In Defense of Defending My Childfree Status
I’m so sick of hearing young women hastily claiming, “I’m not a feminist.” Usually they believe in many of the core principles of feminism–equal pay for equal work, not being confined to “traditional” gender roles, prevention and awareness of sexual abuse–but they refuse to call themselves feminists because the label conjures an immediate image of the humorless bra-burners depicted more in “traditionalist” screeds instead of real life.
I, however, choose to take the label of feminism and own it. Just like I also choose to own the label of childfree. However, I do have some fears about unnecessarily instigating backlash against the latter movement that resembles what the former has seen all too frequently, so I try to keep my opinions on the subject mild and peppered with humor.
But the more I think about the backlash that already exists, the more pissed I get. Perhaps this has something to do with my upcoming 27th birthday and the fact that I’ve heard none-too-subtle hints that I’d better get on the babby-making train before my ovaries shrivel up and commit suicide from the lonely life of a cat lady or whatever is supposed to happen. Perhaps it’s related to an upcoming visit from my uncle’s sister, who is convinced in her heart of hearts that everybody wants to have children.
I’m flat-out tired of having to explain my reasons why I don’t want to follow the script. I’m tired of everybody thinking there’s something horribly wrong with me because working with children as a ski instructor makes me even more sure of my path in life. Up until yesterday, I’d never worked with anyone under the age of seven, not since being that young myself. Then I got assigned to teach a family with ages ranging from six to mid-forties.
This isn’t usually a problem for me, certainly not the way it is for some of the children-specific instructors. I like having the parents as a buffer. Someone besides me is responsible for handling tantrums, stuck zippers, and malfunctioning equipment. But the adults in my group decided to ski on their own halfway through the lesson, leaving me solely responsible for the children.
I’ve worked with kids before. Just not six-year-olds. I’ve occasionally had to go in to the indoor supervisor and gently explain this, couching it in terms of the parents doubtlessly not wanting to pay private-lesson prices for an instructor who might or might not have sufficient patience to work with very young children.
Turns out there was a good reason for me to remove myself from lessons with that age group. This particular six-year-old wasn’t even that bad. He took everything in good humor, from the falls to his inability to get his skis on and off by himself. And I remembered enough from high school acting classes that I plastered a grin on my face and maintained a cheerful tone of voice as I helped him with tasks that were basic to me and, hell, most of my guests after they’d spent five minutes with me.
But I was inwardly counting the minutes until I could hand him and the older charges back to their parents. I couldn’t manage four hours with a six-year-old, mentally or physically–I’m pretty sure the stress from that experience contributed to a precipitous drop in my blood sugar that led to me having to duck out of the lesson early or risk facing a diabetic seizure. And yet, society at large expects me to handle a six-year-old for a whole year, not to mention the years leading up to that point. For me, kids’ ages are inversely proportional to my level of comfort around them.
But I know I’ll try and relate this story and the myriad reasons surrounding it to my uncle’s sister. And even if there were no English-Hebrew language barrier blocking us from any deep understanding, the message would still fail to take hold. Surely being childfree is just a phase that many twenty-year-olds go through before they wake up to the blaring alarms from their biological clocks, right?
Maybe I can turn this on its head. Maybe I can ask her how she’d have felt if someone had told her in the midst of her baby-craziness that she was “just going through a phase,” and that she’d soon opt out once she considered how much thankless work child-rearing can be.
But maybe it’s best I don’t stir the waters too hard. After all, I’ve already got the bra bonfire scheduled for the morning of her arrival.