I’m Child-Free: The Questions Change, But My Reaction is Always The Same

no_kids_2I’m taking a break from my regularly-scheduled-something-about-cats post and thought I’d share with you some musings that I’ve been thinking about for, oh, let’s say 35 years now.  Since I’ve been reading a lot about this topic in the media lately, I thought I’d add in my two cents.  And I’ll say right up front: even though this post is about me choosing to not have kids (and including some lightheartedly fun and informative links and memes along the way), I honor your decision to have children (or not).  It’s not a choice I’ve made for myself, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good choice for you…so if you have kids and you love them, hooray for you and your kids!  Truly, I am happy for you.

But let’s get back to talking about me, because this is my blog.  I’m forty years old, and I’ve noticed something – my entire life, people have asked me about whether or not I’m going to have kids.  But as I’ve aged, those questions have changed, morphing to reflect my (I can only assume) biological child-bearing status.  Because I’m getting up there, right?  And that biological clock is a-ticking!

Well, hold on there a second, pard’ner, because that biological clock?  I’ve never heard it tick, not once.  It’s probably one of those fancy digital types, or maybe that’s too presumptuous.  I might not be that evolved, so maybe it’s like a sun-dial, or whatever it was that the Mayans used to track time.  The fact is, I’ve never wanted children, even when I was a child myself.

When Ino_kids_3 was about five, I remember going on a walk with my mom when I was visiting her in L.A.  There was a woman who lived down the street from us who didn’t have kids, and I was always kind of nervous around her because of that.  I asked my mom, “Mommy, is it against the law to not have kids?” and my mom actually chuckled a little bit and said something like “Of course not! You don’t have to have kids, or you can have as many as you want!”  The reason why I remember this so clearly is because of the immense sense of relief I felt; it was as if a burden had been lifted from my five-year-old shoulders.  Up until that point, I believed that I had to have children; I had already received the message that because I was a girl, I would grow up to be a mommy.

Not unlike other girls, I had a doll named Mandy whom I used to take everywhere with me.  But really, she was much more of a friend or a sister that I took care of, and people talked with me like I was her mother and she was my baby, and that actually pissed me off.  I really hated that people assumed that I was Mandy’s mommy!  I resented it.  It irritated me that people made assumptions about me because of my gender, and I was keenly aware of that, even when I was five years old.

no_kids_4Then, in my teens and twenties, the lecturing started.  The inevitable question would be asked: “do you want kids?”  My response was always the same – no.  And it’s funny, because I think that when people ask that question, they don’t expect you to be honest – they expect you to say yes.  The responses to me were always so dismissive or (again) presumptuous: “oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older”, “when you meet the right man, you’ll want to have his children”, “but women are supposed to have children”, and all the rest.  Ugh!  I just saw this as so disrespectful of me being an individual, with my own identity, hopes and desires for my future.  And, it reinforced in me that there is a huge expectation of women to become moms…otherwise, there’s probably something wrong with you.  Because I didn’t feel the desire to have children, obviously I had a problem!

In my early 30’s, I got a reprieve.  Most people had stopped asking me if or when I was going to have kids.  The reason for this, I suspect, is due to two things:  first, most people knew me well enough to assume that a question about my reproductive intentions would elicit a reaction from me that would earn the questioner a swift punch in the throat.  Secondly (and I’m ok with acknowledging this), most people were probably scared that “the question” might actually encourage me to really think about having kids, and WHO KNOWS what kind of terror would be unleashed upon the world by humans that carry my genetic legacy.

Since I’ve moved and have a new suite of friends and coworkers, the questions have resumed.  But, like I mentioned earlier, the questions have changed now that I’m forty.  Now, it’s not so much “are you going to have kids?” but “do you have kids?” and I still get mildly irritated by even that question!  However, at this point, I can laugh at myself.  My responses are more about my own identity and individuality than it ever was: “HEY!  Do I look and act mature enough to have kids???” and “puhleeeeze…why would I have kids?  Being taken care of when I’m old…that’s what spoiling nieces and nephews is for!” and even more frequently, “Hell no…cats cause enough stress in my life, and you want me to add to the mix small humans who can’t do anything for themselves except create messes and noxious bodily emissions?  Disaster!!!”  At this point, the fact that others can’t look at me and immediately determine that I don’t have kids is not my fault, and frankly, I’m a little judgmental about their inability to judge me.  So hey – if you want to ask me if I have kids (or even when I’ll have kids), that’s on you.  You might be my friend, my colleague, or even a relative, but your perceptiveness score has just gone down a notch in my book.

no_kids_1Honestly, for me, it’s not about being stubborn, radical, hating children (which is not the case, but even if it were, that’s still perfectly valid), having a sucky childhood, being depressed, or any number of assumptions that people make about child-free people.  I’ve watched my parents divorce and remarry (several times), and have seen great suffering on the part of children who have parents who aren’t up to the task of having kids (I know that sounds judgy, but seriously – there are so many unhappy kids out there whose problems start at home).  I saw a great article in Salon on reasons why the article’s author felt that not having kids was the best decision she ever made.  I related so much to her words, and this especially struck home:

Those of us who opt out of having children often do so not because we take parenthood lightly, but because we take it so seriously.” — Liz Langley

Kids were just never in the cards for me.  I never imagined myself as an adult with kids – I imagined myself as an adult who worked, traveled, had a quiet and calm home, and who had plenty of time for myself and my husband (and my cats).  And here I am, just as I imagined.  This was what I envisioned, and how I choose to live a fulfilled life.  And that’s plenty of living for me.

Ladies I Love: Y is for Malala Yousafzai, Education Equality Superhero!

Today’s A to Z Challenge post is an especially meaningful one for me.  My Lady I Love for the letter Y is Malala Yousafzai.  I hope that you have heard of her.  She comes from the Swat Valley, Pakistan, and is 16 years old.  On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Malala boarded her bus as usual.  A man stepped on board, asked for Malala, and shot at her three times with a Colt 45.  One of those bullets entered the side of her forehead and ended up in her shoulder.  Malala spent a significant amount of time in critical condition, but recovered, and now her voice is louder than ever.

Hero_Malala_QUOTE

Malala-Yousafzai-QuotesWhat the hell happened?  Born into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala was largely educated by her father in her early years, himself an education activist.  The Taliban became active in the Swat Valley, and their presence and power grew stronger there as Malala grew up.  The Taliban destroyed girls’ schools and banned girls from attending school altogether at certain points.  The BBC wanted to cover the growing presence and influence of the Taliban in the area, and looked for someone who would anonymously supply them with information; after searching, Malala’s father volunteered her for the job, to which she agreed.  In early 2009 Malala started secretly providing the BBC with handwritten notes which would then turn into an anonymous blog published on the BBC’s news service.  Inspired by her father’s political activism, Malala became more outspoken in both the national and international news media and asserted the rights of girls to an education; for her efforts, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011.  Yousafzai was even planning to start the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poorer girls go to school.

But of course, you know what happened next.

Only, the actions of the Taliban had a completely different effect than the one they had planned.  Both Malala and her father are alive today.  On Malala’s 16th birthday, she spoke at the United Nations and called for universal access to education, for everyone.  She stated:

The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. — Malala Yousafzai

Time CoverMalala has been bestowed many many honors, including winning the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2012, being named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world (Chelsea Clinton wrote the magazine’s article on her in 2013, and she was just included among the list for 2014); and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 2013 and 2014 (the youngest person ever nominated, I believe, to boot).  Additionally, she published her book detailing her experiences and her mission, “I am Malala” in 2013.

One Child Quote

I encourage you to watch the extended version of Malala’s interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who is fantastically awesome.  Malala comes across as passionate and modest, and I hung on her every word – after all, with an assassination attempt under her belt and a bunch of feathers in her cap, she’s like an education rights superhero!

If you’d like to learn more about Malala and her work for education equality,
please visit The Malala Fund.

Ladies I’ve Barely Heard Of: X is for the eXotic Xochiquetzal!

Today’s A to Z Challenge post is going to be a little different.  I’m making a 24 hour temporary theme change from “Ladies I Love” to “Lady I’ve Barely Heard Of” because let’s face it – X is a freakin’ hard letter to deal with.  And they throw it at us right near the end of the challenge?  That’s pretty effed up, in my opinion.  In fact, my friend Mich over at Sick B*tch (who is also doing the A to Z Challenge and who’s theme is “I am going to complain now”) says that X is a useless letter and I’m beginning to agree with her (in fact, Mich is not even writing posts for Q and X because they are that irrelevant).  Think about it – you can pretty much make up all the X sounds with other letters.  26 is such a dumb number of letters to have in an alphabet anyway, so I’m petitioning to lower the number to a nice 25 (all the letters who will be included, please step forward…hold on there, not so fast, letter X!).  But for the sake of not backing down from a challenge, here is today’s X post anyway.

Xochiquetzal from http://www.gothambynight.com/scion/xochiquetzal.htm

A stylized version of Xochiquetzal from http://www.gothambynight.com/scion/xochiquetzal.htm

I’ll bet you thought I was going to write about Xena, Warrior Princess, right?  HA!  WRONG!!!  I’ve never even seen an episode of Xena, so I’m certainly not going to write about her.  So today’s Lady I Love Lady I’ve Barely Heard of is Xochiquetzal (pronounced “so chee ket zul”).  Her name means “flower precious feathers”, and she is always followed by birds and butterflies (the Aztec version of the birds and the bees, maybe???).  Xochiquetzal, a mythological Aztec goddess, is always depicted by a young, alluring woman richly garbed in flowers.  She represents female beauty, fertility and sexual power, and is a protector of pregnant women, young mothers, and is the patroness of lovers and prostitutes (whew, that’s a lot).  She was also one tough cookie – according to MexicoLore, she seduced a priest and turned him into a scorpion, just to show off her powers.  She was celebrated in festivals every eight years…and hey…she sounds like a Lady that many people have Loved!

Below are a couple of depictions of Xochiquetzal from historic codex, which are drawings done on sheets of animal skins and folded up, accordion-style.  These codices are thought to have been written before the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Xochiquetzal (left) from the Codex Borgia, seducing a priest (middle).

Xochiquetzal (left) from the Codex Borgia, seducing a priest (middle).

Ladies I Love: W is for the Side-Splitting Women of Saturday Night Live!

I can’t believe that April is coming to an end, and we’re rounding the final corner of the A to Z Challenge.  We’ve still got a few letters to go though, so I thought that for W, I would write about some of my most favorite Ladies I Love, the hilarious Women of Saturday Night Live (SNL)!  As I went through the entire cast history of SNL, I began to get a little overwhelmed at the thought of writing this post.  There have been a lot of female SNL cast members, and I love almost all of them.  So I decided that I would pick my top five (all pictures are from NBC) and go from there…and that was incredibly difficult in itself!

Gilda Radner - Roseanne RoseannadannaAs a member of the original cast, Gilda Radner is first on my list.  She was with SNL from 1975 – 1980, and won an Emmy for her performances in 1977.  Her most iconic characters were Roseanne Roseannadanna (a loudmouthed and crude consumer-affairs reporter) and Baba Wawa (a parody of Barbara Walters), but she also had other amazing characters up her sleeve.  Gilda Radner suffered from bulimia during her stint on the show, and eventually succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1989, with her husband (Gene Wilder) at her side.

Molly Shannon - Mary Katherine GallagherMolly Shannon appeared on SNL from 1995 to 2001.  I LOVE Molly Shannon because she was absolutely fearless when it came to throwing herself into her humor (quite literally).  She had several characters that performed physical comedy, such as Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher, who would trip over folding chairs during her talent show auditions, and 50-year-0ld Sally O’Malley who wore extremely tight and high-riding red pants and liked to kick, stretch, and kick!

Kristen Wiig - Fake Tanning MomOne of my more recent favorite SNL actors is Kristen Wiig.  She was with the show from 2005 – 2012, and also used physical humor in her sketches, doing a lot of dancing and singing in awkward ways.  My favorite characters of hers were the Target Lady, Dooneese Maharelle (the deformed singer with tiny hands on the Lawrence Welk Show), and Triangle Sally (who, uh, played the triangle).  Kristen Wiig is a very versatile actor and had many other recurring characters on SNL and there were so many to love!  I was sad to see her leave the show, but she’s had a rather successful career in movies since then.

Amy Poehler Rap with Sarah PalinI’ll bet you can guess who my next two favorite SNL actors are…and you’re right!  First is Amy Poehler, who worked on SNL from 2001 through 2008.  She was promoted from “featured player” to full cast member mid-way through her first season, an accomplishment shared by only her and Eddie Murphy!  She had a recurring role as Hillary Clinton, but also did several hysterical impressions of people like Michael Jackson and Kim Jong Il.  She, along with Tina Fey (more in a sec!) made up the first women-only pair to host Weekend Update.  Amy Poehler went on to star in several movies as well as her own show, Parks and Recreation (which I love dearly).  Also close to my heart is her project “Smart Girls at the Party“, which is a social-media based program that aims to encourage girls to be themselves, think for themselves and be confident.  Amy Poehler is not only funny as hell, but she’s a great role model for our girls!

Tina Fey as Sarah PalinFinally, it’s my very favorite SNL actor (just by a hair!), Tina Fey.  Tina Fey was on SNL from 1997 – 2006.  Aside from her doppelganger depiction of Sarah Palin, Tina Fey hosted Weekend Update (first with Jimmy Fallon, and then with Amy Poehler).  And, oh yeah, did I mention that she was the FIRST FEMALE HEAD WRITER AT SNL???  Well, I just did.  Bam.  Tina Fey also went on to make movies and write and star in her own show, 30 Rock (which I also loved very much).  AND, in 2013 and 2014, she and Amy Poehler also co-hosted the 70th and 71st Golden Globe Awards and totally rocked it.  She even wrote her memoirs in a best-selling book called Bossy Pants, and jeez – is there anything this woman can’t do???

We Killed by Yael KohenCan you believe that people have said that women aren’t funny?  Yes, and these people are even other comedians who have even worked with funny women (btw, I’m giving John Belushi, Jerry Lewis and Chevy Chase the stink-eye right now).  I know a lot of people who would disagree with these opinions…and in fact, there’s a GREAT podcast about the subject on Stuff Mom Never Told You that you can listen to here.  And, you can read the book “We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy” by Yael Kohen.  I’m sad that there are too many fantastically funny women who have performed on SNL to write about, but this post has already gone too long.  If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations and thank you!  To make it worth your while, share with me your favorite funny women – who makes you laugh your head off, from SNL or elsewhere?

Ladies I Love: U is for Lieutenant Uhura, a True Star!

a_burning_trekkie__silver_by_schematization-d4rydciCan you guess what the most challenging letter for me in the A to Z Challenge has been?  Not X, not Q, not V, not even Z…but U.  However, when I thought about all the Ladies I Love and Lieutenant Uhura crossed my mind, I knew she was just the right woman for this tough letter!  That is because Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nichols, was one tough lady!

Lieutenant Uhura served as a communications officer under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise during the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 – 1969.  Uhura moved up the Starfleet ranks throughout the movie franchise, making the rank of commander in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura throughout the series, as well as in all the Star Trek movies except for the last two, in which Zoë Saldana played a younger Uhura.  Uhura never took a back seat in the adventures of the Enterprise, and was often a key character in story lines, very much an equal among her Star Trek peers.

Uhura_and_Kirk_kissOne of the most remarkable things about Uhura’s character was that she was one of the FIRST African American women on TV to play a role that didn’t have anything to do with being a servant.  This was a ground-breaking character, and having an African American woman in a position of equality definitely stirred the pot on occasion.  For example, in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, Uhura famously kissed Captain Kirk (ok, it was a forced kiss because she was under the influence of alien telekinesis…but still…) in a scene that is largely cited as one of the first inter-racial kisses aired on US television.

Apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show, and even let his children watch it, in part because of Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura’s character.  Nichelle actually wanted to quit the show after the first year to pursue a career on broadway, but was told by Dr. King that she “could not give up because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals.”  It’s a good thing she didn’t quit, because she DID inspire many to achieve success, including former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who said she was encouraged by Nichelle’s Uhura character.

MLK convo

Yes, Uhura was one smokin’ hot lady.  But she was also a star.  In Swahili, her character’s first name, Nyota, means “star”, and Uhuru means “freedom”.  With a name like that, how could Uhura achieve anything but success?  Set your phasers to “stunning”!

Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

USFWS Employee PhotoToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter R.  R stands for Rachel Carson, one of the Ladies I Love in the field of science.  If you don’t know who Rachel Carson was, as a female biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am very proud to be able to tell you a little bit about her.

Rachel Carson lived between 1907 and 1964.  She was fascinated by nature during her younger years, and went on to obtain her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.  Soon after, she got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) where she was one of only TWO professional women working for the organization and earned under $40 PER WEEK when she started.  She did a lot of writing for radio broadcasting at that time, primarily focusing on the ocean in an effort to inform the public about the treasures that marine systems contain and the services that they provide.  She moved up in the Bureau/Service and wrote several books about oceans, which hit the top of best seller lists everywhere.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

It was in the mid-1940’s when she learned about DDT.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but throughout the next couple of decades, Rachel Carson did a lot of research regarding the effects of DDT on the environment, specifically about bioaccumulation in the food web. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, which detailed the harmful effects of pesticides and predicted that if our irresponsible use of them continued, we would start killing off species, let alone jeopardize human health.  For example, one of the effects of DDT and bioaccumulation resulted in the inability of some bird species (primarily predatory birds) to successfully reproduce because DDT weakened egg shells, resulting in eggs being crushed in the nest.  Several species (e.g., peregrine falcon, pelican) were put on the Endangered Species list because of this!

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

There was, however, a lot of money in the pesticide industry and tremendously fierce opposition to her work, which publicized the negative effects of DDT on animals and the environment.  If you simply google DDT and look through the videos that come up, you can find old footage of people being happily sprayed by CLOUDS of DDT!  Rachel Carson actually received death threats and harassment because of her work and the questions it raised about the pesticide industry.  In fact, Rachel Carson’s research and work gave rise to the modern grassroots environmental movement that has inspired generations to protect the world around us, AND resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  After her death (due to illnesses contracted during her treatment for breast cancer), President Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her landmark work, and in 1969, the Coastal Main National Wildlife Refuge was changed to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Rachel Carson by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

What an amazing woman and inspiration to younger generations of scientists!  Few scientists can claim the magnitude of influence that she had in any field, and in particular, conservation of our natural resources.  Take a look at this short video about Rachel Carson and her life’s work; there is a ton of information online as well, if you are interested in learning more (just follow any of the links I’ve provided above to start).

Additionally, just this past March (Women’s History Month), the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, honored Rachel Carson with this video.

Ladies I Love: O is for the Entire Freakin’ Cast of Orange is the New Black!

If you are looking for a binge-worthy show to watch, you’ll want to definitely bookmark today’s A to Z Challenge post.  This is because O is for the entire cast of “Orange is the New Black“, who are all Ladies I Love!   If you don’t know anything about this show, it’s produced by Jenji Kohan, the same woman who created the show “Weeds”, and is based on a true story that was detailed in a memoir called “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman.  Piper was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison because of a crime she committed ten years prior – transporting a suitcase full of money for her international drug-smuggling girlfriend, Alex.  In the ten years since, she settles down and lives a “normal” life as an upper-middle class white woman with a fiance in New York.  But someone snitches on her and look out – she is convicted and finds herself in prison.

OITNB - Cast photo

While Piper is the main character in the series, each episode tells the story of the inmates that Piper lives with in the prison.  The women are complex, varied and multi-dimensional, and at first, Piper thinks she has nothing in common with them.  AND, surprise surprise, she meets up with an old friend in her cell block: Alex.  The relationships that exist, form and change in the prison are born of necessity and are darkly comedic, like the series.  Yes, it’s a women’s prison show, which means that there are “adult themes” including strong language and nudity.  However, it adds to the realism and the color of the show…orange.  The cast is amazing.  Watch the trailer and you might be hooked…I binge-watched the entire series in one weekend!  Fortunately, Season 2 is coming out this summer, and I can’t wait!

UPDATE!!!  The Season Two trailer was just released TODAY!!!  And here it is, just for you!

And here are a few of my favorite characters (played by an incredible collection of actors):

OITNB - Season 2