When I graduated from college, I packed my Toyota Corolla to the brim with clothes, sentiment-laden knick knacks, two guitars, a box of books, and a sense of adventure – and moved across the country from South Carolina to the southern-most tip of Texas, right on the border of Mexico.
Having always been a Carolina girl, I was fascinated by the dramatic change of scenery. I could drive along listening to Tejano music on the radio while staring at flat lands and vast skies that seemed to stretch out into forever. I bought ripe mangoes from roadside stands and the fruit was so juicy it could be safely consumed only while standing over my kitchen sink with a paper towel at the ready.
While running errands in the city of McAllen, Texas, I got a giddy feeling each time I saw signs saying, “Mexico: 30 miles”. I loved the luxury of leaving the country for dinner on a Friday night or a lazy Sunday afternoon excursion.
What I most enjoyed about living there, however, was the food. This was the place that introduced me to breakfast tacos, and I’ve yet to eat a breakfast taco outside of the region that begins to parallel the savory goodness I enjoyed as the resident of a border town. (I think the secret ingredient was the lard they put in the flour tortillas, a thought I’d rather not dwell upon.) Add to this the opportunities when I got to eat authentic Mexican soups and gobble up homemade tamales, and you can see that I literally took in this culture with gusto.
To this day, I might just sell my soul for a bite of just-right masa.
As you might infer, mediocre Mexican restaurants are forever ruined for me. I can tell rather quickly if the cuisine is authentic or shoddily prepared. I sometimes have a hard time accepting what a dish is when I know what a dish can be. I’m a little bit of a snob about it and, unintentionally, probably a bit condescending. We have at least four Mexican restaurants in our little town, and I will eat at only two of them.
One of the establishments I highly dislike is a favorite of some of our college friends. (Granted, this probably has more to do with the availability of margaritas than the food.) Sometimes when they visit we end up meeting them there to catch up over dinner, and it’s completely worth it to be in the company of good friends. Still, I spend much of the meal picking at my food and marveling that my friends seem to be blissfully ignorant of how terrible the ingredients on their plates really are.
It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or discerning people; it’s just that they have never been to Mexico.
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When I get around people with kids, I feel this same sensation but in reverse. Suddenly, I’m the outsider, the ignorant one, the one who hasn’t been to Mexico. “Wait till you have kids,” I am told in wizened tones, “You’ll see what it’s like.” Recently, a co-worker ten years my junior told me in all seriousness: “having a baby changes your life.” As if this was news to me, the person whose life has been changed in just the pursuit of having a baby. Even worse, I am sometimes told that I am “so lucky” because my wife and I can have spontaneous date nights and are able to sleep late on weekends. Purportedly, I also have an abundance of free time to be filled with whatever activities my heart most desires.
Never mind that what my heart most desires is to be a parent. Never mind that free time – those quiet moments when I would rather distract myself with chores than sit in silence with the demons of infertility – scares the hell out of me. Never mind that my free time is not as abundant as one would think because, as a childless person, I am more likely to get volunteered for committees or handed extra responsibilities at work. After all, no one’s depending on me when I get home.
It feels sometimes as if my personal time is seen as having less value because it is not spent raising a child. Because I am not molding a little human, what I do when I go home is just fluff.
Perhaps most insulting of all, I am lumped into a group called People Without Kids, a cabal of know-it-alls who apparently love to give kid advice while having no actual parenting experience. People Without Kids are the butt of many jokes. I regularly see little jabs at us floating around on Facebook. While the setup changes, the punch line is always the same: we are clueless people, delusional, and completely out of the loop. (Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be in the loop!)
While I’m sure any parent has a collection of stories about something hurtful that was said by a meddling but childless individual, I strongly dislike being sorted into the same category. I do not, to my knowledge, go around dispensing unsolicited child-rearing advice. I tend to work on the assumption that parents are doing the best that they can and need others’ support, not criticism. It also helps that I think my friends and family members are fabulous parents and do not, consequently, need any input from me.
That said, I think I am coming to understand the well-meaning busybodies more and more as time goes by. In the three years our family has been dealing with infertility, we have had plenty of time to think about what we will and won’t do as parents. We have carefully-developed thoughts and opinions about parenthood, and they are valid. We don’t tend to spread our parenting philosophies like gospel because each family is so different and has different needs; yet, I can understand the motivations of those pesky busybodies. Like them, we just want to be included, to have a seat at the table. We want to be members of a club we have paid dearly to enter yet don’t belong to.But before you judge or even envy me for my childless state, please remember what else I don’t get.Click To Tweet
It can be uncomfortable being the only childless couple at a gathering of a large group of friends. People are naturally going to spend most of their time talking about their kids, and we don’t have anything to contribute to that conversation. We could always bring up our dogs, but the mishaps and antics of raising dogs are nowhere near comparable to the weighty task of being a parent. When talking with sleep-deprived friends, it feels trivial to mention that our Pomeranian woke us up at 2 a.m. the night before because he had to pee.
So, I get it. I get that I don’t get parenthood. I realize I will never fully understand the gravity of what it means to be a parent until I become one. I can hear all of the stories of late night feedings and spit-up laden clothes and leaky breasts and still not know at that bones-deep level what it feels like to care for an infant. I can listen to tales of epic temper tantrums and know that my patience has not yet been tested to its ultimate bounds. I get that, were I to become a parent, my house would be exponentially messier and date nights would be rare and not at all spontaneous.
But before you judge or even envy me for my childless state, please remember what else I don’t get. I don’t get an exuberant toddler running to me and wrapping herself around my legs. I don’t get to croon lullabies while rocking a warm baby to sleep. I don’t get to hear, “I love you, Mommy” and a thousand other little things that make the hugely challenging job of a parent so infinitely worthwhile. I don’t know what it feels like to see a little piece of myself walking on two feet exploring the world with wonder and love. Ignorance, it turns out, is not always bliss.
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I have been to Mexico. I became a local. I tasted the food, walked the terrain, and spoke the language (badly). I made memories there and have stories to tell. I have not, however, traveled down the path of parenthood. I have read books, watched movies, and even heard first-hand accounts of what the experience is like, but I don’t truly know it. I think about it nearly all the time and have spent all my savings trying to get that particular passport stamped. So please don’t trivialize my life, treat me as lesser than, or turn me into a joke.
No, I haven’t been there, but it sure as hell isn’t from a lack of trying.