herald

Thursday 23 November 2017

Child-free and lovin’ it

I'm totally down with OPP -- not as in the lyrics of Naughty by Nature's early '90s hit -- but as in Other People's Progeny. I spent a weekend with some friends and their offspring, and within moments of waking on the first full day, I was offered a Viking ship, some Lego, and a Rubik's cube, in case I found that entertainment was lacking.

It was around 8am on a Saturday, and I wasn't by any means bored, but the five-year-old of the house was determined to ensure that I was not idle for a minute. After being politely rebuffed, he decided that cartoons were in order and, joined by his older brother, we all snuggled down under the duvet to watch 'Jackie Chan and the Something Something'.

Awwww! It was lovely. And even lovelier? Leaving to go home the next day.

Kelly Travolta is pregnant at 47. Monica Bellucci just gave birth last week at the age of 45. Courteney Cox suffered a number of miscarriages before successfully carrying Coco to term. The compulsive adoptive practice of Angelina Jolie sparked a fashion and little babies from far away became the newest celebrity trend. Motherhood has become as desperately pursued by the Hollywood crowd as had been a star on the Walk of Fame. And it's trickled down, as it does, into real life. But what happens when so-called real life isn't the life that everyone chooses?

Presumably, celebrities had children before, but it has never been so newsworthy. Obviously, the human race has been going at it for millennia, and it's never been such a big deal. It is arguable that before birth control and women's liberation, it wasn't such a big deal, because women didn't really have a choice. People got married and had children, and that was that. People who didn't get married and had children anyway were often ostracised, and people who didn't have children at all were freaks.

Whatever rusticity we left at the campfire on the edge of the savannah, we've retained the quaint notion that women who weren't tied to the gathering portion of 'hunting and' due to suckling young . . . well, something was wrong with them. And to this day, us child-free types are often looked at askance by those who have chosen to raise families.

Men, they get off the hook -- until they hook up with a female and then they, too, are expected to jump on the reproduction bandwagon and start, er, firing away.

The subject is fraught, and gets defensive very quickly on both sides, and it all seems to come down to selfishness. Ooh, child-free people! You are so selfish! You, with your spontaneous weekend getaways, and fancy dinners, and prosecco on the terrace! Self-indulgent and immature, that's what you are!

Ha! You people who keep populating the planet! How selfish are you, creating more bodies to take up more space? Did you know that as of January 2009, the EU population was 499.7 million? Just what we need! More people to drain the resources of our planet!

Hmm. Rather than selfishness, how about putting it all down to choice?

It is a choice, you know. It's a choice to refrain from reproducing, as much as it is a choice to have five little ones, or to seek IVF in order to combat infertility. This is perhaps the greatest conundrum of modern life, both an advance and a regression, that we can choose the pattern of our lives. This is reflected in the ways in which childbearing has changed throughout the years, and why, suddenly, many of us who chose child freedom are not really considered to be scot free.

Women have started giving birth later and later in life, and that means that we can establish ourselves in a meaningful career, and then pop out a few sprogs before we get back to work -- all the while managing to keep the sitting room tidy and the cupboards stocked. So, therefore, even if you're in your late 30s and a solicitor with a thriving practice, what do you mean that you're not going to have any children? You can have whatever you want!

Guess what? I don't want children.

Personally, I love children, and they love me right back. I like to think that people don't get offered Viking ships and Rubik's cubes willy-nilly. Sure, kids are canny, and they're not averse to working on someone who may potentially buy them sweets in the future. I prefer to think, and this is based on experience with nieces and nephews, the sons and daughters of friends and the wee ones that populate the stable at which I horseride, that they recognise in me someone who remembers what it was like to be them, and who respects their need to be seen as people, rather than consumers of food and sleep who often don't get enough of either, and need to be constantly nagged to do both.

I don't nag. It's none of my business. This is interesting to them, an adult who has no agenda but to hang out and have a chat, maybe play a round or two (or a million) of bowling on the Wii, or to sit and watch while they show me how well they do something else.

I am fulfilling an important role in their lives, and I don't think it gets enough respect: I am a grown up who is simply interested in them as people. I am interested in them because of who they are, not because of what they do, or what they didn't do. Moments spent with children in this fashion give them confidence, and give me a lovely connection to a new generation, to what they're thinking and feeling and what their interests are.

And then I go home! Hallelujah! I don't have to beg them to hush up and go to bed -- or wrangle them into their pyjamas in the first place. I can light candles without worrying that a rug rat is going to head straight for the flickering fire and knock it to the floor. I can sit back, ring friends and actually have a conversation, listen to music rather than video games, have that prosecco on the terrace, read, be at peace, daydream about what I'm going to wear the next day -- whatever.

Frankly, I've got the best of both worlds: I can interact with the young, and still have my blissfully grown up life to myself.

There are many people who think this is wrong, and if it is? I don't want to be right!

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