Tag: Children

Of Kids and Dogs

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
― Roald Dahl

Inspired by a comment chat with the lovely and thoughtful Grace from Culture Life, on one of the weekend links.

I’m turning 29 this year, Jeff is turning 30. In four months we’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. Depending on who you ask we should have between 0 and 3 children by now. Some people are amazed we married as young as we did, some feel the need to caution us about our dwindling fertility.

Living in Britain means that the latter is a lot less common than when we lived in Utah when multiple people, including total strangers, would ask me about our reproductive plans every week, but it still happens simply because we’re married. It’s a natural progression in the social expectation. In Britain it’s not unusual to partner up but wait until you’re ready to have kids to marry, to have kids before marrying, or some other variation. It’s a lot more more live-and-let-live than the US is in a lot of ways, but family is a topic of conversation for a lot of people I know, particularly working women.

I’ve married a man who definitely wants kids, and who decided at the ripe old age of 23 that he definitely wants to have them with me. (Luckily for all concerned, he still does.) Which means that before we married we had a lot of frank talks on the subject and have maintained a pretty open dialog about the whole thing throughout our married life. One of the things we talk about the most lately is the financial realities of families for people like us. We also talk about about getting a dog.

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It sounds like I’m getting off topic here, but I promise I have a point.

A while back I was speaking to a whip smart agent who works at a major global sales firm. The woman is very nice and always well put together, and I enjoy working with her. She mentioned that she had a dog, a breed that I like, and I asked how she and her husband managed to look after a pet since Jeff and I were interested in having one down the line somewhere. It turned out that she has a dog sitter look after her pup. Every single work day. Her dog needed a nanny.

And lest you think I’m telling this story to make fun of her, I assure you, I’m not. It’s just a reality for a lot of pet owners. Pets take care and if you want a pet you either need to provide it yourself, or ensure someone else is on hand to do it when you can’t.

The parallel to children might seem unflattering towards the latter, but I think it’s a fair one. London is an obscenely expensive city and when I look at my colleagues and coworkers, there are only two options I see for how they manage it. They either 1) make enough money for one parent to stay–or more likely work from–home with the kid(s), meaning they make an awful lot, or 2) they have help. And to make the second option work, that usually requires plenty of money again to be able to afford said help!

Getting this job effectively doubled our income, which has already been an incredibly positive shift for us. I’m still freelancing on the side, but now if we’re smart, we can pay off our remaining student loans within two years. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to say that, because debt (even obtained in a good cause) is terrifying. However, we’re still a few years away from even thinking seriously about having kids. And in that time, we estimate we’d have to double our income again to afford a child because even though we’re bringing in twice as much, it’s not even close to allow one of us to stay home past a maternity/paternity leave–much less afford a nanny five days a week.

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I know some people, in countries all around the world, who can afford to have and maintain a family on a single income. I know far, far more who can’t, and the trend is very much towards the latter from my generation. Wages have not kept up with cost of living and–in spite of what a lot of Boomers like to argue to the contrary–the evidence is that people my age are pretty frugal. Jeff and I sure as hell are! Like a lot of millennials, in spite of working hard (two jobs in my case) we’re swimming in debt which delays a lot of other financial considerations like buying property and cars (two things the American economy has depended on for half a century), investing…and having kids.

Spawning is a complicated topic for me. I’ve written several times about the fact that I’ve never felt a primal urge to have children like I know many women do. In fact, I dislike infants and babies intensely, silly or not childbirth actively frightens me, and human pregnancy looks to my eyes as if we should have tried one or two other evolutionary models before deciding on the one we’ve landed on. Add to the mix my slow and painful breakup with a religion that couches the female experience almost entirely in the language of motherhood, often (in my personal opinion) to the detriment of nearly all other possible life choices/realities for women, and you get some pretty conflicted views.

But financial issues conflict it even more. We won’t have our debt paid off until we’re in our early 30s, and I don’t want to have children in my late 30s. My mother did and even though it was the right choice for her (plus my little sister is pretty darn cute), it’s not an experience I want to repeat. Which means that our window to consider children shrinks every year. I’m personally fine with that, but I work hard to make sure Jeff and I are on the same page about it. We are. We literally cannot afford them.

And I don’t think we’re unusual. In fact, I think we’re the increasing norm.

Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences, kittens. I’m curious to hear them. 

My 30 Minute Pregnancy Scare

“Another school dismissed confinements with a cheerful brightness, a ‘so-sorry-I’m-late-darling-I’ve-just-been-having-a-baby-where-shall-we-go-for-supper-afterwards?’ sangfroid which Flora, curiously enough, found equally alarming.”
– Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Minions, it’s been at least half a dozen posts since I last confessed my idiocy, I’m sure you’ve been on tenterhooks the whole time to see how I would be able to best my sock freakout.  I’m pleased/dismayed to be able to confirm that I have indeed topped it.  Read on.

This is me rising. Enthusiastically.

So, first J. and I were going to Britain together.  Then Her Majesty’s Government changed their visa laws so we were going separately, him in September (next month, ack!) and myself probably in February.  I’ve reconciled myself to my fate charmingly and just like a Real Live Grownup should.  In spite of the occasional bout of annoyance/minor depression, I’ve risen.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I torpedoed my emotional scaffolding.

(Dad, don’t read this next bit.)  It was the first scheduled day of my period.  I’m on the pill and regular as clockwork.  And I made it through the entire day until 4:30pm.  The office was practically empty, I was alone with my thoughts (first mistake) and realized that the usual torso-bending cramps that I should have been “enjoying” had failed to put in an appearance.

Consequently, angst.

How shall I put this delicately?  You’d think that impending physical separation from my husband for months at a time would reduce the the, ah, threat of unplanned pregnancy, right?  How wrong you would be!  Suddenly, a cramp free afternoon (which, had I been in my right mind would be an occasion for joy) became and fear-scape of previously unseen proportions.

I saw myself great with child…with said spawn’s father on another bloody continent.  An entire pregnancy by myself, freaking out about every flutter, ultrasound, craving, and ache, without J. to tell me I’m being silly/order me to hospital.  No one to send out on late night runs for ice cream when I’ve overreached my gravitational ability to haul myself upright.  The fear that I wouldn’t be able to drive myself to work, since my feet only touch the pedals when the seat is all the way forward in the car – which would not be remotely possible with a fetus between me and the wheel.  A new horror of my klutziness as I pictured myself slipping and sliding on winter ice, which is nothing new, but suddenly far more terrifying with the risk of harming my child.

AUGH! It's trying to escape!

I saw myself going into labor with only my mother beside me – whose hand I couldn’t possibly reduce to pulp in my agony since she’d, you know, originally reduced Dad’s hand to pulp having me.  It would have smacked of ingratitude.  J. not being able to be there for the birth of our first child, perhaps watching and offering helpful tips (no doubt ungratefully received) via Skype.  I saw myself trying to juggle a newborn and still working so that I could retain my insurance to pay for this wrinkled, squalling, helpless thing… without childcare – this particular vision made me break out in a cold sweat.

I’m tough.  But childbirth scares me.  Childbirth without J. there to take my expletives, hold my hand, and remind me that our kid will totally be worth the current pain – that petrifies me.

As you may have guessed, the torso-bending cramps showed up just after I got home from work and the universe righted itself.  Except for one single trembling woman who had to restrain tears of gratitude as she reached for her “feminine hygiene” products with an unsteady hand.  I’m better now, but you’ll observe it took me a couple of weeks to be able to even write about it.

For My Future Spawn: Harry Potter

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Another of these posts is long overdue and what better time to salute J.K. Rowling’s fantastic series than today when many are heralding as the end of an era?  Although I would point out that the book series actually came to a close a while back and much as I like the movies, the books really are where it’s at.  As usual.

So, why was – is – Harry Potter important?

First of all, structure.  It’s a series that ages as the reader does and subtly introduces what I think are important shifts in thinking along the way.  I read the first book at 11, the same age as HP at the time, and even though I devoured it in a day (and the following books much in the same time frame), the idea of being misunderstood and different and special resonated with me.  Like every other pre-teen on the planet.  The series’ themes deepened, and yes, darkened as it went on, at a matched pace (I think) for the children (and some adults) reading it.  In other words, it’s plain good reading that advances as you read it instead of staying at one level.  Good for the brain!

And talking of which!  The Harry Potter series draws from many mythologies that I think are important to understanding history and culture.  Many of my friends were introduced to Greek mythology, alchemy, folklore, and the very of idea of the “mythic” for the first time in their lives by reading HP!  And I think that the mythic is important for expanding imagination from the mundane to the previously impossible.

Hermione Granger single-handedly turned clever girls into heroines instead of minor antagonists in a book series.  She was hardly the first to do so, but I think her impact will be lasting.  I know I felt better for spending my free period in the school library knowing that someday my knowledge of history trivia would save the world!  Perhaps this is reaching a bit, but my generation seems to be much less inclined to view things like courage for convictions, intelligence, and even geeky-ness as a negative or tease worthy thing.  This may not be HP’s fault, but I like to think it is.

Key for me, as the series progressed more was required of the triumvirate of main characters than just going to school and brushing their teeth.  They grew up, with all the messy, hilarious, and sad teenage-into-adult shifts that entails, with the added stress of having to save a world.  Being special or different comes with a cost and you must be willing to sacrifice, make decisions, be loyal to both friends and ideals, and fight for good.  High minded, yes.  Preachy, no.

I grew up reading, my parents limited television and filled our house with books from well before I was born.  But I know I am lucky for that and not everyone did grow up with mums who would fork out for every single book fair and monthly book order magazine!  Not everyone had a dad that would read to them practically every day (Sesame Street and Dr. Suess Books at first, all the way up to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, theology, and history later).  I know many, many people whose first real reading experience was the Harry Potter series, and who have never looked back since that first dive into a library.

And for these reasons, Harry Potter is required reading.  Any book that can literally open new worlds, while expanding the readers own, needs to be on the shelf.

For My Future Spawn: A Christmas Carol

“Humbug!”
– Charles Dickens

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a purist.  If you’re going to take something as good as Shakespeare or Austen or Saturday morning cartoons, don’t mess ’em up!  Tweak it, adapt it, reinterpret it to your heart’s content, but don’t make something good into something unwatchable or unreadable, or just plain bad.  This worldview is doubly stringent around Christmas time when, let’s face it, the world conspires to turn charming tradition into commercialism with fanatical efficiency.

Thus, I have very decided ideas about Christmas entertainment!

You may remember my affinity for puppets at yuletide?  Well, I indulged myself further buy snagging The Muppet Christmas Carol on Amazon.com this year.

Honestly, next to the version with Patrick Stewart, this may be my favorite version of the holiday tale.  Lots of humor with the storyline well preserved, what’s not to like?  (Well, I may get in trouble for this, but I never liked the random song Scrooge’s fiancee uses to break up with him, but other than that, thumbs up).

And speaking of, A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart is fan-bloody-tastic!  Jacob Marley’s haunting is nice and spooky, Patrick Stewart is appropriately grouchy and reformed (there is a hilarious moment when he wakes up, realizes he’s not dead, and tries to laugh – something he hasn’t done in decades and has forgotten how to do).

There are lots of versions, but these are the two that make me the happiest.  I watch them repeatedly during Advent, usually with a cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane to stir it with.

For My Future Spawn: The Help

As a rule, you see, I’m not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps and Uncle James’s letter about Cousin Mabel’s peculiar behaviour is being shot round the family circle (‘Please read this carefully and send it on Jane’) the clan has a tendency to ignore me. It’s one of the advantages I get from being a bachelor – and, according to my nearest and dearest, practically a half-witted bachelor at that.
– P.G. Wodehouse

Believe it or not, I had never watched Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s laugh-out-loud worthy adaptation of Jeeves & Wooster until recently.  Shocking I know, and deeply upsetting since I love the P.G. Wodehouse short stories of the hapless Wooster and the loyal butler who routinely drags him out of the soup.  Luckily, I found the the whole series and have been joyfully devouring it (and struggling not to address friends with “What ho!” and say goodbye with “Toodle pip!”)

These stories are required reading for anyone who loves how really good humorous writing sounds.  “Fellows who know all about that sort of thing— detectives, and so on — will tell you that the most difficult thing in the world is to get rid of the body.”

What ho!

The characters are fantastic!  Bertie Wooster, who may not be brilliant but is always good intentioned.  Jeeves, a gentleman’s personal gentleman, who protects his master from ill-suited marriage minded maidens, sticky legal situations, or unpleasant social obligations.  And an assortment of pals who all have those unlikely nicknames of 1920-30’s Britain (Bingo, Gussie, and Biffy among others).

And the fearful Aunt Agatha!  Who is inevitably introduced as, “My Aunt Agatha who eats broken bottles and is strongly suspected of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon,” or “Aunt Agatha, the one who kills rats with her teeth and devours her young…”  If I wasn’t so set on becoming a favorite aunt I’d love to end up the sort of dictatorial wealthy dowager who orders profligate nephews about without compunction.

I recommend staring with Carry on, Jeeves as it tells of how Jeeves came to be in Bertie’s service, but there are dozens of Jeeves and Wooster stories, as well as that hilarious adaptation for television.  I mean, come on.  Two words:

Stephen.  Fry.

For My Future Spawn: Austen

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
– Jane Austen

However, I will agree, some Austen fans take it WAY too far.

J. and I were talking about Jane Austen a while back (he hates her) and he voiced a common male complaint about Pride and Prejudice, “Women like it just because they want to end up with Mr. Darcy.”
“I don’t think so,” was my response.   “I think smart women like it because they want to be like Elizabeth.”

And I stand by that.   Literary-ily speaking, she was one of the first admirable heroines in the relatively new form known as the novel.  Previously, women generally were getting carried off by brigands/lecherous squires, fainting at every available opportunity, and dealing with ghosts, vampires, and monks who sell themselves to the Devil.  Alternatively, she is intelligent, lively, has a sense of humor, has a strained relationship with her mother but is fiercely loyal to her family, has personality quirks, won’t marry a repulsive man just because he’ll inherit her house someday, and makes mistakes.  In other words, a fairly normal woman.

Suddenly, shoveling through the supernatural and sentimentality, along came Jane Austen who decided to write about the sphere she moved in, the concerns she and her peers dealt with from day to day, and to make the everyday interesting.  Austen is one of my favorite writers, not because of the romance, but because she is historically important.  And because of this skill in skewering the foibles of society and people with wit and sarcasm.

Now, not all Austen adaptations are created equal, and I should know.  Mum, Snickers, and I have spent many a Sunday afternoon enjoying them:

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (A&E, 1996) is the definitive P&P version.  It’s basically the book in film form, which can hardly be said of most novel adaptations.  It’s certainly the top Austen film, in my opinion.  Lovely score, good costuming, and excellent acting.  J., when his protests against me watching it have been overcome, will grudgingly hunker down with his laptop on the sofa ignoring it, but will invariably make some kind of commentary, “Darcy’s awkward,” or more likely, “Wow.  Her mother needs a sock stuffed in her mouth.”  My only real complaint with this version is that Jane is not attractive in the slightest.  Rosamund Pike of the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice is a better beauty, although the only really good thing about that version is the music.  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Emma

I already know I’m going to catch it from Marie for this but Emma (A&E, 1997) with Kate Beckinsale is my favorite version.  She loves the Emma with Gwyenth Paltrwo, which I don’t at all.  And the latest Emma with Ramola Garai, though it got mixed reviews from the crazed Austenites (with whom I do not see eye to eye), I quite liked too.  In fact, this novel seems to be the most debated because main character is a bit spoiled, a busybody, and stupidly manipulative in only the way young girls who think they are more clever than they actually are can be.  But I like the character of Emma quite a lot.  All of Austen’s characters grow, but this is an instance of one of them growing up.  “Silly things do not cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.”

Sense and Sensibility

Up until recently, I liked the 1995 Sense & Sensibility with the divine Emma Thompson, but the BBC recently did a version (which aired on my beloved PBS stateside) which I think a lot better.  The ages of the actresses were more appropriate and much of the novel which had been left out of the first adaptation was put back in, making the story a bit more as rich as it should have been.  And as much as I love Alan Rickman’s broodiness (in everything he’s ever done), I thought Col. Brandon seemed much more noble and likable, which he ought to be, instead of lurking in corners and sighing dramatically.  I don’t go much for the Byronic types.  They’re aggravating.  “She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.”

Others

Masterpiece Theatre’s version of Northanger Abbey is really fun.  It’s Austen’s lone almost purely satirical novel, mercilessly lampooning those Gothic monks and ghosts previously mentioned. Both this and this version of Persuasion are really very good so it’s a coin toss there.  And if I had to choose between this verision and this version of Mansfield park, I lean toward the latter, even though neither are very good.  Mostly because Fanny Price is the dullest of dull heroines and does next to nothing throughout the course of the book and the second film tried to make her likable.

And because, as with Shakespeare, the most annoying sorts of people are those who take things too seriously, I’m flat out ordering all of you to hop on over to the bookstore and buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! Partly because it is uproariously funny, partly because even J. liked it.  Spoiler alert.  Darcy, on the occasion of his first, pompous proposal is rewarded for his pains with a roundhouse kick to the face.  Alas, Mrs. Bennett is little changed: her husband is trying to keep his daughters from the clutches of the undead…but she’s still trying to get them married.

And lest we forget…there is that hilarious “post-modern moment” in Lost in in Austen.

For My Future Spawn: Conscience

“Oh, confound all this.  I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names!  Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship?”
“And when we die and you are sent to Heaven for doing your conscience and I am sent to Hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”
– A Man for All Seasons

Truth is that while fairy tales (not of the gruesome original variety, the Disney-fied kind) like to depict people getting rewarded for sticking to their principles, quite often the blessing one gets for standing by one’s standards, ideals, and beliefs is a public flogging, or worse.  And the measure of our character is whether we will endure the blacklisting, loss of status, loss of friends, back-against-the-wall-ness of it all with dignity and come out with our convictions still in place.

And so! A Man for All Seasons is required viewing.  Paul Scofield gives a a subtle but brilliant performance of a man who managed to be both conflicted and steady and who ultimately decides to stand by his faith, but more importantly his conscience.  The movie could easily have been a trite morality play, but it isn’t.  It’s as complex as the idea of conscience and morality itself.

The story is set during one of the most tumultuous centuries for faith and conflict in Western history and England.  Henry VIII has thrown over Katherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn, and the Catholic Church for one of his own making.  None of which sits right Sir Thomas More (Scofield) who, quietly but firmly, says he cannot change his religious beliefs to suit even a king, cannot change his legal opinion to flout the law, and will not go against his conscience even to save his life.

I do not mistake this film for history.   The historical Thomas More was a Catholic zealot who saw six “heretics” burned to death under his administration as Lord Chancellor, but he was also a humanist who thought women were just as academically capable as men and gave his daughters the same classical education as his sons.  I don’t mind the simplified, or rather focused, view of a certain part of his life, historical accuracy isn’t the point of this film.  A man having his friends, protectors, and even household turn against him, while he sticks to his moral guns is.

Ideals are seldom complex and people never are.  More defends bad laws made by men because the universal concept of Law gives protection, he encourages humility to an ambitious friend while being named Lord Chancellor, he insults another friend to keep him distant in order to protect him from the political fallout of being friends with a “traitor,” and argues for justice at his unfair and mock trial.

Moral of the story: decide what you hold dear, and defend it.  Even if it costs you.