Monday, November 10, 2008

Those Without Teens

On Sunday, a friend of mine, or a woman I used to know, stopped by my house. We are around the same age, and we briefly attended the same college. She found me on the Internet, and said she would be in the area. I felt obligated to invite her - I'm not sure why I felt obligated since I never

a) really knew her well and

b) never really liked her all that much.

Anyway, let's call her Agatha since that name suits her. Agatha is unmarried, child-free (this is my understanding of the new politically correct term for the sane), and has become something of a self help group junky. I sort of knew this from her holiday cards, but when she was there, in the flesh, it occurred to me that Agatha and I had about as much in common as Iceland and Somalia. She sat on my couch while three cats dozed in chairs and our gassy German shepherd wagged her tail. She was gassy because there is a bog near our house with these wonderfully graceful geese and Mazy had dined on goose poop during her previous night's walk. You can imagine the fragrance. (I did put the dog in the laundry room. Hey, I've got some manners left).

Agatha wanted to talk.


My husband works all day Sunday and we had two kids in the basement who were there because of serious trouble at home, plus my own three kids, and a month long houseguest from Malaysia. I put coffee on and tried to listen to Agatha's long, dusty stories about restaurants she had gone to in Italy, Germany and France. It seemed all the art and attractions in Europe had been replaced by restaurants.

"It's difficult to talk in this house," she said with sort of an edge.

I nodded. "There are kind of a lot of us here today."

"I could never do this," she said, "it's crazy with the phone and all these kids. Have you thought about why your life has gotten this way?"

I could feel the presence of invisible self help people gathering around Agatha, ready to assess my life.

"I guess choices," I said, pointedly glancing at the microwave clock. "Would you like any more coffee?"


"Love some," she said.

So I braced myself and put more coffee on.

Agatha was sitting in the living room when Philip walked past. "Hey, dude," he said to Agatha. The look on her face made her visit bearable.

"That's your son?"

"One of them."

"You heard him call me dude?"

"That's how they say hello."

"When I was a teenager, I never would have addressed ANY of my parents' friends that way. Never."

"Huh." But I said this particular "huh" in such a way that it could easily have been confused with a swear word.

Agatha looked at his snake bites, at his sagging pants, at the casual way he came over and put his arm around me. "Canya set me up with some juice, Mom?"

She watched him in the same manner I imagine Margaret Mead once watched the Samoans.

"Well," she said finally.

We said a stiff goodbye at the door without any promise of seeing one another again. I think Agatha had had enough of me for a life time.

"God, who was that angry lady?" my oldest guy asked. (He hadn't even give her a "hey dude").

"I went to school with her once. We used to be a little friendly. Kind of friends."

"With her? And you say we make bad choices in our friends."

"I don't think she'll be back too soon," I assured him. "This is all too messy for her."

"I thought the house looked pretty good," he said.

"I don't mean that..." then I saw the look on his face, and I knew he had understood what I meant. He had understood exactly. How could he not? He was part of our shared mess.

But I mean, really, what's not to love when you see this at the breakfast table? (Even if breakfast is at 11:30?)---


Tabitha said...

Very enjoyable post - I chuckled through the whole thing. :) I have young ones, but have had a few visitors like this. *shrug*

"Choices" is spot on. I chose to have kids. If I had it to do all over, I'd still have them. Even with the tantrums and the mess and my heart pounding with fear as they sprint headlong toward the street and I'm screaming at them to stop. Wouldn't miss it for the world. :)

Carrie Harris said...

I know someone like this. I am actually related to someone like this. The last time he was at my house, he asked how I could stand it.

Maybe we should get him and Agatha together.

Anne Spollen said...

The thing is people who don't have kids can say stuff like "OMG, I would blow my brains out if I were you," or make obnoxious comments about a situation they will never be in - or my absolute personal favorite, "Let me offer you a little advice..."

Yet if anyone dares make one comment about the abundant amount of free time and money the childless have, they get all hissy and "This society is biased toward people who freely opt to be childless," or "You chose to have them." Right, but I don't point out that you didn't. They can comment on moms, but we aren't supposed to say anything back.

See, now I'm all bitter and snarly b/c of Agatha. But yeah.

Anonymous said...

Personally I can't stand being around other peoples brats. It was my choice not to have kids or be around kidsand I am very glad I made it.

In a million years, I wouldnt come to a house with kids or so many kids. No thanks.

Anne Spollen said...

Is that you, Agatha?

TerriRainer said...

I have a friend that I've known since third grade (about 30 years). She has no kids, new boobs, new nose, multiple piercing's and tattoos and is quite the Cougar.

She can NOT come to my house because:
A) She would have a nervous breakdown.
B) She would say fairly inappropriate things in front of my girls
C) I have a 13 year old boy

Aren't old friends/acquaintances GREAT?

:) Terri

Anne Spollen said...

Lol, Terri!

Can regular Moms evolve into cougars? Well, the single ones I'm wondering. See, I wear a lot of opaque hosiery when I teach b/c I keep forgetting or running out of time to shave my legs.

I'm thinking cougars are either child free and/or rich.

Marcia said...

Too bad it turned out like this. I had such a great visit with my college roommate this summer -- but then we WERE good friends.

child-free (this is my understanding of the new politically correct term for the sane)


Have you thought about why your life has gotten this way?

LOL again.

Anne Spollen said...

I do have people I met in college that I am still good friends with and like to see -- Agatha is simply not among them.

I can't imagine what possessed her to come to a house she knows is very heavy on kids -- we still have crayons and a trampoline for Emma and the basement is getting set up for teenagers - that's not a secret. I, personally, cannot stand snakes and I would never go to a snake farm. Sort of the same here with Agatha.

I think since the book came out people are more curious about my life -- and I'm not sure they would have been had I not published. That's a pretty normal response. But the kids are here to stay.

I doubt Agatha will be back.

mary beth said...

Okay, I have a middle-aged-mother-of-teenagers blog crush on you. I haven’t read your book yet, but I’ve loved the title and cover since I saw it on the Flux blog months ago. I love the way you write and think about teenagers, parenting and life. And, your kids are adorable. I have three 21, 17, and 13. I’ve taught at a performing arts high school with an intense mix of economic and racial differences in a student body that was tentatively but beautifully bound together by theatre and music and dance. Now I teach theatre to second and third graders. I love your description of your house and kids and dog.

Anyway, thanks for being out there, and I can’t wait to read your book.

My theory about people who express a serious loathing of children is that they're jealous of kids, especially young ones, because all they long for is to be able to scream in public whenver they feel stressed and have someone kiss them on the head when they're finished with the tantrum. These people don't hate babies, they want to be babies. Even the name calling (brats) smacks of some seriously childish (not child-like)thinking.

Anne Spollen said...

Ok, Mary Beth, I just read your lovely comment, and I don't know whether to thank you or marry you...

I'm having one of those days, (report cards came and I discovered that my boys don't believe they have to actually make up work if they miss class)

So I was so happy to read your warm comments! :)

Mary Witzl said...

I LOVED this! You and I absolutely speak the same language. You could come to my house and I could go to yours and neither of us would bat an eye.

I've got childless friends. They still color-coordinate; they talk about the most inane things; they get plenty of sleep every night and never have to break engagements they make with others. Sick, isn't it?

By the way, I scared the kid sitting next to me in the university computer lab as I read this -- all the snickering and thigh-slapping took him by surprise. Everything Mary Beth said, too.

Anne Spollen said...

Those kids scare easily...

Last Thanksgiving, a "sane" (single/childless) friend of mine told me how she spent over an hour in the shop, picking out just the right kind of wine. One bottle.

There is no question that is a nice lifestyle because I think about very, very little for one hour. In fact, that's about how long I have to food shop for the week.

I think the main difference is I absolutely NEVER offer advice to the child free, yet it's so freely and frequently given to me by them. It would be the same as if I wrote a column for single, child free folks -- people would be like, "Where does she get off with this?" yet it never works the other way around.

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Mary Witzl said...

You're right, Anne. The problem is, I was childless for a good long time, so at one point I was one of those awful people giving advice. I now take it pretty well. I have to; I see it as proof of Divine Karma.