I bow to no one when it comes to admiring conservative author Mark Steyn.
I’ve traveled miles to hear him speak and even own “Mark Steyn” t-shirts.
However, he and I disagree about arguably his most famous conviction:
That we in the West need to have more children, pronto.
I might joke that the best argument against Steyn’s conclusion is, well, this.
But obviously, I know Steyn’s right.
However, like Al Gore with his private jet, I just don’t plan to do my part to ameliorate this state of affairs.
I never have.
When I was playing with a doll, all of age four, some nice lady bent down and chirped, “I guess you’ll want a real one of those of your own one day…?”
I recoiled in horror. Normally a quiet (nay, catatonic) youngster, I can still hear myself bawling, “NO!!”
I have never entertained a different answer. Not even for a moment — passionate, drunken, hormonal, or otherwise.
Why is that?
(Besides the obvious answer: Because gross!)
#4 — Personal experience
Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT one of those “childfree movement” types who suck up bandwidth bashing “breeders.”
I have no desire to turn my barrenness into a cause, and don’t care who does or doesn’t reproduce. Fill yer (baby) booties!
Appropriately enough for such a “selfish” sort, my childlessness is all about me.
But first, some history:
In agrarian times, people had lots of kids because they were an asset. You needed extra hands at harvest time. Plus the infant mortality rate was off the charts.
The shift from country to city meant children became liabilities. Another mouth to feed, taking up space in a crowded tenement and unable to earn their keep after the passage of child labor laws.
I’m a city kid, born in 1964, when birth control — while available — wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today.
And by “city” I don’t mean the fancy part of town. In my old neighborhood, babies were mostly “accidents.”
Middle and upper class folks in those days at least had the sense to disguise their aversion to parenthood with liberal bromides like, “I can’t imagine bringing a child into this horrible world.”
In my part of town, though, fathers and mothers “joked” openly and incessantly about how much they hated the summer break. If anyone was innocent enough to remark, “Your son” (or daughter) is so adorable,” said parent wouldn’t miss a beat:
“Wanna take ‘im home? You can have him!”
The one thing children were good for was going out for smokes when mom or dad were too drunk and lazy to get off the couch. Until they changed the laws about how old you had to be to buy cigarettes, that was pretty much my job.
My earliest memory is being thrown into a Christmas tree by one of my dad’s drunk friends. (For years I thought I’d imagined that, but the guy who did it apologized decades later, at my father’s funeral.)
Being a dad was eating into my father’s partying, so he took off shortly thereafter, and never paid child support. My mother had to work. She hated every minute of it. I hated every minute of it. She cried every night, but didn’t think I knew.
Everyone, including her, recited the contemporary “best-practices” line about how my parent’s divorce wasn’t my fault.
Except it was, and I knew it.
Therefore we can see how having children ruins your life, and how easy it is to ruin your children’s.
#3 — Pop Culture
What? You need more reasons after that? That spot ran a hundred times a day.
(And note the “rated PG.” I shudder to think how many kids went to see the actual movie.)
I have a vague theory about the “evil child” movies that started with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and carried on through The Other (1972), The Exorcist (1972), It’s Alive (1974), The Omen (1976), Audrey Rose and Alice, Sweet Alice (both 1977). That is, that they reflect the increased availability and acceptance of birth control and abortion. (The Roe v. Wade decision dates to 1972) .
Now people had the means to turn their secret ambivalence about having children from a shameful “con” into a “pro” to be proud of.
Always thought children were a burden or worse, evil little “no neck monsters,” a la Maggie the Cat? Have we got a smash hit movie and/or million selling novel for you!
#2 — Genetics
I realize concepts like probability and DNA can be tough to master – just ask the OJ jury – but even an egomanic like me doesn’t think the world needs another Aspie, alcoholic, arthritic almost-midget who makes Wednesday Addams look like Heidi.
Genes are a bitch. Know why I’m 4’11”? Because my Scottish great-grandmother (or was it great-great-?) had a fling with a jockey. I’m supposed to be proud that he was, I’ve been assured, “one of the greatest jockeys in all of Scotland.” Super. That and a few bucks gets me a (short) espresso.
It used to be more acceptable to scold childless women for being “selfish.”
Frankly, what would be selfish would be thinking my genetic material is worth duplicating.
#1 — Temperament
I’m the only child of two only children. That is not a recipe for “Mother of the Year.”
I didn’t like children when I was a child, so much so that I refused to go to summer camp and spent the entirety of my first and last Brownie meeting hiding in the community center bathroom.
Alas, I don’t see much evidence – in the malls, in other people’s homes, on voyages aboard Screaming Baby Airlines — to indicate that their behavior has improved over the decades.
Children are always broke and are poor conversationalists. Their jokes aren’t funny. These are traits you avoid while choosing friends; why would you want to intentionally lock yourself into a 24/7 relationship with someone exactly like that, and, worse, saddle yourself with paying their every expense for 20+ years?
There’s a reason I’m a writer and not, say, a chirpy Wal-Mart greeter or back-slapping used car salesman. I can’t abide noise, interruptions, disruptions in my rigid routine or the thought of other people touching my stuff.
Again, not ideal maternal qualifications.
I can barely cope with my cat barfs. Imagine me changing diapers.
I could go on for a thousand more words — and touch on the Chowchilla kidnapping, and how being taught by nuns modeled respectable childlessness — but why bother? I’m almost at the age when this entire issue (if you’ll pardon the pun) will be moot.
Although I must confess, if I could get an iron clad guarantee that my child would turn out like this, I might reconsider: