The anthropology of childless adults
Dan and I—in the divide and conquer superhero style that characterizes our nights—get kids to bed and return to the friends swilling drinks at our kitchen table. Beers are refilled, dinner dishes swept away, and topics turn to night-skiing, trekking in Peru and other mind-scrambling events which seem to exist in a parallel universe where semi-continent people don’t follow you around hucking demands like pebbles from a slingshot.
These childless friends are like glamorous rock stars in my kitchen with their clean hair, houseful of chokeables and weekends yawning open like a board book tossed from a crib. Dan and I study them like anthropologists trying to solve an unanswerable riddle about our own lives without children. It’s like a Zen Koan: if you’re a parent who never had children who are you?
Sometimes I pass by a white Subaru, much like mine, except there’s no car seats in the back. And suddenly that car is awash in sophisticated intrigue, like it’s sole purpose must be to transport gorgeous people to exotic locations whereas my ten year old car is probably headed to the grocery store where I’ll be using all my brain power to launch high-level distractions on the cereal aisle.
And it’s not that I’d rather be trekking in Peru, or eschewing my responsible 10:00 PM bedtime for the salsa band that starts at 9:30. But I listen to our friends’ stories of napping in a field of columbines (presumably after doing something even more fun) with a little slug of drool sliding out of my mouth.
Meanwhile Dan and I exit parties just as the fun begins to avoid detonating the bombs ticking inside an overtired child’s head. We can’t seem to leave the house without a steamer trunk of snacks and sundries. Our weekends are a continual attempt to attain that perfect blend of child-friendliness and fun for adults, which exists only under acres of compromise. And what passes for conversation between Dan and I, sounds like this: “You do pajamas, I’ll do teeth.” “Okay. You do books, I’ll do lullabies.”
Last summer on a camping trip I watched our friends, a carefree twosome, walk hand and hand through the twilit meadow back to their tucked away camp, only dogs nipping at their heels. It was the most romantic thing I had ever seen. Meanwhile Dan and I were staring down a night of cuddling up with small, snoring, fleece-covered people who had a propensity to throw elbows and tragically misplace stuffed animals in the dark.
But, where the two worlds collide is a place of great beauty and opportunity. Our friends without children are dazzled by Col and Rose’s scribbly drawings, squeaky pronouncements on life and their immutable, exotic childness. They pop in after skiing with enough juice to read Col chapters from his Indian Stories book, and to chase Rose until she collapses. If this is the village it takes to raise children, sign me up.
The kids snooze while we get the scoop on the upcoming Peru adventure. Meanwhile, my eyelids sag and back aches from lugging today’s steamer trunk. I notice one freewheeling friend, pushing 40, is completely missing the forehead crease canyoned into my own head as if by the geologic events of motherhood. And as much as I miss several hundred things about pre-parenthood days, I would never trade this messy and lovely journey, not for an eternity of sleep-filled nights, not even for the smooth marble finish of unblemished skin. But, it’s 10:00 PM, too late to contemplate such mysteries.
*a slightly different version of this essay was previously published in The Durango Herald