Friday, January 25, 2013

Beware the Breeders

The mom with the slew of teenage kids was pretty lit by the time she approached me. Her delicate, fifty-something face was utterly serious. "You're the baby's mother, right?"

I didn't like where this was going but I was tired and comfortably seated on the living room floor. I smiled. "Yes."

"I had my first child when I was 34..."

"Ohmigod, me too!" I interrupted, hoping a dose of goofball levity might spare me whatever diatribe was incoming.

It was too late. "...and now I have five children and you should just know, kids are God's greatest blessing. Family is the most important thing. Your love knows no limits. Having more kids will only make you happier. The most important thing is family." Oh, boy, she was super drunk, just dumping her heart out, redundantly. "People will try to tell you, oh, there's not enough money." She shook her head. "That's just... that's just garbage. God only gives what you can take." Considering that her husband is a surgeon, that last statement was almost logical.

I don't know what possesses a tipsy breeder to accost a stranger at a party and advise her about family planning. Oddly, this is not an uncommon experience. You'd think I have the words "one and done" tattooed on my forehead. It happens that I have no interest in bearing another child. While I don't often volunteer this information, it doesn't matter because the breeders know it and they are determined to change my mind. Nothing I say can convince them that I know what I want. They assume I can't comprehend the joys of a large family (I'm the sixth of seven children). They tell me that it's so much easier after the first kid because you don't sweat the small stuff, and by the fourth or fifth kid you don't stress over anything (again, I'm the sixth of seven kids, I know all about that). They tell me that I shouldn't worry too much about the money because it will all be just fine (I do know the comfort of not worrying too much about the money because it's a completely new experience for Dan and me these past couple years AND I'M NOT ABOUT TO FUCK IT UP).

Then there are the "oops" parents. They're more down-to-earth than the breeders, but just as determined to reel me in. They mention something about the future, "when you have another kid." I say, "Nope, I'm just having one." Then they get this weird gleam in their eyes and say, "Ha ha ha, that's what I thought," like they're wishing me an unwanted pregnancy. And I don't know what to say to that but I'm tempted to shoot back, "Ha ha ha, then I guess I'll have an abortion." Do we really want to go that conversational route? Listen, oops parents, you're presuming a great deal about my birth control methods and revealing a lot about your own. The chit-chat's getting awfully personal, don't you think?

All of which is my roundabout way of saying, mind your own business! Attention, everyone: I don't care if you decide to have zero, one or fifteen kids. I trust that you know what you want and hope the outcome either matches your desire or somehow makes you happier than you expected. I hope you hope the same for me. And if you don't, that's okay. As long as I don't have to hear it, your opinion is just fine with me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cautionary Tales

In the first week of the new year, I happened to watch two films that make oddly appropriate companion pieces - Private Benjamin (1980) and The Queen of Versailles (2012). The former stars Goldie Hawn as a newlywed then newly widowed rich girl who enlists in the army under the misapprehension that it will be a fun, luxurious, jet-setting spree. The latter is a documentary about billionaire timeshare resort king David Siegel and his young wife Jackie, who began construction on the biggest house in the USA shortly before the 2008 recession. The filmmaker follows the Siegels through their financial downturn as they adjust to living with a much smaller fortune, but it's mainly Jackie's story.

By analyzing these two films a certain way, it's possible to Jackie's experience as the mirror reverse of Judy Benjamin's journey. I don't want to delve too deeply into that analysis, if only to spare the reader any spoilers. Both movies are quite good and I recommend watching them. Rather, I just want to touch on the single greatest lesson I learned from both stories, which is this - ladies, if you have a sharp mind, DO NOT become a princess. I get the temptation, the allure of having all the stuff and things you could ever want for the mere price of looking pretty. But if doing that, spending money and throwing parties are all you contribute to anything, your brain will atrophy, people will treat you like a dummy and you will inevitably act the part. Extricating oneself from that role is enormously difficult. Granted, this is not a new lesson. I've been hip to it since the first time I watched "A Doll's House" on Masterpiece Theater. But these more recently conceived narratives - particularly the true story from last year - demonstrate that the moral is as relevant now as it ever was. Don't be a princess. Oh, and don't get your pride caught up in posessions, because then it's too easy to lose.