03 August 2010

Brain Babies and my "new job"




No posts the last month. It's not that there haven't been things going on, it is that what has been happening is very boring to discuss. I have mostly been doing little but studying and studying for my previously-mentioned doctoral comprehensive exams. The directives for this exam were "just know everything about music ever." The attempt to do this was time consuming as well as exhausting.
Every so often (well, actually nearly every time I am in public) in Mott, I get asked the question, "so when are you and Billy going to have kids?" Or, worse yet, "Why haven't you and Billy had kids yet?" Most other areas of the world, questions like these are considered high social faux-pas, especially considering the rampant infertility issues amongst my peer group.
My typical answer to this has been "I am birthing a doctorate."
And that is true. That is how I feel. I have been laboring for the past three years to complete the work for this doctorate. It has been difficult. It has taken up most of my free time, damaged some of my friendships, taxed me body, mind, and soul, given me amazing thrills, the opportunities to sing music I never thought I could, the ability to work freely on my instrument and to try to further my art, created more questions and less answers, and challenged me in ways that I never foresaw.
There are a lot of similarities between this and the beginnings of raising children, methinks.
For most people, this isn't good enough of an answer. "Oh, so then, after the doctorate?"
I want to scream at the top of my lungs "IT'S NONE OF YOUR DAMNED BUSINESS!!!!!!" Alas, this is also a social faux-pas, so I try to just ignore it. The truth is, this has never been at the top of the agenda for the hubs and I, even since we were dating in high school. I don't have the extreme urge to procreate that most other people have. I don't criticize them for their need to fill their uteri, nor do I expect criticism in return.
Instead, what I receive best is skepticism (as if I am not selfless enough to have kids) and at worse, open criticism (you will never be able to make friends here if you don't have kids [false, by the way, very false]).
Normally, my life is an open book. Ask me anything--I will tell you anything you want to know. But the decision to have kids or not have kids--I feel that this is a very private matter. Most of my good friends have had serious infertility issues or major complications with pregnancy. Ask one of these poor folks that impertinent question, "So when are you going to have kids?" and you will likely get in response a gush of tears and the person running from the room to cry. Or conversely, you will hear about their infertility in detail, including sperm counts, treatments, ovulatory patterns, juices, etc. So, I guess I just have a problem with that question even being asked, partly in defense of my friends who have to constantly fend off prying individuals into a painful personal matter.
Partly my aversion to the question is that I feel this is a private decision between me and my husband, and I should not have to justify or defend my reasons either way to friends, family, or strangers. My reasons are my own. If I choose not to procreate, this does not mean I am a selfish person. It does not mean that I don't like kids, or that I don't like your kids. It doesn't mean that I don't want to spend time around kids or that I don't know what to do with them. Quite to the contrary, I have spent a large amount of my life caring for kids, either as a nanny, a counselor, a babysitter, an aunt, and a daycare provider. In these various and sundry roles, I have assessed for myself that the cute baby in the diapers eventually grows up and gets rebellious and awful. I have seen the financial responsibility, the time commitment and the self-giving that parenting involves through observation of parents in these different settings.
And what does this prevent? Baby fever without brain power. I want my head to rule my uterus. Not the other way around. "Down, ovaries, Down!!!"
Another response, "Oh, but you and Billy would make wonderful parents!"
Thanks for the vote of confidence. But I don't lack faith in this matter either, and the lack of confidence is not what is producing an empty womb. I am fully aware that we would likely be good parents. This doesn't make me want to have kids either.
It also doesn't mean you can't talk to me about your kids. I don't mind that. I can discuss it fairly intelligently. And I love to hear about birth and the entire process--it fascinates me.
The point being that this is a private decision--and I would like it to remain private. You have to earn the right to ask me those questions. And once you have.....and there are very few that have...you will know all there is to know. But until I give the green light, I think it would be more proper for people to stop pestering us.
If we decide to have kids or not have kids, it is on our own terms, and it is our own business. I don't even talk to my family about this stuff, and I like it that way.
Because people do pester. There are certain....Pesterers that will not leave the question alone. Like a sharp poker always threatening The Question, these people will return after a certain length of time to prod one or the other of us again.
For instance, I may have a grandma who is a pesterer...especially at inappropriate times. And it is the pestering, for instance, at Thanksgiving Dinner in front of the entire family after being told multiple times that kids are not in the future which leads to comments like, "Well, since Billy's penis got cut off in a tragic cotton gin accident, I don't think kids are going to be happening for us."
Yes, I really did say that. There comes a time when drastic measures are required.
I don't fault anyone for having kids. I like kids. I love my nieces and nephews as well as my "adopted" nieces and nephews of my friends' children.
BUT what I want people to understand is that what I do has value as well. And when I am constantly being pestered to have kids, it causes me to feel that others do not see the work that I am doing and the things that I have accomplished as important or as giving back to society in any way. I work hard--I give back--I keep learning--and I teach others to do the same. I try to expand knowledge and give good information. I try to encourage my students to be better singers as well as people. I encourage and challenge my colleagues. My work is important--if I didn't think so, I wouldn't have sacrificed so much to get my advanced degrees. I have sacrificed--and will be continuing to sacrifice-- a lot to do what I do.
Which brings me to the recent accomplishment: the brain baby. My comprehensive doctoral exams.
I sat in a room for a total of 17 hours and answered sophisticated essay questions regarding various aspects of music, specifically all different types of vocal literature and opera as well as some obscure questions pertaining to music history and theory and analysis. I also translated a scholarly article from French into English (using a dictionary--this was one of the hardest parts, actually). It was an experience I hope never to repeat. I have no adequate adjectives for what the experience was like. Since I have never borne a child, I have no real right to use the correlative, but I can only say that I *think* it is very similar to giving birth from my brain. The "baby" was 23 single, spaced pages of moderately well-written answers that came not from a book, but from me--the assimilation of years of education regarding music. Nothing could have prepared me for what doing this would be like. And I am proud of it.
So, now that I have done that, I have a "new job" which has no basis in music. I am the not-hired-girl (not-hired because I told them I would be helping) for my dad and brother on the farm. This is not a new job for me, per se, since a lot of this type of thing I used to do in high school. I do a lot of grain shoveling. I wrestle the grain vac. I get very, very dirty and extremely sweaty and burn lots of calories--none of which bother me in the least. I feel like I am helping my family, and that is one of the reasons we moved back here. I would much rather be doing this type of work than having a desk job again (plus, the money is decent!). I feel tired at the end of the day, and I KNOW I earned my paycheck. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I nearly have a doctorate in vocal performance, but farm work is how I will be spending my time for the duration of harvest. I need a break from my brain, anyway.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kiersten H. said...

This was a nice splurge of words. I agree that asking any questions regarding pregnancy or potential pregnancy is absurd and I don't know why people think they have the right to just butt in like that. Whatev. I'm so proud of you with your brain baby and all of the work you have done and are continuing to do.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent!

M

2:38 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

23 pages!?!?! Holy crap!!! I could never give birth to that baby. Congrats!

8:46 PM  
Blogger Jodi Stebleton said...

What you did in that room, while writing out those 23 pages is, in fact, just like giving birth. You can get as much education on it as you can beforehand, but when it comes right down to it, nothing really *can* prepare you for what it's really like. (And you feel like NEVER repeating it again and there really *are* no adjectives to explain your experience either!) Great analogy. I really enjoyed your post.

8:56 PM  

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