Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breeders vs the Barren: The Airplane

For the most part I get along just fine with kids.  I may have none of my own, but that doesn't mean I don't like them.  Other than an unintentional propensity to make infants cry, I harbor no ill will towards children.  I am generally indifferent and occasionally amused, even delighted by them.

It's the parents that are the problem.

And in the fertile battlefields of parents versus non-parents, none is more fecund than the inside of a commercial airplane.  It is the gladiators' arena of The Breeders vs. The Barren, and I was never one to shy from a fight.  It's not that I am unsympathetic to the plight of parents travelling with small children.  These days air travel is a painful experience, from the security lines to the haggling for overhead bins.  And that's all before you start hurtling yourself through the air in a metal tube filled with stale air and germs and implausible foil-covered units of nourishment.

Undoubtedly all of this is harder with kids.  But the bottom line is neither I nor any of your fellow passengers made you have that kid you now have to entertain for hours on end.  You already got special treatment in the form of early boarding -- which means airlines now, perhaps appropriately, put parenting on par with active military duty -- so please, all I ask is bring a pair of headphones for your child's game/personal DVD player/noise-making machine.

Just last week I was on a cross-country flight when I dared to make this very request of a mother of a child of about four.  I had been forced to listen to the relentlessly chipper, dog hearing-pitched jangle of the girl's animated feature from the row adjacent for about twenty minutes or so when I finally asked the flight attendant to intercede.  The mother reported back -- also via the flight attendant -- that it was either the DVD player or the screams of the child.  I was just starting to fish around in my purse for my own headphones to offer to the mother when I noticed a very angry looking older woman, presumably the grandmother, produce a pair of headphones from her own purse.  She then hissed protestations across the aisle at me that she could not hear it, so how could I?  I restrained myself from hissing back that her hearing aid must be broken and instead opted for an antagonistic smile.  Just then the presumed grandfather turned around and starting making hand gestures at me as if to suggest I should jump out of the plane.

I thought it was over, but no.  My husband was accosted by the mother when their paths crossed en route to the lavatory.  She was positive that I was using her child to get an upgrade to business class, demonstrating that what she lacked in manners she made up for with a rich fantasy life.  She then made the same jump-out-of-the-plane hand gesture at my husband before they parted ways.

And it still wasn't over.  As we left the plane, the presumed grandfather informed us that he did not appreciate my husband telling his partner, the mother, to shove off, not only proving once more what a rich fantasy life this mother had, but also that he was a dirty old man.  (Not to mention the conundrum this created over who exactly the presumed grandmother was in this triangle.  How awkward for your partner to be the same age as your mother.)

I left the plane rattled, as did husband, and reconsidering if I was an unreasonable person.  My conclusion was that, no, I am not.  When a mother has a crying child on a plane, I never give her a hard time.  I realize that mother is as upset by the crying, probably more so, than I am.  But in this case it was preventable noise, and there was no excuse.  My other conclusion was that being a parent, or even a grandparent, doesn't prevent you from being an asshole.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reclaiming Barren

I was christened Baroness Barren by my husband.  It was a light moment, really, spurred on by another demonstration of my laser sharp technique of making small children cry when I am trying to be friendly with them.  This time my unwitting target was the angelic Hugh, child of some neighbors.  We had been at the local wine bar much of the afternoon when Hugh and his dad arrived.  Perhaps emboldened by the quantity of white wine I had consumed, I ignored my previous track record and engaged in the wide-eyed, overly expressive small talk customary with toddlers.  I hadn't gotten much past "Well hello, Hugh," when he let out a yowl and ran into the arms of his father, prompting my husband to comment, "Baroness Barren strikes again."

At first I objected to my new title.  I was not, after all, barren in the traditional sense, at least as far as I knew.  (I had never actually tried to get pregnant, but I assumed the downstairs machinery was working.)  I was childless by choice.  Then I looked up the definition of barren, which includes "not yet or not recently pregnant" and, my favorite, "habitually failing to fruit" -- birth control pills will have that effect -- and realized I could legitimately be called barren.

Better yet Baroness Barren. I liked the regal air, infusing a heretofore ugly word with a new grace and haughtiness.  I like to think in assuming my new title I am reclaiming barren à la the female reclamation of the word cunt in The Vagina Monologues.  Everyone who saw that show remembers getting to yell it at the top of their lungs.  Now it's the turn of the childless.  Shout it loud, shout it proud: barren, barren, barren!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meet the Baroness

That's me: married for ten years, thirty-nine for the second time, and childless by choice.  It took me until I was thirty-seven to finally confront my own ambivalence towards motherhood and arrive at the conclusion that it was not a foundation that would sustain me, much less my husband, through sleepless nights and chafed nipples.  

Still, I was ill at ease with my choice.  I envied those women who have motherhood emblazoned on their brain waves like manifest destiny.  I had no tangible reasons to avoid it -- a stable job, a home, a willing if not exactly enthusiastic husband -- and yet I had no urge either.  What was even more infuriating was that I didn't feel any particular passion about remaining childless.  I was on no high horse about what a crappy world it is to bring a child into or that I was saving the planet by not contributing another carbon-emitting, energy-consuming being into the cosmos.  When I held a friend's baby in my arms I would coo, enjoy the baby scent, admire the perfect peachy skin and marvel at the tiny fingernails.  And after ten minutes or so I was happy to hand him or her back.  That much has not changed.

And so each week on this blog I endeavour to explore the lighter -- and sometimes heavier -- side of choosing not to have children, starting next week with an explanation of how I got my noble title.