On Monday morning, when I am bleary eyed and exhausted, and I check facebook way before I’ve had my coffee, I see the notification.
You have 17 events this week with Chet Clover and 53 other friends.
This isn’t exceptional. I’m not particularly popular, we just happen to be a part of a community that’s always doing things. There’s a show, a fundraiser, a potluck, a party, an art opening, a community meeting… it’s endless. And almost all of them are scheduled for approximately our baby’s bedtime. So just like every week, I laugh. Sometimes, I genuinely find it funny (ha ha I’m not going to any of these ha ha!) and sometimes it’s the laughing you do to keep from crying.
This week, it’s the second one.
This week, I miss going to things and seeing people.
We tend to talk about American parents in this particular way. Parenting takes over your whole life, parenting is boring, parenting is all soccer games and no bar trips and rock shows. Especially for young white middle class Americans, there’s an assumption that life before parenting means going out and having fun, and life after parenting means staying in and being painfully boring. And we see this as a lifestyle issue. Parents would rather talk about dirty diapers than have a good time, what the hell is wrong with them?
I certainly wasn’t immune to this way of thinking.
Before having a child, my wife and I talked about the things we liked about our life. We talked about what having a kid would add to it, and what having a kid just might take away. We agreed that while we were committed to parenting, we were also committed to self-care, to continuing to be ourselves, and to not dropping out of our community. We’d find a way to make it work. Whatever was going to happen, we assured ourselves that we wouldn’t end up like those parents. You know who those parents are! You used to see them all the time, they used to be so involved, then they went and had kids and now it’s like they don’t even care about you. I mean what is their problem?
Their problem might be capitalism.
As I get older, I notice more and more that so much of the “lifestyle differences” that we pretend are about preference or ideals are really about class and money. Almost a decade ago now, I dated a young man who came from an affluent background. Whereas I went to high school in an area where most people had more money than my family, he went to high school in an area where most people had less money than his family. He was, apparently, picked on and mocked for being “the rich kid.”
He firmly believed that being mocked for being “the rich kid” was just as bad as being mocked for being “the poor kid.” As though being rich and being poor were equal things, just different, as though the very concept of wealth and poverty wasn’t based on inequality in the first place. When I tried to explain that even if rich kids and poor kids experienced the same exact hatred from “middle class” peers… rich kids still get to go home to a life of privilege and comfort… he dug his heals in. In retrospect, I should have probably broken up with him then.
It’s comfortable to assume that many differences from person to person, from family to family, are just personal choices. The thing is, that assumptions rests on the idea that everyone has the same choices. And we know that they don’t. We know that, despite what we are told, not everyone has the opportunity to go to college. Not everyone can buy a new couch if they want to. Not everyone can run a marathon. Not everyone can pack up and move. We are divided by circumstances and privileges, not only class but raise, gender, orientation, ability, location, etc. Some things we get to pick. Other things are chosen for us.
Before I had a kid, I used to assume that when parents stayed home all the damn time, it was because they had lost interest in everything else. I assumed it was a lack of effort. When parent friends said “finding a babysitter is so hard” I thought, “well, sure, that’s why you have to try hard and plan ahead!”
I was an asshole and an idiot.
Finding a babysitter is hard even if you can afford one. But for many of us, we can’t. For some of us, it’s basically impossible.
Continuing to “have a life” with a baby or small child requires resources. It requires time and energy and money, things than many parents of young kiddos are seriously lacking. It stops being a matter of lifestyle and preferences and starts being a matter of survival. My wife and I both work. I work from home, sometimes late into the night to get enough done to keep us on top of our bills. Freelancing allows me to work and avoid the cost of childcare, which allowed us to move into a house that we don’t hate, which is great! But it also means that for me, time is money in a very direct way. And I have to prioritize money, because we live in a capitalist society and money is what we use to pay for things like food, or heat. Sometimes, when I say “I don’t have time to hang out” it’s really not that I’m being a boring parent-type who’d rather stay home folding those adorable little baby pants. Sometimes, it’s that taking time to spend with friends, any time, feels like taking food out of my child’s mouth. It feels that way because it kind of is.
These are uncomfortable things to think about.
And most of the time I don’t complain (well, I complain to my wifespouse, but I don’t complain like this). Most of the time I shrug and remind myself that I chose this life. I chose to become a parent, I chose to become a parent knowing I was broke, knowing it would be difficult, knowing it would mean sacrifices.
But this week? This week it is too much. I’m sick and tired of staying in each and every time something is going on, of missing literally everything, and of wondering what people think about me for that. I’m sick of being congratulated when I do make it out, like it’s some kind of personal accomplishment when really I just happened to get lucky.
And this part is uncomfortable.
But I’m sick of people telling me how wonderful they think my family is, how brave they think I am for having a child, how great a mother they think I am, and never offering any help. Obviously, some people have and do offer help and we are immensely grateful. This isn’t about that. This is about the number of childfree people who say they support parents and families, but when it comes to engaging with that in their own communities, they act like libertarians. This is not articulate. I am not articulating this well, and I am not articulating it well because I am hurting.
What I know is that, before I had a kid, I saw friends with kids begging for babysitters on social media. And sometimes I responded and other times I didn’t. And lots of times I felt like I was too busy, too busy to take on anything else, busy the same way everyone was busy.
But your parent friends? We aren’t busy the way “everyone” is busy. We aren’t busy because of the glorification of busy in our society. We are busy in a totally unique, totally bone crushing way. We are busy in a way that you cannot even imagine, or at least that I could not imagine before I did it. And we only have one child. We have neighbors with five children. That is so many children.
And if you believe that families shouldn’t live in nuclear isolation. And you believe that capitalism is crap. And you believe that we should be sharing the load to make the world more like the one you’d like to see…. then you need to stop excluding families with kids from that equation.
There were three events I wanted to go to this week. I begged for babysitters on social media. No one responded. I downgraded it to just one event, I’d like to go to this one thing for once in my life, would someone please just watch netflix in my livingroom while my child sleeps for three hours?
“I sure hope you find somebody!”
I guess I’ll see you all in eighteen years.