How well I recall those halcyon days when newspapers had space and occasionally put something in it. The wires were like our own private internet, bringing the wonders of the world to our desks. One day, it brought a lengthy Sunday piece over the transom, an excerpt from a new book, “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless.”
It was set up as a day in the life of a childless woman, let’s call her Betty Barren, as she navigates her hostile world. Terrible things happen to her. She has to cover for a co-worker who left early to watch her kid’s soccer game. Another one is out on maternity leave and it was recently announced that when she returns, she’ll be working reduced hours, which equals more work for Betty. Betty finally is able to get away from this horrible place — nearly suffocated by all the featherbeds lying around — and stops at a drugstore for headache relief. She pulls into a space, only to see the sign: Reserved for expectant mothers. Not that she has much money to spend on Tylenol, anyway, the parents having sucked up all the tax credits.
It went on at some length like this. Poor Betty! Is she the unluckiest childless woman in the world? No, just typical.
As an introduction to the nascent social movement sometimes known as the Child-Free, it was an eye-opener. I did a little internet research, the internet being where a lot of them hung out, bitching on Usenet boards about all those things Betty endured, and about a million more. They had their own vocabulary. Children were spawn, sprogs or crotchfruit. Parents are breeders, of course. There were long, long threads on whether this or that celebrity or supermodel had lost hotness since she sprogged. (The consensus, inevitably, was that she had.) There were self-righteous rants about not taxing the fragile earth with more destructive humans, interspersed with whining about why they can’t stay home from work when their pets are sick. (They all had pets. They called them “fur children.”) There were even a few beefs I could absolutely get with, about misbehaving toddlers at symphony orchestras and the like. But the overwhelming impression was of a group of people carrying a double load of resentment and free time. Yes, even with all those unpaid extra hours at work, covering for the parents.
“The Baby Boon” excerpt was of a piece with this, with the same tone of hectoring indignation.
(I should pause at this point and say that I don’t want to make this a debate over the choice of whether or not to have a child, which is about as personal as it gets and, ultimately, not very interesting. There are rewards and costs for both choices. I enjoy many friends and acquaintances in both camps, and love them all. And in case you’re wondering, every anecdote about Betty Barren can be matched with one from the other side, about Patty Party and her tendency to show up for work late after a night on the town, etc. The tax policy, etc. I’ll leave for another day, although the late journalist Marjorie Williams took the book apart rather ably here.)
Anyway, after reading Betty’s sad story and a gloss over the terribly unfair culture and government policies that support this state of affairs, I scrolled back up to see who had written this screed. Elinor Burkett. The name stayed with me.
So when the lady in purple hip-checked her partner away from the microphone last night at the Oscars, surely the rudest display in some time, I knew there was a reason her name sounded familiar. Her speech was mush, by the way, but I love the look on his face. You will not be surprised to learn they’re not speaking. Salon has a backgrounder.
And if you’re still interested, John Scalzi’s “Trolling the Childfree” is sort of magnificent. Oh, and I always park in those “reserved for expectant mothers” spaces. They’re not enforced by law, and my sore knee frequently bothers me more than a late-term pregnancy ever did. If anyone ever challenges me, I plan to say, “The doctor just called. It’s twins! I’m so happy!”
So how was your weekend? Mine was OK, except for getting sick with some sort of chesty/bronchial thing. I swing between 100-degree fevers and soaking sweats, which isn’t pleasant. But I’ll survive.