Like many married couples, my wife and I use shorthand to communicate. In the presence of a screaming urchin, or after we have heard a particularly horrifying story of a child who aggravated, bankrupted, or otherwise embarrassed its parents, we say, “Thank you.”
That is short for: “Thank you for not wanting children.”
Also like many married couples, we have different memories of how we came to this decision. I remember a high level of concern about the stability of my career in the publishing industry, especially after the sudden shutdown of yet another of the startups to which I gravitated. She remembers that it seemed silly to take maternity leave so soon after entering the job force in the first place. There was some concern that we would, in times of stress, revert to the parenting styles that had been modeled to us. This was not something we wanted to inflict on a new generation.
Did we make the right decision? Over the years, I’d occasionally think how nice it would be to have a little girl that looked like my wife (heaven forbid she’d look like me) running around the house, but never for long enough to actually go about creating one.
Now that I’m in my 50s, when my back goes out more often than I do, I’m beginning to realize that having a teen-ager around the house might be an advantage. It would be wonderful to have someone to do all the chores that we find thankless, including but not limited to:
• Getting the holiday decorations out of the attic and carving jack-o-lanterns
• Watering the yard
• Waxing the car
• Putting the pool cover on and taking it off
• Emptying the litter boxes
• Running to the store for that last-minute dinner ingredient
I’m sure given two more minutes, I could come up with an even longer list.
The problem is that teen-agers come with tradeoffs. They don’t want to drive the car when you want them to drive the car; they want it on Saturday night. Their idea of watering the yard is cannonballing into the pool and letting the splash nourish the plants. They don’t want to get the holiday decorations out of the attic because then they’ll be expected to hang them too.
We could sign up to host an exchange student, but I suspect that those programs frown on couples subjecting their participants to indentured servitude. We’re in Silicon Valley, but strangely enough, no one’s come up with a “rent-a-teen” app. There’s a real opportunity for profit margin there.
So here I sit childless, nursing my aching back. As I clean out the litter boxes, I will have to console myself with that same wonderful feeling you get knowing that your throw of the dice has gotten you past the hotel on Boardwalk and around Go for $200 more dollars. It’s that comforting knowledge that the cats will never need a check for tuition.