Choosing (to have a) life

Thanks to the medical miracle of birth control, couples today can decide whether to populate their homes with screaming rugrats.

Having children no longer is a matter of chance (except for those who maybe had too much to drink). It's a conscious decision, one that should be weighed carefully. Becoming a parent changes your life in irretrievable ways, and modern couples can consider those changes and decide whether it's all worth it.

I was on an airplane recently with a harried couple who were shepherding three boys under the age of six. My thoughts: Haven't you two figured out what's causing all those pregnancies? Did you do this to yourselves on purpose? And, given the opportunity, would you do it again?
Perhaps they would. Perhaps they are the type of adults who can't picture a life devoid of kids. But that day on the plane, as the boys howled in unison, they seemed to be having second thoughts.

I love my two sons more than life itself, but not a week goes by that I don't look at them and consider this question: "What the heck were we thinking?"

My wife and I spent six years together before our first son was born. Maybe I romanticize those years now, but I remember them being full of movie dates and candlelit dinners and spur-of-the-moment weekend trips. Quiet evenings together at home. Privacy.

We gave all that up to have children. We made the sacrifice in return for those golden moments that only children can supply: Two o'clock feedings. Biohazard diapers. Report cards. The proud, beaming face of a small boy who's created a masterful Crayola artwork on a freshly painted wall.

We don't regret the decision, not exactly. Our sons have lit up our lives in ways we never expected, particularly when they play with matches. Like most parents, we're happy that these youngsters have brought so much unconditional love to our household. But second thoughts? You betcha.

Most parents don't like to admit such doubts. We want others to believe we're wonderful people who are in love with our kids and everything they do. But occasionally you run into parents who'll confess that it's a tough job, one they wouldn't tackle again, given the option.

My father is one of these honest parents. His standard line over the years: "I wouldn't take a million dollars for either of my sons, but I wouldn't give you 15 cents for another one."

Somewhere out there are couples who are deciding whether to have children. What follows are some of the harsh realities that should be considered before you take the plunge:

--Children do not come with an owner's manual.

You're on your own when it comes to parenting. People will give you advice (that's what grandparents are for), but each parent-child relationship is unique and it'll be up to you to figure out how to survive it.

--Children do not come with an "mute" button.

But, lordy, how you'll wish they did.

--Having children is similar to taking a vow of poverty.

I read somewhere that it costs $180,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18. Beyond that age, there's college tuition, loans to be co-signed, and various other expenses, such as bail. Sure, you get a tax credit each year for each child, but overall it's a financial sinkhole.

--Children do things that would be considered insane behavior in adults.

Take "play," for instance. My boys play by pacing around, talking to themselves and making shooting noises. If you walked down the street doing the same, someone would summon the boys with the butterfly nets. But parents know we must encourage such behavior because it shows imagination. And we don't even get to wear earplugs.

--Children eventually become teen-agers.

'Nuff said.

--Parenting never ends.

You may enjoy being a parent. It may fulfill you in every way possible. But there will come a day when you'll wish you could retire from the job, and you can't. There's no gold watch at the end. Even when your kids are all grown up, educated and successful in their own lives, you'll still worry about them all the time. And they won't visit often enough.

And you'll miss them.


Phil Fountain said...

Five children. My wife and I had five children. Five. Children. Cinco ninos. One, two, three, four, five. Four boys, one girl. Five children we had.
They changed my life. I have no money and I wish I had considered more seriously the whole gay thing.


You are much man, Senor Phil.

The thought of five children sends me into a fit of mumbling, rapid blinking and lip-diddling. Budda-budda-budda.

Hal Johnson said...

Man, I'd have to resort to using something illegal to keep up with five kids.