So, a few weeks ago, I got a call from a Washington Post reporter, Annys Shin, regarding some comments I had made on a Greater Greater Washington post regarding strollers on the Circulator. We chatted briefly about the challenges and rewards of urban parenting and then I more or less forgot about the conversation until yesterday morning, when I checked my e-mail and found a good dozen or so messages. At 6:30 am. On a Sunday. It appears that my quote from the interview not only made it into the Post, but the article was on the front page, if perhaps below the fold. With the baby boom in the city, and in my case on Capitol Hill, the uses of public spaces are being redefined, as they do from time to time. It’s an interesting article, but I think some nuance and elaboration is called for.
To start with, let me clear up a little of the language. Ms. Shin quoted me correctly when I said, “I remember really hating people with kids before I had kids,” but I should have been more careful with the word “hate.” It’s a strong word, meant in humor that didn’t convey in the written piece. At most I have been mildly annoyed by the occasional loud kid in an airplane or by a double-wide stroller clipping my ankles in a museum, hardly the stuff of actual passion. I can’t even recall doing, or even saying, anything about it, much less writing a poorly-argued, self-indulgent screed that would make me hang my head in shame and embarrassment should anyone associate my name with it.
But I stand by my underlying point. It’s a boring, old cliche, but quite true: there is no substitute for experience. You know parenthood is going to be work, that you will be physically and emotionally drained, that there will be no let up; but no words can truly describe how much all of this changes your life. Let me simply say that nothing else in your life requires the total abandonment of self as parenthood does. Your life, your wants, even at times your basic needs are subordinate to this other being whom you are totally responsible for and who communicates her wants poorly. Nothing illustrates the naivete of your stereotypical (and hopefully atypical) childless single as Kriston Capps, the author of the DCist piece, who was quoted in the Post article with this gem:
“I don’t hate kids,” Capps said in an interview. “But you know, just like in totally reasonable moderation. Lots of adults can make a great scene at a bar. . . . Lots of kids cannot make a great scene at a bar.”
That’s entirely the point, young Kriston, there is no moderation in child care. Reasonableness is dead for you once your child arrives. Being a parent never ends. Ever. What I wouldn’t give for the luxury and total self-involvement to worry about the “scene” at a bar. Personally, I’m just grateful for a beer and little human interaction with another adult. I wouldn’t trade being a father for anything in the world but I won’t pretend it’s anything but hard work. And like many others, I like to relax with a beer and socialize with my co-workers at the end of the day. Of course, unlike most folks there, my day isn’t over yet.
But for all this, does it really matter? Is this singles versus parents or dog versus children stuff really affecting our existence that much? Highlighting divisions makes a good story, good enough to end up on the front page of the Sunday Washington Post, but it feels somewhat manufactured. Where is all this angst, really? Finding angry comments on blog posts is about as difficult as finding sand on the beach. I can’t speak for all of DC, but in nearly six years of child rearing on Capitol Hill I’ve seen a little of the behavior described in the article, but it’s hardly the norm. Sure, I had some guy make a smart ass comment when I had my oldest in a Snugli at a bar before the smoking ban, but you’re really going to have to turn down that collar before I take you seriously, okay buddy? And my kids have been jumped on by dogs that have been carelessly unattended, but they’re fine and its hardly fair to blame all dog owners for their behavior. By and large, I just don’t see that, “skirmishes have erupted on buses, in parks, on playing fields and in bars”.
The vast majority of us, kids or no kids, dogs or no dogs, beer drinkers or philistines, are just trying to get by in this world and enjoy life as we do so. With a little bit of courtesy and empathy, the overwhelming majority of our interactions will not be as described in the article. Just because it’s on the front page of the Post doesn’t change that.