June 30, 2007

The American Dream

I wonder who came up with “The American Dream?” Probably advertisers trying to sell the idea of the single family home with the white picket fence, Levittown. Maybe not; there was such a housing crunch after World War II, I doubt they had to advertise at all. In any case, who decided marriage, 2.3 children, a single family home with a yard, dog, car, television, and the afore mentioned fence was the ideal to which we should all aspire? More pressing perhaps is why don’t I want any of that? (Well, except the dog.)

When I turned twenty-five, both of my Grandmothers came for a family dinner. My Grandma Delmira, the more outspoken of the two, asked me “How does it feel to be twenty-five?”

I thought for a moment. “Like I’m behind schedule.”

“Because you’re not married and don’t have any children?”

……… “Uhh….” ………

Mind boggling, that. Couldn’t have been the furthest thing from my thinking. “No, because I haven’t finished college yet.”

“You’re not meeting any nice men at college you feel like batting your eyes at?”

“Grandma, I wouldn’t know how to bat my eyes even if I felt so inclined.”

“Well, what would you do if you felt inclined?”

“I don’t know. Hit him in the head with a club and carry him back to my cave?”

………End of conversation.

This week Family Camp has been held at Shambhala Mountain Center. There are little monsters everywhere. Yelling, making messes, brandishing sticks, reenacting Lord of the Flies, toddling about, asking you (a perfect stranger) if you’ll be their friend, if you’ll play with them. There are parents too, which is almost as bizarre. When does yelling “What’s your problem?” at a three year old become useful? Mostly it has been okay. The parents are good and mostly the children are good. The older kids have even ungrudgingly helped with rota. It is still strange. I find myself constantly on the lookout for trouble, waiting for one of them to hurt themselves, hurt each other, break something, etc.

There are a few children on the land, whose parents are staff. Lilly is the baby, fifteen months, walking and just starting to talk. She has her mother and father and at least a dozen aunts and a few uncles, all of whom pass her about from hip to hip without so much as a squawk. I tend to find myself studying her, like an anthropologist with the missing link suddenly thrust before them. She waves and says hello to me, which is endearing given that I am not one of her many aunts. They other day she was toddling about while we were making origami. She wanted to see, so I lifted her and set her on the picnic table. It may sound like nothing, but the fact that she didn’t yell, squirm, or cry is a major accomplishment for me.

It’s not that I don’t like children; I just don’t understand them. I never wanted to spend time with children my own age when I was younger. I understand, intuitively, dogs and horses and cats, the way their thoughts turn, the way they structure their societies, the way the feel and speak. So what’s so hard about kids? At least they are my own species, right?

Moreover I really don’t feel any inclination to have one of my own, certainly not biologically. What’s so special about my genes? I would like to adopt, but older children, because they need it most. Everyone wants the babies. But that desire, I think, is born out of my overriding desire to help people and not any specific desire to raise a child of my own.

Even when I contemplate this future, I don’t necessarily picture a husband as one of the necessary ingredients. I would like to have a long term, meaningful relationship, and sometime sooner rather than later would be nice, but that does not equate to husband and does not equal forever. It would be nice to be married, I think, but I am not going to pin all my hopes on it. Being married probably ranks somewhere with winning a hundred grand at power ball. Nice if it happens, but it’s not on my list of goals I’m going to work my ass off for.

I’m glad I was born in this era, when it is acceptable for a woman to remain single, have a career, a social life, and no children. Granted, there is still a stigma attached, but I think I can handle that. I also think it will probably disappear in my lifetime. So what is “The American Dream” for people like me? Who knows?

I at least want the dog, maybe two or three.


john said...

Life is better these days. You get to choose your schedule, and you get to choose your dreams.

greenfrog said...

Now if only we got to schedule our dreams...