One day back in my happily childless twenties, I visited my favorite produce market on a Saturday when the place was so crowded I popped three tomatoes just trying to shimmy down an aisle. I passed a woman with a full grocery cart and two elementary-aged kids and thought, “God, why would she bring them here on a Saturday?” A minute later, her little girl tried to ride the cart and tipped the whole contraption, distributing melons and imported dates across three aisles.
Waiting in the fancy cheese line, I stood patiently as the man in front of me held his daughter up so that she could sample several varieties of cheddar, and wondered, “Does this asshole realize there are six people behind him? Can't he culture this kid on a quiet Tuesday?”
Today I watched a conversation on a friend's Facebook page where several moms tried explaining to one twenty-something woman why we bring our children, you know, out in public, like, ever, and later in the thread, why we choose to have children at all.
Maybe you've noticed that lately the Internet has been pretty harsh toward us parents. We can't do right on planes, in restaurants, museums, we complain too much, we don't enjoy it enough. Our kids are either monsters or milksops, spoiled rotten or thoroughly neglected. Apparently we weren't being judgmental enough of each other, so anonymous strangers have risen to the occasion.
It's not hard to be smug. If I really wanted to, I could give it back and better—I've been a childless twenty-something. I've lived in cities, shared public transportation with strollers, eaten next to fussy babies. I didn't want to have kids, but I managed to make my decision without basing it on some superficial opinion of people I read about on the Internet. I was able to conclude that maybe parenthood wasn't my bag for well-thought-out reasons, not because one time a kid threw a tantrum next to me in Starbucks.
The childfree who take such satisfaction in the wholesale dismissal of parenthood have zero idea what it is to have a kid—no stop, don't even argue. Please. Periodendofstory. I don't say this to people when they wonder why anyone who'd complain about spending Saturday night contracting Black Plague at Chuck E. Cheese's ever reproduced in the first place. I don't wag my knowing finger and tsk,
“Oh, you'll see, honey. Around the same time you realize how silly those enormous glasses make you look and stop with the pioneer beard, you'll see what an amazing gift children are. You'll understand that for every shitty, dry birthday party where all they serve is Walmart cupcakes and boxes of Hi-C, there are a million sparkling bursts of joy.” That would just be condescending.
No, I'm content to keep that piece of satisfaction to myself and instead diplomatically explain that I really do enjoy bringing my five-year-old to the grocery store, because she loves the free slice of cheese at the deli and she can read all of the cereal boxes now, which is incredible. I remember my twenty-five-year-old self and I know I'd have had little understanding of this. When I was in my twenties, a co-worker lost her three-year-old to a genetic disorder. I knew intellectually that it was tragic and that she was heartbroken, but it's only now that I can comprehend the depths of her devastation and marvel that she ever returned to our office.
I don't think I'm any better than those who haven't yet or who've decided to never reproduce—some of my favorite people are gleefully unencumbered by offspring—and I don't evangelize for breeding. I also don't bother myself with concerns over what people half my age do with their lives, and I won't condemn an entire demographic based on random public interactions or some poorly composed viral headline.
Maybe I'm singing a tune that's only familiar to my contemporaries, but what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?