All of my college and post-college friends are married and have children. I will go so far as to note that none of them have babies (which was a cute and novel phase) anymore, all of them have real-deal children, small humans with free will who have some semblance of the capability to reason and to express themselves: children. The kind of whom is said “We took X hiking for the first time” or “Can now ride his bike without training wheels.”
So when our busy schedules line up such that we can catch up, their stories and lives largely revolve around these small humans: kindergarten choices, the “strip off all your clothes and run around the neighborhood” incident etc. I love these stories, they make me laugh, they make me cry. They’re great stories told by wonderful people about amazing small beings becoming wonderful people.
But then, reciprocally, I’m asked “What’s been up with you?” or “What are you doing tomorrow?” and I feel incredibly awkward. Because the truth is, my day-to-day is, to be honest, kind of the envy of the weary, responsibility-laden parent.
So there you are, in the lovely home, decorated with lovely finger-painted pictures, near folded bibs and pajamas and made ready for loading up in to small, sticker-covered dressers in adorable purple rooms bedecked with stuffed animals and they ask you this and, if you reply honestly, you will sound like a complete jerk or someone who’s “rubbing it in.”
“Well I was planning on sleeping until I woke up, then grabbing some pancakes at this brunch place up the street, then maybe reading a book I got from the library that’s due back next week, then a nap, and then going grocery shopping before it gets crowded.”
“Oh, what we did last weekend? We went out for drinks at this great lounge, slept late and then saw a movie.”
“Oh, well we had a really romantic dinner at this new place and then came home and fade to black“
You look into those loving eyes, those ones that have to explain the great riddles of the universe to small, tender souls new to this world, mysteries about colors, poop, death, and crossing the street safely and you feel, simply put, incredibly jerky. You are explaining the aesthetic life of “A” from Either / Or to nuns and monks, livers of the ethical life of Kierkergaard. At the mention of “sleeping in” you see a glazing of their eyes in forelorn envy, at “go to the movies” you can tell you might as well have uttered something in ancient Macedonian, and at “really great Manhattans” they ponder falteringly this phenomenon of “nightlife.”
And then you feel like a massive jerk. It’s not that the child-free life is a life of hedonism. Rather, it’s merely free of absolute responsibility for others. It’s unburdened by a persistent, low-grade worry about those who are absolutely dependent on you. And you feel like explaining your life to those who are in the middle of an 18-30 year sentence exiled away from such a carefree attitude is taunting the prisoners or that your own existence is somehow less legitimate.
And my friends are all wonderful people, I’m sure they don’t think any of these things about which I do think and about which I do have this described anxiety, of course. But I always feel a bit anxious around this line of questioning, like that the honest answer’s glorious freedom simply cannot be communicated in a sensitive, yet honest, fashion.