No Children Please, Pets Welcome ...

Driving to town on a dark rainy day with misty clouds clinging to even the lowest hills, it was enough just to enjoy the company of my wife, who was driving for the first time in the rain, the lovely passing landscape and the relaxing ambience that seemed to envelop the world around us.  Someone had proposed a question just before leaving the house, through the comment page, so instead of enjoying the quiet I thought I would run the query by my wife to get her most recent take on the subject.

Our dialogue on having children has changed over the last fourteen years as one might expect.  After listening, she paused ever so briefly and then began a thoughtful discussion with the acknowledgement that when we first met, if she had met a man who wanted children, she probably would not have even thought about it.  After all that is what couples do, right?  Now at thirty-seven years old, and years of living with me, she has a clearer understanding of the question and her feelings on the subject.  Then again how clear can something be that is mired in biological imperatives, tradition and cultural beliefs?

Over the years she has been witness to the births of many of her friend’s children and continues to follow their progress.  They have pretty much covered the spectrum from easy to difficult and given her a good idea of the sacrifices involved in being a responsible parent, as apposed to just giving birth and passing it on to someone else to take care of.  She seems to like infants in small doses these days and understands that given the choice she would prefer not to surrender her own existence to the sole task of taking care of someone who is totally dependent upon her.  Besides, between Cookie and me, isn’t she already doing that?  Reading this part aloud to her as she worked around us, she moaned audibly, venting that she indeed had enough children to take care of already.

Clearly we have evolved strong biological and hormonal urges, that have served us perhaps too well, in our rush to dominate and over populate this world.  To counteract our more primitive urges, evolution gave us the prefrontal cortex with its executive functions capable of overriding some of our more destructive tendencies.  A quick look around and one would be excused for thinking that most people have never opened that box or read the instructions contained there in.

It took a while but I think my wife now understands, that yes she gets a warm fuzzy feeling around infants, not unlike what she feels when she sees a golden retriever puppy and holds it in her arms.  One can choose, however, to enjoy and embrace that feeling for a moment or two with other people’s children, without surrendering ones entire life to it.  To this end I am more than happy to let her get a regular dose of nurturing by visiting friends with babies.

Culturally things can be made more difficult by the pressure put upon us by friends and relatives to produce cute little clones of ourselves.  I tend to view the sometimes incessant prodding as no more mindful than remarks about the weather or your health, a simple reflex with little or no thought behind the words.  Some people give in way too easily to their urges and the prodding of others, in my opinion.  Just because someone can give birth doesn’t mean they should do so, or that they would be competent parents.

With many foreign men finding Thailand late in life and choosing much younger wives, simply because they can, there is a disproportionate number of very old fathers with very young children, at least in rural areas such as mine.  Spending ones twilight years changing diapers and playing reruns of a life you have already lived is beyond my comprehension.  Playing grandparent from time to time seems more suited to old age.  I do my best to keep those thoughts to myself around others but I’m sure they must sense my misgivings about such things.

In Thailand one hears repeatedly the question, “Who is going to take care of you when you are old?”  Even worse I used to hear, “You need to have children in time to use them.”  As I have gotten older, thankfully I don’t have to listen to that one anymore.  Those questions and comments will in time be relegated to the past where they belong but for now many still cling to them.  Taken to the extreme some seem to ignore the present and the lovely memories they could be creating together, regardless of age, and greedily prepare for their future by producing offspring and milking the ATM.

In contrast to the belief that children will care for you in your old age, these days one sees more and more old people in villages with no one to care for them.  Their children are off working in the cities trying desperately to sink no further into debt and often failing.  There are those who champion the idea of families taking care of aging parents but I have witnessed on too many occasions, families who are simply not equipped to provide the care their aging parents need.  Sometimes we do more harm than good by giving in to emotional and cultural pressure, instead of acting on a clear and rational plan.  Old age and dying are never easy subject to discuss, however.

My wife and some of her single friends half seriously joke about building houses next to each other when they get older.  Who knows, that may turn out to be doable with so many single female friends and with people staying active much later in life.  Alternatively by the time I am gone my wife’s niece and nephew will be parents a few times over and may need help raising their kids.  As the world and our circumstances in it change, we may need to evolve new models of how to deal with those changes.  We desperately seek certainty in an uncertain world but in the end the most we can hope for is that we will have acquired the needed experience and resilience to deal with whatever comes up.

At this point I probably have more confidence in my wife than she has in herself.  She has been taught to worry about things she has no control over but I do what I can to help her, if not embrace change and uncertainty, to at least not fear it quite so much.  No one knows what tomorrow will bring and one day I will not be here to love, protect and care for my wife.  All we can do realistically is make the most of the time we have together and hopefully that will provide a strong foundation upon which to continue her life after I am gone.

No doubt I have readers who would have preferred something more authoritative or instructional on this topic but those who know me better will have expected this style of rambling dissertation.  It is to be hoped, this will lend itself to stimulating ones own thought process on a subject many of us have to deal with.