they were toddlers. They cannot read, write or think in a coherent manner, and have no concept of responsibility to either themselves or others around them. They want to start out at the top, and unfortunately, soon quite a few literally do: digging holes because they can’t hold down a regular job. They become bitter and disillusioned when they move into the adult sphere because they are no longer automatically revered and deferred to- they have to survive on their own merit. Some make it, after years of hard knocks and ruthless corrections. Others, disappointed in the big bad world, move back in with their parents and sponge off them for the rest of their lives.

It saddens me that some people think of purposely child-or ward-free people like me as hateful and selfish. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hate is a pretty strong word to be bandying about like this, but some think that the rapidly growing childfree movement is a hate group. That could not be farther from the truth, either. Yes, people in this movement can be loudly intolerant of entitlement-poisoned parents and rude and bratty kids, but that isn’t hateful, it’s an indication that the inherent selfishness and rudeness of the childed class has been noticed, and corrective measures need to be taken to rebalance and redress this problem. There are many more people without kids today than there are people who have them, and the sleeping childfree giant is beginning to stir awake. The accusations of hate are typical of a threatened privileged group. They will eventually learn that our needs will benefit them, too- even parents need a break from kids- and that we can coexist with little friction. This will take a while.

If I am vocally child-intolerant, doesn’t that make me a threat to children? Far from it. I don’t hate kids, I simply prefer to have as little to do with kids as I can. If they are forced upon me, either by inattentive and doting parents or by their own lack of civilized behavior, I will remove myself from their presence if I can. But I won’t back down if I paid good money for the meal or movie that is being ruined by unruly kids. I will politely try to correct the problem. I’ll be a good citizen, even if the parents won’t . And they shouldn’t worry about people like me; they should worry about people who like their kids too much. The biggest danger to kids today are their own families and close relatives.

And I welcome the company of well-behaved kids- especially older kids and teens. I find their outlook refreshing, and enjoy learning stuff about them. And they enjoy the company of an adult who treats them like real people, not icons. Because I am not a parent, I do not have many of the blocks and worries parents have, and can interact with young people as individuals. Kids need ‘villagers’ like me in their lives to validate their individuality and intelligence. Often, the outsider sees things in kids that parents, teachers, and others who work closely with them miss. As an Eccentric, I look for budding young intelligent eccentrics and provide them with encouragement and motivation to listen to that different beat. Too often such bright young lights are extinguished by their peers constant teasing and bullying. If our country is to remain great, these young minds need to be given a chance to think their own thoughts and be true to themselves.

And what about the specter of selfishness that is raised? Parents love to call people without kids selfish and irresponsible. This is totally ludicrous- having a kid is probably the most selfish thing one can do. Not having kids, on the other hand, indicates an understanding of the impact that having children can have on your life, your country, and the planet at large. The overcrowded world isn’t going to miss one kid. And I am not stupid enough to believe that replicating half of my DNA will make me immortal. My body ends at my death. My words and thoughts, if they survive, will be my legacy, and will impact many more people in many different ways than my raising one child will. In the metaphysical world in which I spend most of my time and thoughts it is well understood that a single word, a single sentence can influence the direction of someone’s life. Five minutes in the company of an enlightened Master can be the equivalent of five years with a family member or spouse. One casual conversation with a total stranger on an airplane can have a profound impact on the direction of your life. I know this is true- it has happened to me- many times. And I know that I have been the catalyst of change in others lives, too- even if I will never lay eyes on them again.

Life is more than Things to Want and Buy. It is more than the latest celebrity gossip, fashion, or laugh-track sweetened sitcom. It is more than sports, cars, or even sex. It is about learning and growing. Yes, kids need to be born to replace the ones who die, but I simply wish that more thought were put into the choice to reproduce. If that were done, if people were to really consider the impact that a child will have on the rest of their lives, they might reconsider having kids. And the ones who are born will be wanted, raised right, and ready to take the reins when their time comes.

Yes, I can still dream…

ã March 2001 by Lorie A. Johnson

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