I was playing in a trivia game Thursday night where this question was asked: “First published in 1970, and still published today, what comic strip was the first to earn its writer a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975?” And with this question came a whole flood of memories about my childhood, and being raised by two very liberal parents, who were huge fans of this comic strip. I thought about the character “Joanie” from that strip, who met with a group of young girls and she asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up:
A panel from “Doonesbury,” by artist/writer Garry Trudeau. Joanie addresses a group of girls who want to be “mommies.”
Looking back, this was kind of a seminal event in my life, for a variety of reasons. One, my mother had her first child when she was only 17, which meant she did not wind up graduating from high school when she had initially planned to do so. She did go to “night school” and received her GED later (which she aced with flying colors, for the record). And this comic maybe helped shape my future attitudes toward motherhood as well. I’m 45, and I decided VERY early on that being a mommy just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I married a man who was like minded, and we’re still happy with our decision. I know it does seem strange to other people, and there will always be people who don’t understand how we could have chosen to do this. Or maybe some people might even be jealous of us – or disdainful. It’s going against the norm, that’s for sure! I just never felt that “maternal” vibe. I do enjoy being around some children, however!
Maybe by not becoming a mother I was subconsciously giving myself the “choice” that my own mother didn’t have when she was 17. If you got pregnant in 1968, there weren’t a whole lot of “options” out there. “The Pill” wasn’t widely available yet, Roe Vs. Wade and legal abortions were years off, and if you got pregnant back then, well, then you settled in and had the baby! I’m not even getting into the politics of “pro-choice,” or “pro-life.” I’m just talking about my own life experiences – and my mother’s – and some mothers in my family from long, long ago. Though I think my mother did a great job raising myself and my brother, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have been different with her had she not gotten pregnant when she was still just a kid herself. Growing up with a mom who was on the younger side did have its advantages! She was still young enough to want to do “fun” stuff, like take us to concerts, which she did – on several occasions. I went to see Prince live in 1984 – on a school night! I think she probably made me sleep in the car on the way home or take a nap beforehand. But that was far too exciting to just plop down for a nap at will! I mean, it was PRINCE! He was at the top of his game at the time! My friends liked to joke that my mom “bopped” around the house, mainly when she was playing her favorite music on either a record player, or on a cassette deck. She was a huge fan of Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne, and even (forgive her)…Journey. She also subscribed to Rolling Stone, which I would often read, something that occasionally helps out when I’m at a trivia night and a music question comes up!
I grew up playing with dolls, just like most of the other little girls. I even took occasional babysitting gigs, one of which may have helped clinch my decision to not have children. It was a 9-5 daytime gig, the mother was bedridden, and pregnant with her second child. So it was my job to tend to the house and the other child, who was a young boy, about 4 years old. Let’s just say the bedridden mother was not very nice – or appreciative – of my presence. I eventually walked off the job while the family was gathered in a park for the boy’s birthday party – after having one too many orders barked at me – and being called out in front of the group and humiliated (I don’t remember what it was they called me out for). I didn’t look back, and I never took a babysitting job again.
Granted, these weren’t ideal circumstances. I was thrust into an awkward situation (a bilingual one at that), and I wasn’t given the support or resources to be able to do the job properly. What they needed was an experienced nanny, and up until that point, I had only taken evening babysitting jobs. Eventually I got frustrated and walked out. Sure, that’s not a viable option for “real” parents, but as a 17-year-old, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted. Ever.
My own great grandmothers both had large families. One of them managed to raise THIRTEEN children! And not even all of them lived past infancy! The other one had seven, health issues (mainly diabetes) probably prevented her from having more.
Maybe it’s because of that “Doonesbury” storyline – and my mother’s own experiences – that I decided to opt out of this thing called parenthood. There are countless things that could have contributed to me having this mindset. There are lots of amazing parents out there, who work their butts off and make countless sacrifices so that their children can have better lives than they had. I know my own parents did that, and I love and appreciate them both for everything they did, and continue to do. Then there are also those “clueless” parents doing absolutely cringeworthy things. But that’s another blog topic entirely!