Molly Fisk: Boomer Childlessness

Maybe because I never had kids, I’m fascinated by the lives of families. I observe them out in the world, hear about them from friends, and as I sit quietly in my house of one — usually on the sofa with a couple of cats trying to balance on my lap at the same time — I wonder about the pros and cons of being a parent.

I asked someone recently, after her child’s birthday, what it was like having a six-year-old. She took a drink of her iced tea, and said: “It’s kind like having your own personal house fly.” I didn’t spit my latte onto the café’s white table cloth, but it was a near thing. “What?!?!” I said.

“She’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but every 30 seconds she comes over to ask me another unrelated question, and by lunch I’m a complete wreck.”

I’ve met this child, she’s great. I love the phase when you can see kids start learning to think, to make sense of language and the world around them. But I never spend more than an hour at a time with one, and often their parents are around. Three weeks of questions would have me robbing a bank so I could hire a nanny or afford to send them to boarding school.

I’ve seen many phases of child-rearing, from pregnancy and newborns to great grandchildren. I’ve watched adoptions, fostering, only children, great big families, blended step-households, and orphans. I always imagined, without thinking much about it, that I’d have kids of my own. But when the relevant years were passing, my attention was on my own survival and I missed the boat. I also didn’t want to raise a kid alone because I was so angry — I didn’t think I’d be a good risk without someone else in the house to steady me.

I’ve had a pretty good life without them, including the love of a fabulous niece and lots of fun with other people’s children. Now that I’m in my 60s, there’s talk about what will happen to Baby Boomers with no families to take care of them at the end of life. This is a bit crazy-making, reinforcing the cultural myth that we should have had children in the first place. Now we’re going to be shown up again as outcasts by having to pay strangers to change our adult diapers.

My friend Ellen has asked her three kids to push her off a steep hiking trail when the time comes, and said she’s sure they’d be happy to do that for me, too. Volunteering one’s progeny for manslaughter is a sign of a true friend, but I have my doubts… I don’t even think they’re going to do it for her. And getting to the hiking trail might be a problem.

I’ll have to think about this aspect of childlessness and get back to you. You can’t really plan to trip over a cat at the salient moment. Cats are notoriously unreliable.

Stay tuned.

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  • [email protected] November 25, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I am thoroughly enjoying your takes on life!

  • WENDL in Manhattan September 23, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Having children as insurance for the future isn’t reliable. Your child could die before you. Not care about you. Live in Nepal. Be physically or mentally challenged, or an addict. Locked in prison. Everyone should try to create a strong community of people who care about us throughout our lifespan, and seek learning to be our own best advocates. Wishing strength and good luck to us all.

  • Deb L. September 23, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    The people who say that utter nonsense are the same ones who brought about the war between working women and those who stayed home! I have 2 adult sons and don’t expect either of them to step up and take care of me. One of them doesn’t even communicate with me for some unknown reason, I don’t think I can count on him to come around when things get difficult. Nor would I really want them to take care of me. I’d prefer to have diapers changed by a complete stranger who is trained, if it comes to that. I am married, but that’s no guarantee I won’t be alone eventually. I’d rather trip over my cats (or dogs). I absolutely love your friend’s phrasing about the fly! I used to think of it as being pecked to death by chickens, but a fly is much better. Buzzzzzz.

  • Mickey M. September 23, 2017 at 11:27 am

    What about the adult child who is not responsible enough, or objective enough, to change one’s adult diaper? The one who is not stable….never mind. I think of children, adult and growing. One son is a resounding success in terms of joining his father in the business; the other, oh, oh, dies of an overdose. What a world. One more: when to tell a teenager that her beloved little chihuahua (who lived with teen’s grandmother) died? Before her birthday party or the day after? Sigh. Hugs, Molly.

  • hillsmom September 23, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Dear Molly, If things get too bad, and it is hoped you have your marbles, there’s always a chance to relocate to a more enlightened state. (I’m thinking of physician-assisted suicide here.) I’d like to “shuffle off this mortal coil” on my own terms, rather than endure some incurable disease. Some have children who don’t want anything to do with their parents…or vice versa. Now that is really sad. =^..^=

    • Mickey M. September 23, 2017 at 11:33 am

      Yo, hillsmom! Suicide!? Yes, part of me agrees. Read Dr. Zitter’s book, Extreme Measures. I am half way through. She advocates changing our culture to stop trying to live forever! Like the goddess’s lover who lived forever but his body, no, it did not. ICU, ALTC, till your body overcomes the machines and says, I’m out of here. Advanced Directives. In the meantime, look for butterflies, lovely sunrises and sunsets, clouds, and listen to the birds. Hugs, hugs, hugs.

  • Susan Apel September 23, 2017 at 8:04 am

    I wrote about this in an essay, No Children, No Regrets, and waited until my 60s to do so.