Saying Yes and Saying No
A guest post from the talented Christina of Snowcones fame.
Some people might wonder why Pamela’s life and blog resonate with me, a childless 33-year-old newlywed from New York State, who moved to Houston, Texas by way of Fairbanks, Alaska. The short answer is that she’s honest about herself and her life, and that’s what every person who sits down to a blank page is striving for – and it’s what I, as a reader, am looking for. I am not a triathlete, but I understand hard work and the lessons that we learn from our failures and fears and successes and triumphs. I am not a mother, but I understand the pressures and privileges that come from creating the family that suits us. I don’t write fiction, but I understand the need to tell a story … and then another … and another.
Of course, I have a long answer, too.
Nothing that Pamela has written resonated with me quite as much as her recent piece on families and the concept of perfection. Like Pamela’s, my family doesn’t look the way most other folks picture a “family” – my husband Josh and I only just got married last year (we were 34 and 32, respectively) after eight years together. In fact, when we got engaged in 2006 it was a year and a half before we even bothered to set a wedding date … and when we did, that date was almost two years into the future. I’ll never forget telling my husband’s grandmother, in December 2007, that we had finally set a wedding date. Her face lit up until we said “September 2009”, at which point she curled her fingers, her perfectly-manicured nails gripping an invisible wall, and said, “Well, I hope I’m still alive! I’ll hold on by my fingertips!” (She held on, and she’s still alive and well.)
The fact of the matter is, my husband and I have never done things the way other people have done them. While our friends were getting married, we were slogging through bachelor’s degrees (him) and master’s degrees (me). When our married friends were starting to have children, we picked up and moved to Alaska so that Josh could get his master’s degree from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; while my friends were in labor I was hiking through bear country, checking out dinosaur footprints in Denali National Park.
During the 18 months we were engaged but wedding date-less, we had many a frustrated conversation with friends and family about “when we were going to set the date already”, so that THEY could plan ahead. When we finally picked a venue – a lovely little place on the Erie Canal in Rochester, NY, a whopping 60 miles from where our families lived – people complained about the drive. Yes, it is a 50-minute drive from our respective hometowns in Seneca County, NY to Rochester, but Josh and I drove SIX THOUSAND MILES from Alaska to New York for our wedding. We, apparently, were supposed to feel badly about asking other people to chip in a few miles.
Now, I want to say here that I am not complaining or whining or talking behind anyone’s back. What I am doing is illustrating that no matter what we choose, at least some of our choices are not going to make sense to other people. Our choices force others to look at their own choices, and – as in other areas of life – seeing differences can make them/us uncomfortable. When Josh chose Alaska I did NOT understand, nor was I understanding about it. In fact, I broke up with the kid (well, we were sort of breaking up with one another, seeing as how he didn’t so much “ask me to move to Alaska” as “tell me he was going”, but that’s a WHOLE OTHER STORY for another day). Eventually he did ask me to go, and I had to do something that is very, very, very, very, very difficult for me – I had to swallow my pride. I had to pack up my whole life – for a GUY – and move across North America – for a GUY – and make new friends – for a GUY – after living in the same small town my entire life (save college, when I lived in another small town, a whole 90 miles away).
Best decision I ever made, by the way. It opened my eyes, my heart, and my options in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
So when Pamela writes about making a blended family work, about making a new family that has new traditions, I can understand that – not because Josh and I have had to introduce any children of our own to one another, but because we had to make new families and new traditions during our time in Fairbanks, and we are doing it again here in Houston.
When she writes about teaching Clark about the consequences of his actions, I can understand that – not because I have an ADHD son, but because I understand CLARK, and how he thinks about things in a different way than other people. I “get” that he’s learning how to deal with that difference, and learning to understand that idea himself, and that he is navigating through a world that has expectations for him that he may NEVER meet because his brain just doesn’t always work in the same way. And I “get” that that isn’t a failure on his part (and not just because he has no control over having ADHD), but an opportunity – an opportunity to enjoy some unforseen consequences like creativity, and maturity, and an appreciation for his own unique view of the world , especially as he gets better at the navigation part.
People wonder why I get so addicted to family, and/or “mommy” blogs when Josh and I don’t have kids of our own – or even want children of our own. Not wanting children, by the way? Unbelievably controversial! I’m always surprised at the … well, the surprise I encounter when I tell people that. We certainly don’t hate kids – we have nieces and nephews we love very much, and we would happily raise a child who needed a home that we could provide. But we live in a society where a complete lack of desire to procreate isn’t understood; and other people want to analyze it – want me to analyze it – a lot more than I feel is necessary. In fact, “childlessness by choice” was the original topic of this piece, but after I reread what I wrote I realized that ranting on about it for 1000 words just made me sound kind of bitter and angry about the attitudes of others toward this particular decision Josh and I have made. Instead I’ll simply touch on it as part of the bigger theme of “creating our own families, in our own way”. (A quick Google search shows an alarming number of organized movements, clubs, websites, etc. for the “child-free”. Frankly, Josh and I have never felt the need to adopt any kind of solidarity with like-minded folks on this front. We’d rather hang with people who like the stuff we like, regardless of whether they have or want kids.) I will simply say that I find families of all shapes and sizes entertaining, and I hope that no one would ever refrain from reading my blog just because there aren’t any stories about children on it. Basically, I read stuff by writers I like, because good writers write good stuff, regardless of the “stuff” they write about. And at this point in my life, I know that no matter how happy I am with my choices there will always be people who don’t understand them, because it makes them uncomfortable. Anyway, even if we do end up having kids, my parenting decisions will just become the next topic for questioning and discussion: breastfeed vs. bottle, to vaccinate or not, private or public school, et al (I call it “combat parenting”). So I just ain’t gonna sweat the haters, dig? And I’m going to read the stories that entertain me, and I hope that some of my stories entertain others as well.
I read something online once about choices, and the gist of it was that whenever we say yes to one thing we are saying no to a host of other things; and of course, saying no to something means saying yes to many other things as well. I’ve carried that idea with me for many years, and it has helped me make decisions, as well as come to terms with my own decisions, and decisions made by others that I had a hard time understanding.
I said yes – to Alaska, to my husband when he asked me to marry him, to friends who asked me to help them butcher a moose (warning: actual moose-butchering photos!). I wasn’t always ready to say yes to some of those things (*cough* MOOSE BUTCHERING) but I learned so much when I did. And when I said yes to those things, I said no to many other things – living closer to my parents and my brother, a life of complete freedom from the needs and wants of another person, a good night’s sleep (*cough* MOOSE BUTCHERING). And when we have said no to some things – like having children – we have said yes to many others. A real “honeymoon” phase in our marriage, which we feel we deserve after eight lean years of academia, restaurant jobs, and sacrifice; travel; time with our geriatric yellow lab, who we didn’t take with us to Alaska, but now we have back and to whom we devote all of our time and attention.
I’m not saying I’m special, or perfect, or so Zen that I understand the world as everyone else sees it – just the opposite. It’s only by being engaged with people and ideas that are different than mine – saying “yes” to learning about the way others are doing things – that I make any small measure of progress at all.
So far, I’ve grown about an inch – and at 4’10, I call that progress.
You can read more about Christina, Josh, and Sandy at her Alaska-turned-Houstonian blog, Snowcones. Christina is a freelance writer and social media consultant, Josh is an exploration geologist, and Sandy is the coolest 10 year-old, 83-lb. dog in the world.