Wednesday, November 25, 2009

decking the halls

Some of us might not be christians but you can be assured that if you suggest skipping the commercialism of the season by not giving Christmas presents this year then you’ll be about as popular as a foreskin at a synagogue. If you really want to shit people off, give them an Oxfam unwrapped voucher instead. You might feel a little smug that your socialist friend’s had a piglet donated to some far flung village in their name but they’d really have preferred a bottle of wine.

But Christmas is all about the kids, isn’t it? Even if you’ve pared the extended family’s adult gift list back and gone in for a kris kringle, it’s still likely that you have to buy every child a present as well. As one friend remarked recently, “…even if the “children” are now in their 20s”.

Why is it that we reinforce the notion that Christmas is about buying as much plastic crap for small kids that they either break or forget about them the next day? Or because you’ve been a bad aunt and not kept up to date with the trends you’ve given them something they already have or it is so 2008 and they don’t want it any more.

As I don’t have children, I feel I am not allowed to voice my thoughts on the season. So thank the goddess for this blog!

So you are a non-church-going family but do the full-blown Christmas thing. There’s an advent calendar for each of the kiddies but that’s about the chocolate not the religious message, right? They are learning carols about “Christ the saviour” but it’s ok that’s just tradition. Then we throw capitalism into the mix and have to buy them a pile of presents. Not just one or two but a truck load of “stocking fillers” because you love them, right? What messages do you really think you are teaching them?

The festive season is a great time of year to raise a little consciousness. I recently met a family that have a strict policy around gift giving – everything must be homemade. That’s right, they have these kids who are turning into well-adjusted teenagers who’ve grown up without the latest dolls, toys or gadgets. They make their own cards, sew, draw, paint and re-fashion recycled items. They’ve learnt to have Christmas without the angst of last minute shopping and draining the piggy bank. The parents nurture their own creativity along with their childrens’. Spending more time together and less money – now that’s a Christmas equation worth exploring.

I’ve watched so many friends with young families get into debt at the end of every year, just so they can give their children a swag of gifts. But what is the real cost of debt? Working more hours, feeling stressed and ultimately being less “present”, distracted by the growing credit card bills?

Look I’m just a jaded old barren bitch, what do I know? But I do remember my own childhood. I wanted more time with my workaholic dad. I wanted my mum to not have to apologise for his absence or his over worked, cranky moods. I wanted more barbecues on the beach or Sunday afternoons fishing together on the jetty. My favourite holiday was the one where we all went camping instead of going to a motel.

I can’t remember a single “stocking filler” I was given in my childhood but I do remember the little bowl of cherries more than the bowl of sweets, that were beside my bed “from Santa” and have deep affection for the fruit for life.

Sure we had a stack of presents but there is only one I remember. A bike. A much wanted and didn’t think I’d get one – bike. For a kid not keen on sport a bike taught me that being active was fun. The bike was never forgotten by Easter.

What do you remember about childhood Christmases? How do you teach kids about the season (look I’m figuring if you read this you are not a died in the wool christian)? What are you sick of compromising? What would you like to change?

cross-posted on deliberately barren

Monday, July 6, 2009

to hell in a carbon neutral hand basket

Single, familied, young, old – I know the demographic doesn’t define us and within each there will be those who go out of there way to conserve water and reduce their carbon footprint and those who won’t.

But when I seen my octogenarian neighbour invest thousands in solar panels or talk to 40-something single women who delight in the pleasures of bathing but have denied themselves a bath for over a year I wonder, “Why bother?”

It’s not about “us” and “them” but when it comes to those who will inherit this ailing earth, breeders take note – it is your children who will feel the direct impact of your carbon excess wantonness and your grandchildren who won’t know what it is like to have a leisurely shower let alone a long soak in the bath. The earth is going to hell in a hand basket. Stephen Fielding may head a political party called “Family First” but is a climate change denier. How can some people love and defend their own family so much but treat the environment with such disrespect?

So when I shiver a little and put on another jumper rather than turn the heater on during the day, walk and tram more often than drive a car, bucket the vegetable washing water to feed the plants, pay more for organic produce, don’t eat meat, cut out unnecessary air travel – I do so because I want there to be a healthier environment for your children. Not my own. I don’t have any.

I do have some friends with families who are much more eco-conscious than me but the worst offenders to date are also parents and intelligent ones at that. They drive 4x4 from suburb to suburb, eat meat excessively, top up their swimming pools with potable water and then throw a bunch of chemicals in. You don’t find them ripping out the plastic window in envelopes to separate the recyclables from landfill, carrying linen bags when they shop or caring about the provenance of their food. These people love their kids, would do anything for their children – other than take responsibility for the earth that they will inherit.

So why do I bother?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

simply barren

I’m not living the life I thought I’d lead. In a way I am experiencing a richer existence, it is just different to the template I had subconsciously adopted.

Being a child born during the advent of feminism I figured I’d have the glamorous career, the gorgeous talented partner, a couple of gifted children and a groovy home to boot. My life would be spent swanning around in a relaxed but meaningful manner, the man I lived with would happily burden half the domestic load and we’d both be free to pursue creative endeavours to boot.

Now in my forties I can look back at the plan and laugh at its naivety. If any woman is living that lifestyle, complete with regular time out in a day spa, I would love to meet her. With a dance card that full, something has to give. For me the biggest pain comes from holding on to that ideal, not the discomfort of letting it go. When we don’t revisit our aspirations and instead choose to cling desperately to our dreams, the mental muscles clenched tight are the ones that hurt the most.

Obviously something had to give in this scenario. For me, unexpectedly, it was children and to some extent the career as well. At its essence, I asked myself one seemingly innocuous question “What would make my life simpler?” The first step was letting go of something I could not have, or was not prepared the risks required in the hopes of achievement. For me that was having children (or as I got older, “a child”, singular, one being better than none). To turn circumstances into a choice may for some be considered a mental dance, but it worked.

I have met enough men and women who are childfree yet live complicated lives to know that obtaining inner peace is not about simply failing (or rather choosing not) to reproduce. It is about the choices we make. It is about claiming both the joys and the disappointments that occur in our daily existence and taking responsibility for them. In short, deciding to not be a victim of fate.

Being childfree, for women in particular, tends to fall into one of three categories: an innate desire to never have children, ambivalence about parenting or infertility biologically or socially. The greatest hurdle for the first category is dealing with the opinions of others, the second is the risk that either way you jump it will ultimately feel like the wrong choice but the third group is the trickiest to claim as choice.

Social infertility is about being in the wrong place at the right time. The plumbing is working but the right donor or dream husband/partner is not part of the picture when required. Books have been written by women who feel duped by feminism, that they believed they could have it all and came away angry at being shortchanged. Personally I don’t buy that. Yes I bought the dream but realised it was just that, a modern day fable of sorts. I mean, even the men who called themselves feminist rarely do 50% of the domestics. Perhaps living in shared houses was my first reality check. *

Being childless, rather than childfree, through circumstance is a growing demographic for women. This has as much, or possibly more, to do with the choices of men delaying parenting rather than the cop out of “feminists promised us we could have it all”. With the advent of more reliable contraception and the decreased societal pressure to get married, why should blokes curb their freedom by fathering children in their 20’s or 30’s? So often in this subset of men I have observed that it is the light bulb moment when they get an inkling of their own mortality that prompts them to reproduce, rather than in response to the request of their partner alone. Of course, there are men of all ages who deeply desire having children but the group voicing their ambivalence about it seem greater amongst the comfortable middle classes.

Biological infertility is rampant and IVF is not as successful as we’d be lead to believe. Sperm has increasing rates of abnormality and donors are in short supply in Australia since legislation was introduced ultimately allowing an adult child to trace their donor. It is hard to get a realistic statistic regarding IVF success as it is dependent on so many factors including the type of reproductive issue and age of the mother. But other issues arise when trying to assess the true accuracy of these rates, that being IVF is largely a private industry. There are many ways that a clinic can massage its data. Lets just say it is na├»ve to expect IVF to solve the problem and optimistic in the extreme once a woman nears 40,

Making infertility of this nature some kind of “choice” is very difficult. All I can offer is stressing the importance of grief counselling, so often overlooked in what can be a long and fraught quest for a child. Through that process, when blame, loss and sadness has been acknowledged and released, an upside can be found if you look for it.

I am sick of judgements being made about my perceived selfishness or regret that I may feel regarding a very personal aspect of my life. But just as a pregnant woman become misguidedly fair game for her luscious belly to rubbed (often by strangers and rarely by request), so too those of us whose uteri remain apparently empty.

My simple life is my greatest ally in claiming “free” over “loss” as the suffix of choice. I have a certain freedom that few of my friends with children have. I am not saying it is a better life but, hell, it certainly is an easier one!

* See the illuminating stats from the ABS regarding gender and housework

Thursday, May 21, 2009

photo credits

The delightful Lucinda Dodds has updated the DB banner. Don't you just love it!

Lucy also sells some of her great photos/cards at Red Bubble.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Mother’s Day and Growing Up

House One: My mother is very religious!
House Two: is she a fanatic?
House One: No, a church!

Boom Boom.

- Full text from an old Muppet Show Sketch (the Paul Williams Episode)

My mother isn’t religious, so she worships herself. Thus, Mother’s Day is a Big Deal in our family.

I got away with just doing a lunch this year, so while 11-3pm were taken, I gleefully planned to check out a friend’s gig at 4pm. But then we went and had a banquet Greek lunch, mum and I shared two bottles of champagne and I got a severe case of the CBFs. When will I learn? NEVER MATCH MOTHER DRINK FOR DRINK.

Anyway. I was thinking about my lovely sister in law, celebrating her second mother’s day. I know a few people who have ‘crossed over’ to the celebrated, rather than the celebrator, a few of whom are younger than me. And it makes me feel like they’ve made this big adult step, since parenthood = your ticket to being a real adult.

I’m never going to have children, so Mother’s Day for me will always mean I’m the kid. Can you properly be considered an adult, especially by your parents, if you never partake in that final rite of passage?

It doesn’t bother me, since I’m already going to go down in history as the World’s Oldest Busted Drag Queen Manchild, but I wonder how proper, sensible child free adults handle it? Is it harder to be looked upon as an adult if you’re always celebrating Mother’s Day as the kid?

From Desci

Sunday, April 26, 2009

knee jerks, materialism and bad editing

Last weekend The Age nabbed a Guardian columnist’s rant on “dummy mummies” and set the cat amongst the pigeons. The journalist, Rachel Cooke, is 39 and doesn’t want to have children. What is more, she is rather bored by some women who can only talk about their kids.
When people who know me well ask me, as they very occasionally do, why I do not, at this point, want to have children, my instinct is always to give a flip answer. "I'm worried that I won't have enough time to read" is what I usually say, reading being not only one of the things that I like most in the world, but also one of the very few things at which I can honestly say I am quite good. This quip is not dishonest: though I have several friends who have combined novel-reading with motherhood very successfully, in my own head I hold a convoluted equation, one based on the approximate number of hours I have left to live versus the number of good books I have left to read, and it is very anxiety-inducing. But nor does it tell the whole story. I don't fancy having children for all sorts of reasons, some deadly serious (global warming), some practical (Can I really afford to? What if I lose my job?), some historical (I have three much-loved, much younger sisters, so perhaps I've always had outlet enough for my maternal instincts), and some borderline neurotic (where will his or her toys live? Will they all be made of coloured plastic?).

Mainly, though, I might as well be honest and say that, right now (I am 39), my refusal to have children is also connected to the sense of horror and fear that I feel when I encounter a certain kind of mother. What kind of mother is this? She is the kind of mother I talked to at a party the other night, who told me - with no word of prompting from me - about her ante-natal classes, in detail, for approximately eight minutes. At the end of this monologue, I asked, dead-eyed, if this was her first baby. I mean, presumably it was. "Oh, no," she said, cheerily, "it's my second." At which point, she segued into a lengthy account of how excited her small son was at the imminent arrival of his sibling.
Rachel Cooke

The original piece, ”The rise of the dummy mummies” is up on the Guardian site. What appeared in our Sunday magazine was heavily edited to remove UK references and rather strangely, didn’t have any acknowledgment of it first being published elsewhere.

In The Age’s haste to appear to have local product, they snipped some very relevant issues from Cooke’s rant. For example, examining the role of materialism in manipulating women into dummy mummies.
How did it happen, this loony excess of maternal feeling? Because I know, thinking about my own childhood and, a little bit later, the childhoods of my sisters, that it wasn't always like this. Partly, it's yet another product of late 20th-century high materialism (and, perhaps - here's hoping - it will wane just a little as we move deeper into recession). On baby websites such as Mumsnet, Babble (yes, really) and MumsRock (the latter is taglined: "Because there is life after birth", as if anyone ever said there wasn't), you can read endless reviews of baby buggies and strollers.
When my mother had my sister, there were approximately two kinds of buggy, Maclaren and the other sort, whose name I forget, and you bought one or the other, depending on cost. Job done. The status symbol of owning the "right" buggy had yet to be invented (while we're on this subject, I once heard a friend describe a certain buggy as being "too chavvy", a statement that was, and is, wholly baffling to me). Money, and the ugly way it flows, has made us so disgustingly extreme: just as half the world starves while the rest of us stuff our faces until we are ill, so half the world's children are horribly spoilt and the rest shamefully neglected - and the two things have to be connected, somehow, don't they? Can't we find some middle ground? Mostly, though, it is my conviction that such excess is the result of women having their babies far later. Thus they feel grateful, a gratefulness that gives them the zeal of the convert. And it is this zeal, I am assuming, that prevents boredom from setting in as they ponder the pros and cons of the Bugaboo Bee.

The backlash to this article has been predictable, with the usual sanctimonious responses on parenting blogs and in the paper’s letters to the editor

Dummy spit
DEAR Rachel Cooke ("The rise of the dummy mummies", Sunday Life 19/4), I was blown away by your article. Good for you for not wanting kids and, at 39, it's probably a good thing you're clear on what you want.
But why write an article about mothers who love what they do when you're on the other side of the fence with no intention to cross it? If it's your way of telling your mum and dad you're not having kids, maybe you should have called rather than put it in print. It does nothing but insult women.
I would rather that women are interested (or "obsessed" as you put it) in their own flesh and blood, their little beautiful creations, than not care and be happy to put their children aside to continue on their own selfish path through life.
We are now more open with our communication, language and lifestyles and with most aspects of our lives; so if women want to talk about something that you don't like, maybe you need to excuse yourself politely instead of storing it up as ammunition for your writing.
What is wrong with identifying yourself as a mother? Is it less than being a lawyer/doctor/teacher? No, it's the hardest job in the world and bully for someone if they are proud of it. Sunday Life and other Fairfax publications give multi-page spreads to fashion, celebs and other fairly meaningless events, so why are you shunning mothers?
Seems a bit mean and bitter to me and until the shoe is on the other foot you will never get why all these women are banging on.
ANTHEA WARD, Greensborough
Boring and bought
AFTER reading this useless article ("The rise of the dummy mummies"), I was about to write some words to apologise to Rachel Cooke for having to endure so many boring stories from mothers when she could be talking about Michelle Obama, books, movies, TV and her latest trip to Yemen.
But after a Google search I found she is in the UK and you just bought the article. So my question is now for Fairfax: why bother?
Aren't there enough intelligent journos in Oz to write something interesting?

There has been no positive feedback to the local version of the article that I can find, however searching the article under the UK title “The dummy mummy decade” amongst the usual knee jerks, there is the odd, enlightened woman commenting on blogs or forums for parents who got the point that Cooke was making. For example:

I think Cooke's point about how the fetishism of motherhood ties in with our relentless consumerism in other areas of life is really interesting. I've often been baffled by the number of threads both here and elsewhere, dissecting the pros and cons of various branded baby paraphenalia in exhaustive detail. She's bang on about the buggy-as-status-symbol: I see the prices of Quinnies and Bugaboos and the like and wonder if people have succumbed to some sort of collective insanity.

And surely anyone with eyes and ears would agree with her that parenthood frequently is competitive. You can choose to opt out of that whole thing, for sure, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist and doesn't bear commenting on.
Lazyemma on Mumsnet.

The Age article just stirred up some old barren versus mother shit that is of no service to anyone. The way motherhood is sanctimoniously promoted is just a nifty form of viral marketing and it is about time we blew the whistle. Yet again this once quality rag has cut too much off the editing budget, removing context and meaning the original.

Of course, next time they could just commission a local for the job instead.

Monday, April 6, 2009

“Mother of the Year”

“Mother of the Year”
Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2009

It may seem perverse to find mention of a comedy show focused on parenting here, at a site dedicated to the musings of the childfree life. But bear with me. There were two major factors that influenced my decision to rock up to the Melbourne Town Hall at 5pm on a Sunday.

Firstly, one of the mother’s in question is Catherine Deveny (or The Dev as I tend to the think of her). Hero worship is too strong a word to describe my admiration for her work, more I recognise the pack she runs with and feel an affinity.

Secondly, it was free. Yes. I admit I was baulking at the thought of forking over hard earned cash to find myself amidst a gaggle of women on a mother’s group outing (and they were there in droves) but a freebie is hard to turn down sometimes.

On stage, each making their pitch for mother of the year was Nelly Thomas, Catherine Deveny and stand up veteran Christine Basil.

Nelly kicked it off with the horrors of mother’s group bitches and concluded with miming her labour from hell. I’m sure it was funny enough to bust the stitches of a recent C-Section but despite her apparent skills (she is funny) this was exactly the kind of routine that the Deliberately Barren attempts to avoid.

The Dev and Christine however did a damn fine job by making me laugh at their children as much as themselves. It’s not as if a routine about a three day labour makes you want to go out and pop a sprog but the second two women jumped the baby stage and dove into the horrors of living with sons and grown adults who won’t leave home.

The Dev won the day of course, quite literally in an applaud off at the end of the show. Her staged contempt for her children is refreshing and somehow inclusive of the Deliberately Barren without even attempting to. The spiel about her upbringing and sibling rivalry, likewise Christine’s inclusion of the downside of a 23 year marriage touches on more accessible ground, that the rigors of birth and the baby business leaves out.

These women do deserve a medal – for their professional skills not for the fact they are mothers. But the best I can do is to say, don’t be put off by the subject of the show, there are laughs to be had.

Even better I left the show more pleased than ever to not have had children!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

strangers at a fair

I was at a school fete, so the conversation that followed was not unexpected.

Chatting to an old friend about politics, the economy and the like, a mate of his rocked up. Introductions were made, their daughters are best buddies. In the small talk that followed the obvious question arose, “How do you two know each other, through your kids?”

I smiled, “No we go way back. Twenty years or more. “, I looked at the man I’d known for half my years on earth, “His life before children.”

The unknown guy’s eyes kind of glazed. Life before children, I could almost hear his mind muttering. A wistful, nostalgic look.

Without children, there are not these convenient demarcations. Our entire life is pre, or rather without, children. No bookends. No previous life suspended in animation, ceased to be.

It’s times like these, I don’t miss having children at all!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Outrageous sums of money

Often I wonder just how much I, childless, can say about my partner's teenage step-children. Overwhelmingly generous and caring, it's not that I am afraid of broaching (sp?) the subject with him; rather my concern lies in how much outrage I can show over certain expensive financial decisions he makes without me.

The eldest, having recently finished school, is off overseas. You know, the familiar 'gap' year that 18 year olds apparently need because they've worked so hard. (I wish there was a sarcasm icon I could merrily insert at the end of that sentence. It's not hard work, completing a VCE or equivalent and I don't care what anyone says). The 'programme' he is on cost us, for 'our' half of the payment, close to $10, 000.

If you think that's an outrageous sum of money to spend on an 18 year old, please remember that that amount is only half of what was required. Half.

When the email from his ex came in, I felt sick. I didn't mind forking out for a flight to Israel; perhaps some spending money for the boy but that amount and all the zero's at the end made me feel physically ill. We don't own a house and that sum could have easily helped us toward the deposit we so want. Could have helped us realise a few things that need realising. Having been struck recently with horror financial/work-related woes, I began to feel...angry. Angry because this is money going out over which I have no control.

Not even the most severe of sour faces would stop the fact that the money HAD to be paid. Spoilt-brat stuff, I reckon. Most people I know who travelled after school saved for the trip themselves and worked when they got there. Child number 1 is selfish and invariably lazy in regard to such things. All the cash he earned in the run-up to his trip is being 'saved for the future'. Hmm...

Next time, I'll open my mouth earlier. Thing is, child number 2 is far more like his dad. He is, at 15, saving up for his trip. Which he may very well need to do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

budget advice for the barren

Another Outspoken Female is back on deck for another serve.

Been a bit quiet around here, hasn’t it.

As a woman without a family, I should have lots of time to pop out tri-weekly pithy posts for a blog, or four. Shouldn’t I? Well, life – children or not, has a habit of getting in the way.

Not that I don’t have a backlog of barren inspired rants.

Like, just last week when one of the many, older Italian women in my street managed to buttonhole me for a decent working over. She has lived half a dozen houses away from my for a decade now and we nod and say hello in passing but til now that has been about it. We found ourselves at the tram stop together and in halting English I got a full serve. Children? (No). Why do you have no children? You must have children! What does your husband do? (What husband, oh that man I live with? He’s a wannabe, unemployed artist).

I can be remarkably polite sometimes but it did put me on a slow simmer for the rest of the day. It’s like a stranger telling you that you should go on a diet, wearing orange doesn’t suit your complexion, that they can do great things with plastic surgery these days or you are really getting too old to get away with dying your hair that colour.

Not. Your. Business.

I pick up a magazine focused on ‘women’s issues’, for research purposes. Have you noticed how finance, computers, porn and sport are men’s issues but cooking, craft and budgeting are quarantined in the domain of the women’s section? I know everything old in new again but in 2009 this popular Australian rag is as fresh and innovative as something out of the ‘70’s. The cover features a young, thin, blond woman in a floaty dress frolicking through a paddock of impossibly placed flowers. The big feature is “your finances in your 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s and beyond”. I have not hit the “beyond” category yet but the one I chronologically fall into bears no resemblance to my life. I’m told this can be a very expensive time for a woman managing a home and growing family. Actually my family is shrinking. Cat number three died last week. She was a big, bouncy ball of fluff that scoffed more than her fair share of the feline food budget, as well as needing a squirt of those costly de-fleaing treatments every month.

I read about needing to get on top of my superannuation. I don’t have anywhere. Double fail. A house, yes, I am top of that. Much to my accountant’s initial disgust, as a self employed person I decided when I bought a home to put any saved money into the house instead of super. She has conceded over the years that an inner city property has been wiser than trusting it to the experts to gamble my future on a failing stock market.

One piece of advice these magazines dare not publish is that not having children can do wonderful things for your finances! No loss of earnings from extended maternity leave, reduced hours to fit in with the school days and the horrendous expenses of childcare, education, food and clothing – not my problem! Truly, my advice to a single woman in her early 30’s – bugger the babies, go for a modest mortgage and budget an overseas holiday every few years instead.

But hanging out at the tram stop, it’s just too hard to explain this to an elderly Italian woman with a stubbornly limited understanding of English.

And that magazine, I guess really is the domain for some ‘70’s housefrau dreaming of a frolic through a field of daffodils.

I think I’ll just stick to my own garden instead.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time and Place

From Desci

I was in hospital with Gastro From Hell, my mum and Boyfriend waiting with me.

Around 9pm, mum started sighing. Looking at me, slack from pain and exhausted from vomiting, she whined, 'see, we should be getting a child out of this!' Referring to 'me having a painful stay in hospital'.

She said it a few times, to Boyfriend's snorts and my 'display model only! Display model only!' moans.

Time and place, mother, time and place.

Having said that, for my birthday she *did* buy me a puppy picture book and make jokes about her grandchildren being in there. Baby steps.