My wife and I understand the appeal of children, and we're not child-haters and don't begrudge your decision or anything like that. However, we hope you don't begrudge us when we proudly declare that we are, happily, child-free. Well, sort of: my wife has very little usable vision, so we are the proud "parents" of two yellow Labrador retriever guide dogs.
You may be thinking, "What right does he have to call himself a parent, even if he does frame it in those stupid air quotes?" I'll come back to that. For now, let me describe all the ways in which not having children is awesome.
We take adult vacations. We leave our dogs home and go out for ice cream by ourselves, or we take them with us for a day at the beach. We have adult conversations in the car, all the way to the coast, without interruption, discussing heavy subjects like sex, politics, world conflict, or maybe the previous night's episode of Game of Thrones. There is no whining, no biting (except the playful kind), no kicking backs of chairs, or turning the car around for potty breaks. Seriously: I need a restroom three times before my dogs even have to go once. If we want to take a longer vacation and fly out of state, we have people literally begging us to watch our dogs. You heard right. I am not. Even. Exaggerating.
We can host parties. We can stay up as late as we want and drink and laugh and swear as loudly as we want without any guilt or cranky attitudes the next morning. Okay, in reality, this almost never happens, but the point is that we could if we wanted to.
We are not destitute. Children are expensive, and there is no tax break grand enough to offset that expense. It is not a criminal offense to leave our dogs home and skip the child care entirely. Quality dog food is under $1.50 a pound, and although the vet bills can occasionally be steep, they're usually manageable. This means we can afford vacations.
We don't have Cheerios in the back of our car, or in the crevices of our couch cushions. We don't have peanut butter on our CDs or jelly on our television. We don't have to close the door because it has been left open, or worry about someone opening it when it should be closed (like when we're in the bathroom). We don't have to re-learn fractions. And most important of all, we watch Ponies and Pixar films because we want to!
We don’t have children. But we’re still parents, and here's why:
When your little one wakes up at 3 AM and starts vomiting on the carpet, it doesn't matter whether she's a two-legged four-year-old or a four-legged two-year-old, because cleaning vomit off of the carpet at 3 AM just sucks!
When a member of your family goes in for a cancer biopsy and subsequent surgery, no matter how minor the surgery is, it is a major event, and it is scary. It doesn't matter whether this happens at a vet clinic.
Of course, there are the good parts, too.
Empress is our three-year-old, awkward bundle of energetic youth. She gets bored when I'm working on household projects, and she'll body-check me with a toy in her mouth to let me know that she wants to play. If my wife and I start kissing on the floor, Empress will wedge herself between us like a child and start nibbling affectionately at our chins. But she is more like a teenager in that she doesn't sit on or jump from the furniture so much as she oozes around like an amoeba, because her spine is made of rubber, making the rest of us look arthritic by comparison. On our most recent camping trip, after returning from a frigid walk to the restroom, we came back to find her sitting on our air bed. No amount of force would return her to her own bed, and further, my attempts to do so were met with a deeply confused stare, as if to say, "Why must we suffer so? I'm cold. You're obviously freezing. I'm offering a solution, and you're dumb if you don't take me up on it."
It's a good thing your fur is bunny-soft, Emmy, because petulance is not a virtue.
Midge is our ten-year-old, retired veteran, seemingly impervious to adversity. If our house were a monarchy, her tiara would be the largest, and she would be a charismatic ruler, fair and just, a stabilizing force. Her rare, uncharacteristic bark would chill the spine of any would-be prowlers. Through her confident, contextual body language and well-timed groans, she is a communications expert, even though her primary language isn't English Proper. She gets crotchety if we stay up too late. When 10 o'clock rolls around, she will walk to the base of the stairwell and cast us a sidelong glance, as if to decree, "It is now time for bed. Did you know?" She is also a mastermind. A few months ago, while my wife and I were having a heated argument, she wedged herself under our guest bed and started writhing in “pain.” Of course, no argument is as important as the safety of our dog, so I immediately abandoned the argument to alleviate Midge's "suffering" with a heroic lift of the bed frame. She leapt up from the floor and started wagging gleefully, as if nothing were ever wrong. "I'm fine, and also, you're not arguing anymore. Neat, huh?"
Well, played, Midge. It's okay. You made up for it the last time I had an emotional breakdown and started bawling. You immediately hopped up on the couch (you didn't even "ask" like you normally would), you lay down next to me, and you rested your paw on my thigh, as if to say, "It's okay, daddy. It'll be okay. I love you."
I love you, too, Midge. I love you so much. Of course, Emmy, I love you, too. And thank you for keeping my arm warm as I write this.
Stevon Roberts is an award-winning videographer who began working in 2004 at Oregon State University to produce and edit educational media. Currently, he works as Instructional Media Coordinator for OSU'S Center for Teaching and Learning and Technology Across the Curriculum.