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Language Log

Thursday, May. 29, 2008 - 9:48 a.m.

I'm here in Memphis for the baby shower we're giving for a friend. Yeah, babies on the minds of everyone all weekend. I, for one, will try to be on good behavior.
The situation thus far:

1. I refrain from commenting (on the dolls the MIL has chosen as centerpieces) that I don't like dolls because I don't like babies and have no maternal instincts whatsoever. I mention that I don't like dolls, but manage to spare her the reasons why.

2. She punches me in the arm for joking that with the long list of people in her sphere who are having babies, she has 'plenty enough'. She didn't seem to think that was funny.

3. Seriously, the whole thing makes me feel a bit undervalued-- a mere means to an end. A baby production factory that isn't quite functioning yet. All this other stuff I do is all well and good, but beside the point, and why don't I just get on with it. It's the sort of thing that used to make me feel sorry for women in other countries, but now it's home. I mean, they're nice about it, but that's still the feeling I get.

4. Eew.

5. I heard a reprise interview on Fresh Air with Nuala something, an Irish writer who died recently. She had reached middle age with no husband, and no children, and had some thoughtful things to say about it. In particular, she mentioned how the search for meaning in life was more difficult for her-- other people can have babies, and 'manufacture their own meaning'. And it's pretty easy, and you don't have to put much thought into it. But for the childless, they have to find their meaning elsewhere, and that can be a real challenge.

I found that a very well-phrased, somewhat more politely put version of what I've always thought on the subject. I've always looked down on people whose meaning was all and only their children. Seemed like taking the easy, unreflective way out. Still does, frankly. Babies are for people with nothing better to do with themselves, no other potential. (I know, the post-feminists would hang me for this; so be it).

Now, I recognize that this is an oversimplified view at best. I still think that is the case for lots of people, but my perspective has changed a bit; we have room for all sorts of meaning in our lives. What bugs me, especially given #4 above, is that others take the opposite view entirely: that babies are the only legitimate source of meaning in life.

I'm trying to be a grown up about it (at this point I know many thoughtful, intelligent people who have chosen to have babies), but deep down, part of me still feels like babies are for people with nothing better to do. And here I am, surrounded by people who I strongly suspect feel, deep down, that doing other things is fine for people who can't have babies.

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