Monday, June 25, 2012

I’m Not Having Children – And That's Okay. of my many defining traits is a lack of desire to gamble. I don't like gambling with money, and I downright refuse to gamble with the life of another human being – especially a being that I will have to carry the bulk of the burden when creating it. I have to ask myself these questions beforehand. I don’t like to take risks. Call me boring or too careful, I don’t care. Having kids is rolling the dice. What if:
  •          The child is deformed?
  •          It’s handicapped?
  •          It has a learning disorder”
  •          It has Autism?
  •          It has ADHD?
  •          It has a terminal or painful childhood disease like leukemia, muscular dystrophy, or cystic fibrosis?
  •          It has a congenital disorder?

Judging from my previous “hard times,” I would not deal with this reality well…which makes the likelihood that the familial pattern of my childhood would reassert itself. This would include:
  •          Mental Illness
  •          Physical Abuse
  •          Alcohol abuse
  •          An absent father
People tell me not to worry – that I can handle it, if the time comes. I disagree – and I find the insinuation that they know my mind better than I do insulting and condescending.  They have many arguments that they use to try to get me to reproduce:

Q: Who will take care of you when you’re old?!
A: Nursing home attendants.  The same people that will be taking care of you, when your kids are too busy with their lives to care about you swimming in your own urine and getting bedsores.

Q: But your child could grow up to cure cancer!
A: I’m sure Charles Manson had a mom. Ted Bundy had a mom, too. Hitler had a mom as well. Need I go on?

Q: Do you hate kids?
A: Absolutely not. I hate loud, undisciplined kids.

Q: What if your parents didn’t have kids?
A:Then you wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with ME now would you?”

Q: You’d be a great mother –people like you SHOULD have kids!
A: You don’t know me well enough to gauge whether I’d be a good mother. I would be an awful, terrible mother. The only reason that you THINK I would be a good mother is twofold: you’ve only seen me with children that are well-behaved, and when they start to cry or pout, I hand them back over to their parents.

Q: Who will carry on the family name?
A: Our last name is Coleman. It’s so common that you can’t fling a dead cat without hitting someone with that surname. Even if it was rare, I wouldn’t care anyway. I don’t find my genetic material so great as to warrant passing it on to the next generation.

Q: What about your parents? Don’t you want to give them grandchildren?
A: The short answer: NO. The long answer: My mom can give a shit less. My dad does indeed care, but he acknowledges that it’s not his choice to make – and if it makes me happy, it makes him happy. My maternal grandmother went so far as to applaud my decision.

Q: But it’s the hardest/most important job in the world!
A: You’re kidding, right? I hope you don’t really believe that. I'm sure Air Traffic Controllers, Oil Rig Workers, and Coal Miners will disagree with you.

Q: Children are a woman’s greatest achievement!
A: You must have lived under a rock for the past half-century. Women are much more than baby-making machines now.

Q: You’ll change your mind.
A: No, I won’t. Ya know how I know that? Because my husband and I decided to get him a vasectomy. He is officially sterile. And, now that I think about it, that condescending statement implies that you know what I want better than I do. Really? I don't think so.

 NOTE: Child-free people call these questions (and others) a “bingo,” as if they’re keeping score on a bingo card

As a Buddhist, the reason for remaining child-free is even simpler. To experience suffering, you have to first be a living being. By not creating a living being, I am reducing the sum total of suffering in the world.

Also – those living now are almost guaranteed to suffer in the future. Human beings have made an undeniable mark on the planet, increasing greenhouse gases and gradually raising the temperature of the earth. Perhaps we will continue to do so, until the earth cannot sustain humanity. Food shortages will cause people to starve to death, lack of a convenient, clean water source is already causing conflict around the globe. Perhaps we will get wise to this, and do something constructive to fix it, but I doubt it. Denial is a unique way to deal with climate change, and one that has few rewards in the long run – but seeing the long view isn’t humanity’s strong suit. a child-free person, I have more to give to the world. I may not add my genetic material to the future mass of humanity, but I will do my best to make the world a better place. I have given to the Special Olympics, Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and a local homeless shelter. I have found time to volunteer at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington and the Multnomah County Library. I loan my friends money so that they can get into a new rental house or pay for books for college. I get gifts for those I love, not because it’s a holiday…but just because. 

I understand that most parents are proud of their parental status, and they should be – if, of course, they manage to raise a person that is a benefit to society. Most of my parent friends are terrific parents; their children reflect discipline and respect. 

Being a good parent is hard. I don’t want to be responsible for the raising and shaping of another human being. Parenting, for me, is like the experience of eating Brussels sprouts: I just don’t like them. I really don’t know why – but eating them is an experience that I prefer to forgo. So is parenting.

And here we are…a big reason that I don’t want children: I find pregnancy absolutely repugnant. I have no idea why – maybe it’s the thought of another being inside of me (GROSS!), or the horrible health issues that pregnancy causes: Google ‘Rectal Prolapse.’ I DARE YOU. (No, really, don’t. It’s gross). Maybe it’s the unnatural stretching of the abdomen, or how the belly button sticks out, sort of like one of those pop-out turkey timers.

Maybe it’s the result of the pregnancy: it’s the thought of having to take care of a screaming shit-storm for almost two years (I’m sensitive to sound, and easily irritated by shrill child screams). Perhaps it’s the worry that parents go through when their child goes missing, or the annoyance and anger when they get into trouble. Perhaps it’s the money that’s spent on child-rearing (almost $227,000.00, not including college.) Perhaps it’s the hassle of getting kids ready to go anywhere. Perhaps it’s the loss of self when you have children – women especially tend to identify themselves based on their relationships to others…and every mother that I have ever known describes herself as a “mother” first – not an autonomous human being, as if her identity has merged with that of her child(ren).

In fact, I think that it’s all of those things, and a much more basic one: I don’t desire children. I never have, and never will. I have no biological clock. That doesn’t make me broken or strange – it just makes me different. I don’t understand why in the world that someone would want kids – oh, I KNOW why, I just don’t fully UNDERSTAND why. What I usually say when someone asks me why I don’t want kids is this: “I decided that I love kids – I just don’t want them. I’ll leave the breeding to the experts!”

   It’s true. I’m good at so many things – crochet, cross stitch, brewing mead, drawing, painting, crafting, spelling, and successful database searching, among other things. I have activities that I love to be able to do, things that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had kids – going anywhere at any time just because I want to, drinking a glass of wine at the end of the day, eating and cooking new and exciting dishes, going on beautiful and restful vacations, watching R rated movies without worrying, reading whatever I want whenever I want, and giving back to the community…via monetary means, volunteering, food donations or craft goods. I can do this because my time is my own. I can do this because my identity is not merged with another needy, clingy human being. I have the opportunity to make the best of my life, one day at a time...without children. And that's okay.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How Star Trek Made Me an Atheist

About a year ago, I became intrigued with the phenomenon known as “Trek.” I wanted to experience Star Trek for myself, to know just what it was that made all those people act so weird. While watching the second season of The Original Series (known to Trekkies/Trekkers as TOS) I felt compelled to write about it in my English 101 class, in a “choose your own topic” assignment. The teacher loved my writing, and added glowing comments to my paper, even speaking with me about it after class. The topic was about the parallels between Star Trek and the Cold War – which my teacher found quite compelling. I did, too – and I even found other papers on the same subject – papers much longer and more scholarly than mine!
It didn’t take long for me to point out the scientific irregularities in the Star Trek universe. For one thing, their engines would not have to be running continuously – there is no friction in space. All they would need was a burst of energy, and off they would go – and a burst of energy, in the other direction, to stop. Despite the scientific irregularities, I found the series even more compelling. I liked it, and slowly but surely, I began to love it. I purchased Trek merchandise – plushes, an animated tribble, a t-shirt, a lovely velvet painting of Spock by Velvetgeek, etc. I eventually got a Science badge tattoo. When I went without an episode for days, I went through “Trek Withdrawal” – and ultimately gave in and watched my favorite TOS episode, “This Side of Paradise.” My favorite character was, unsurprisingly, Spock – I was intrigued by beings - and a society no less – that was governed by logic. It gave form to an idea that had only henceforth been an unnamable urge, voiced in my trademark phrase: “Why can’t everything just make sense?” It instilled in me a love of science, of diagnostic tests, of forensic tools – after all, life would be pretty dull without the desire to know about ourselves, our world, and our universe.
So, for me, Star Trek became much more than just a television series. It became a jumping-off point – NO – a launching pad - for ideas, feelings, musings, and philosophical questions. It became the base of my interest and love for all things related to space, and my current interest in the Universe. If not for Star Trek, I wouldn't know who Neil deGrasse Tyson was. If not for Star Trek, I wouldn't know that the sun rotates. If not for Spock, I would not have discovered ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins.

Without Star Trek, I would be a lesser person.

I became enamored, not with the thought of a God, but with Space itself; transfixed and brought to tears by the sight of the Milky Way, viewed from a small hot springs in Eastern Oregon. I realized what a gift life was – it was not a gift from some untouchable, invisible, omnipotent God – but from the vast universe itself. The universe does not love, it does not hate – it does not bless or smite. It just is.

I also became a better Buddhist because of Star Trek. I know it sounds improbable, but hear me out: There are a few ways that Buddhists attempt to cultivate compassion. The one that I hear most often is to imagine every living thing as one’s mother. My childhood wasn't exactly rosy, so that would have crashed and burned, if I would have had the audacity to attempt it. After watching a video called “Science Saved My Soul,” I had an epiphany. With my new-found atheism and wonder about the universe, it seemed so clear now – I was made out of the particles of an exploded star – and so were the rest of humanity, and all life. We were all made of the same thing – and that had a profound effect on me. I was able to relate to people, animals, and even insects – because of this.

Star Trek had a profound effect on my life. It was the catalyst of my love for all things space, my thirst for knowledge of the universe, the basis of my compassion, and yes – the facilitator of my newfound atheism.
I used to wonder what made those Star Trek geeks so crazy. Now that I am looking at it from the inside, I know why. Star Trek isn’t just a show – it’s a phenomenon. It presents a universe spurred on by hope and peace, undivided by religious beliefs, guided by social idealism. It attempts to explore why we can’t all just get along, and humanity's potential to destroy itself with murderous glee. It celebrates scientific discovery, reason, peace, and logic.

I know that for many people, Star Trek has made a similar impact on their lives. I’ve heard of Trekkies getting married after meeting at conventions and people from different cultures and countries being able to converse with ease by speaking Klingon. Dressing up and going to conventions is most probably fun – I have never been to one, although I may one day join the throngs of fellow Trek fans at a nearby convention venue. But doing it keeps the imagination alive; it lets us live - briefly - in a world that’s a little more ordered, a little more peaceful, much more exotic, and a tad more optimistic than the one we’re in now. It allows us to engage in a fantasy where space exploration is given paramount importance, where peace is actively sought rather than just given lip service, and where the majesty, beauty, and mind-boggling diversity of the universe is accessible to everyone.

…and THAT my friends, is how Star Trek made me an atheist.