On Monday afternoon my work phone rang, as it is wont to do. I answered it.
“Good afternoon, College of Engineering.”
A man’s voice answered.
“I just have to ask you a question.”
My stomach sank a little at the tone in his voice. I have had these interactions so many times before that I feel like I respond to cues that I could not possibly articulate to you. I knew, in my gut, that he was about to be disgusting.
“Sure!” I said, trying to maintain my chipper phone demeanor. “How can I help you?”
“I just need to know what color your panties are so I can jerk off.”
My face and neck were suddenly hot and crawling with shame. I snarled “go fuck yourself” into the phone line and hung up.
Friends, I am so tired.
When I walked home from work on Monday I felt so strange. I had my headphones in. No music playing, as usual. Just a condom against the world. A prophylactic to allow me to ignore people when it suited me. When men yelled things at me from cars or “mhm’d” their way past me on the street.
I listened to the muffled sounds of the world around me through the plug of my headphones. I could barely make out the sounds of birds in the trees at the park. The sound of my own footsteps seemed so far away.
I felt so fucking sad in that moment. Here I was, muting the world around me just so that I could create a barrier against harassment.
I took my headphones out.
I listened to the unfettered sound of the world around me and smiled.
I spend so much time trying to protect myself from harassment. Sometimes, in the summer, when it is too hot to cover my body entirely in cloth, I will stay inside until I have an escort. Other times I will wrap myself in jeans rather than a short skirt in order to avoid the possibility of leers and comments.
I refuse to wear sexy clothing when I am going to be taking public transportation.
At work, when people say weird or inappropriate things, I freeze.
I refuse to be this person any longer. I refuse to act as though I am afraid.
I have taken my headphones off.
I will wear my short skirts whenever I please.
And everyone at work had better be prepared for me to go full-on feminist killjoy on them when they tell me I should smile, or call me “sweetheart.”
I am officially done muting the beauty of the world around me and curating my behaviors in order to make it so that these jerks do not see the chinks in my armor.
Yesterday at work I got into a conversation with the girl who cleans the first floor of this building. I always like it when she stops by. She’s really sweet and artistic. She has an 8 month old son and we talk about him a lot. Halloween is coming up, so she’s been debating what costume to get. And holy crap, is that a mine field of choices. And I’m not being facetious here.
I made the obvious suggestion.
So she’s been struggling with this choice. And I’m insisting to her that a Dobby costume is The Way To Go. And she’s saying she never read the books, but I’m confident that doesn’t matter because a tiny elf baby is cuter than a stupid teddy bear any day of the week.*
In conversation, it comes out that I used to nanny before I took this job. She asks me about the boy, and I tell her a little about him. And how I sort of miss being a playmate all day long but I like the regularity of my job.
Then comes The Question.
“Do you plan on having kids?”
I give my usual answer.
And then comes the inevitable series of comments and questions and the long litany of reasons why parenthood is an ocean of flowers and mental orgasms and gorgeous photos of ponies running on rainbows in the summertime and I’m just resisting the urge to be a jerk to this woman because I actually do like her and I don’t think she’s doing what she’s doing to be malicious but the urge to yell at her during the whole exchange is driving me crazy.
*breathes after the longest run on sentence ever*
So, point is, I’m going to use this blog post to say the things that I can never say to the people who bug me about not having kids. Because telling coworkers to fuck right off is, generally speaking, not considered “good form.”
We’ll start with the most basic. Generally, the first question is:
Because I don’t want to? Because none of your business?
But seriously, if you want an answer to that that’s direct and to the point, I’ll give you one. Or three. First, I am terrified of pregnancy. Like, the idea of having my body usurped by a little person makes me so anxious that I start sweating and, if I think about it too long, I get a stomach ache and need to lie down. So… not a great sign. Second, I’m selfish. Like, really. I want what I want when I want it. And as a person with no children, I can usually have those things. Quiet time? Done. A nap? Done. A trip to Asia? Some saving and, again, done. If you have a kid, you have to be all kinds of selfless. And I can do that in small amounts, but not on a 365 day a year basis for the next 18 years. And third, I really, really, really don’t deal well with gross stuff like poop or blood or illness or any of that. Again with the anxiety. It’s why I’m not a nurse. I dealt with poops and things as a nanny because I was paid to do it, but I gagged every time. And I pick up my dog’s poop with the same amount of gastrointestinal churning, but I put up with it because it’s part of the program and I can get fined if I don’t. So, basically, I’ll only deal with poops if there is some kind of financial benefit or in fear of some kind of financial penalty.
But you’d be a great mom!
Thanks for the compliment, random person that doesn’t know me. But I really don’t think you’re qualified to tell me whether or not I would be a good parent.
In fact, I think that, given that I actually worked as a nanny and was able to judge myself based on my personal Fed-Up-With-Kids-O-Meter™ at the end of any given day, I think that I am infinitely qualified to make a judgment on my own about what I want to do with my life and my ovaries. And even if that weren’t the case, I’m still a better judge of me than you are, having had a lifetime to get to know myself.
And being good with kids doesn’t necessarily mean that I want kids. I’m also good with snakes and have handled live cockroaches. I don’t want either of those things. Conversely, I very much want plants but have murdered every single one I have ever owned.
You’ll change your mind at some point.
You know what, that may be so. But I don’t think you’re really qualified to tell me that, Mr. Always Covered in Unnamed Child Stains. Unless you got those stains whilst building a time machine with your child and have seen the future. Which, if you have, could you please give me some winning lottery numbers or ancient relics with which I could make my fortune?
But let’s be serious, if I do change my mind and it’s “too late” and my uterus expires, there’s this handy thing called adoption. Or surrogacy if I’m really attached to having a genetic clone.
And honestly, the thing I’m scared about the most when it comes to kids is that I’ll change my mind after the kid is born. And I know, all the parents in the world will try to tell me that you love them and want them no matter what once they’ve clawed their way remorselessly from your belly like a terrifying, bloodied alien, but here’s the thing, I’m worried that about half of them are lying out their asses. Because you have to figure that, for every parent that is just over the moon about their progeny, there has to be at least one that is more than a little bit unhappy with the whole parenting gig. But if they were to admit that, I’m pretty sure they would be tarred and feathered by the local PTA in some kind of insane culling ritual.
Who will take care of you when you’re old?
There are so many things wrong with that question. Let’s start with the first one. Who the fuck has kids just so they can be cared for in their old age? I mean, really? How selfish is that? And leaving that aside, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be batshit insane when I’m super duper old and need care, in which case my kids probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me anyway and would put me into a little old person storage unit to sit there until I die from boredom and despair.
You don’t know what love is until you have a child.
Really? I don’t know what love is? You know what, that statement is so presumptuous and nasty that there’s no real way to answer that one other than to tell you to fuck right off. So… you know… fuck right off.
Don’t your parents want grandchildren?
Yes, I have actually had people ask me this on behalf of my parents. Because that’s not creepy at all. Well here’s an answer, nosy guy: Maybe? Probably? But it’s not their choice whether or not I bring life in the world. And here’s a weird story: I have zero intention to give up on my major goals in life (travel, gaming, hobbies, and having nice things) so that they can snuggle a new life once a week. I love my parents very much, but I refuse to give in to the social pressure to have children so that my parents get to experience grandparent-hood.
Hey, let’s be honest, I would be a stellar parent. And if I, somehow, were saddled with a child accidentally (thank all the holy things that ever existed for the lack of accidental pregnancies inherent in the lesbian relationship), I would parent that kid so hard. I would get an honorary advanced degree in parenting. And I would love them more than anything on earth and I would kill and eat anything that tried to hurt them. Because that is how parents should be.
But I don’t particularly want to do it. And if I don’t really want to do something, doing it because of my inherent ability to incubate a life or because of some crippling fear of loneliness in my old age seems like a really terrible idea that is bound to end in tears for many – if not all – of those involved. And, given that I associate way too deeply with the lady on the right in this particular Oatmeal comic:
… maybe we should both just agree that having kids isn’t for me and move on?
*As I was writing this, the girl from my office walked in, we chatted, and I suggested the best possible mother and baby Halloween costume. And she is going to do it. We even discussed the best ways to draw a mustache on her son.