Since being back in the States and in language training, I haven't been as busy with work and have been able to spend more time at home. I am no less busy. Time previously spent in meetings and writing reports is now spent changing diapers, throwing together dinners and doing baths. I try to help out as much as I can, but Elise still bears the brunt of caring for our three children....AND making fabulously delicious dinners...AND being a wonderful wife...AND, least of all, running a successful photography business.
As you may have noticed, this time at home has provided me the space to think a lot about family and kids, and I feel as though I have written quite a bit about this subject of late. There is some irony here, because when you are in the midst of caring for three children, all under the age of five, you have precious little time to go to the bathroom, much less think deeply about family or parenting. At any time of day, Elise or I can be inundated with literally ten demanding requests in the span of fifteen seconds. It is enough to drive anyone mad. In the center of such pandemonium one can't hear themselves think.
Rarely, you have time to question what you are doing or why you are doing it. You are too busy just getting to the finish line, to nap time, or to when everyone is in bed for the night. Rarely, do I ever ask myself, "Why?" In the worst, most trying moments that question may become, "Why did we do this to ourselves?"
I am fascinated by demographics. A century or two ago, families in Midwest America would have a lot of kids to help out on a sprawling and busy family farm. Millennia ago, the need to reproduce was raw and instinctual. Caveman procreated without worrying about how they were going to pay for preschool or college tuition, making sure cave babies made it to soccer practice and piano lessons on time, without changing diapers, even.
In many cultures where up until a generation ago large families were common, such as in Latin America, the average number of children couples are having are now in line with Western developed nations. In some European and Asian countries, fertility rates have plummeted, leaving an aging population wondering who will work to support it. I find the macroscopic trends such as these, oftentimes based on cultural norms (or in the case of some nations, misguided government policy) intriguing. How demographic growth powers economies is where the rubber meets the road, and the confluence of national laws governing maternity (and paternity) leave, immigration policy, and fertility rates creates an elixir either sweet or bitter, depending on the mix.
I recently read an article describing how Japanese women were scorning both marriage and motherhood in pursuit of their own livelihoods and dreams. This, in and of itself, is not newsworthy, but the change was extreme and universal, sending Japan to demographic Defcon 1 in a span of less than 10 to 15 years. Now, I presume not everyone in Japan will stop having babies. But what if they did? What if everyone asked themselves, "Why? Why kids?"
Let's not sugarcoat it. When you have kids, especially small kids, 98% of your day is spent working for someone other than yourself. If you go to work in an office or stay at home and work for your kids, you either report to a boss or to your kids. Even if you love packing lunches, making sure the swim bag is stocked with suntan lotion and water wings, loading kids in and out of a hot minivan, and preparing the equivalent of evacuation supplies every time you leave the house just to make sure everyone has anything they might possibly need at any given moment....even if you love doing all that, which we do, there is going to be that morning when you may think about how nice it might be to go to a yoga class, read the paper, or use the bathroom in peace and quiet.
When you have kids, especially small kids, you don't sit down to eat, you don't have time to exercise, you go to the bathroom with the door open, someone trying to see what is in the toilet, someone else throwing tennis balls at you and a third person telling you how stinky you are. When you have kids, especially small kids, you don't have time or money to pursue your own interests. You don't have a hobby. You don't sleep in past 5:30 a.m. Ever. Not even on weekends. You don't spend one on one time with the person you love most in the world unless you plan to do so weeks in advance and spend more on a babysitter than you might on dinner. I obtain a large percentage of my daily caloric intake eating the food that Clementine has dropped to the floor as I clean up around her high chair because I don't have time to make my own meals.
Of course this is hyperbole....isn't it?
Yet, it still begs the question...Why? Who would do this to themselves? Even the least demanding kids require you to hand over most of your individual freedoms.
I think each parent would answer this question differently. I stumbled upon the best answer I have heard in a very unlikely place, a book review.
Because none of us ever really knows whether the people we become as adults are worth the love and protection given to us by our parents, at a time when we were too young to repay it, unless we offer the same love and protection in kind.
A couple of nights ago, I took Peter to his first movie in the movie theater. He's somewhat of a movie buff and was insanely excited to go. We went to see Monsters University. We bought our tickets and a giant tub of popcorn at the concession stand. We found our seats and waited patiently for the movie to start. There were a lot of previews of new cartoons, including one with a cat. The cat tickled Peter, and every time the cat pranced across the screen, Pete would say in an un-theater volume voice, "There he is again!" It hadn't occurred to me that Pete didn't know you were supposed to whisper during the movie.
We didn't make it through the whole movie. During a scene (spoiler alert!) when the monsters are having a scare contest, he whispered, "I want to go home." I think maybe the movie just got long, and he got tired. Nonetheless, we left, wondering whether or not Mike Wasowski would be let back into the Scaring Program or not.
If what I had read in the book review isn't enough, then first movies in the movie theater. That's why. No other reason needed though we can all think of a hundred similar ones. That's why kids.
It might not be enough for a generation of young Japanese businesswomen, but, right now, it's enough for me.