What would I have done with all those hours, had I not been raising children?
I know that at times, feeling burdened, I have thought: "It makes you kind of wish you were a gay guy in Manhattan."
What that stereotype means to me is unfettered freedom to pursue interests in the arts; having a beautiful but wittily done home; plenty of time to go to the gym, or to shop; plenty of time to socialize and to dine out. Plenty of time. Plenty of money.
But mine was not the role of the urban aesthete. Mine is the suburban tract house. And -- no kidding -- it does have its drawbacks.
Spending a couple of weeks in the Midwest, with relatives and old friends, made me revisit that question, probably because "all those hours" are ongoing.
What could I have done with that time?
I could have kept being cool.
As we all know, to be cool is to be stylish, and to be your own person.
It's hard work to be stylish -- nearly impossible if you get fat because of childbearing and sedentary because of child rearing.
If you are too individualistic, it's at your kids' expense. Kids don't want you to be cool. They want you to be at home.
On vacation I saw a relative who is quite the individualist (and who has no kids). He works in the entertainment industry. He pursues coolness.
I can write without worry here because he won't ever see this.
We were having lunch during the week of the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. I told him, "I must say, I'm eager for Joe Lieberman to attack your industry."
"Who's Joe Lieberman?" he said.
He knows everything there is to know about Jay Ward and Rocky and Bullwinkle, but has no interest in the world outside.
The "child free" camp says it is parents who are selfish, not them. You can argue that. Having kids gives most of us the chance to start thinking about someone else for a change. That can come as a relief.
Life that begins and ends with "me" alone -- that seems grueling.
I could have found better furniture.
It was only 20 years ago that most of the available stuff was awful. If you wanted truly cool clothes or cool furniture, it took effort. So many of my cohorts got into flea market chic (like mission, or space age). It was an achievement to acquire great stuff, because it showed you had good taste, and good taste made you special.
Now, of course, nice stuff is everywhere -- Gap, Pottery Barn, Target. You can now easily find Melmac cups and sugar bowls and "Naugy" dolls on eBay.
This must be a crushing blow to people who had the time to organize their off hours around finding cool stuff.
I could have developed equanimity.
If you don't have kids, it seems you are less likely to get worked up about big issues like the cultural climate or the course of politics or the problems posed by the 24-hour news cycle.
During my trip home, I found that the friends who didn't have kids had let their interest in current events lapse.
And that relative from Los Angeles -- he reprimanded me: "You're so judgmental!"
This was the tipping point: We were talking about drug use in his environs.
I said it was hard to believe people could be so stupid as to start using crystal meth.
He said that if a person was a meth addict it didn't mean he was "stupid" -- it meant he "had made a bad choice" or "found himself in a bad place."
I still don't think "stupid" is a bad way to put to it. Value judgments are what parents have to make.
What would we have done with all those hours, if we were not raising children?
Whatever else, we surely would have watched a lot more TV.
(Kochakian can be reached by e-mail at Kochakian(at)courant.com.)
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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