Go Forth Bravely
As the sun rises on my 38th year, my mind wanders to a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago:
Dad: Getting old sucks.
Me: Oh yeah?
Dad: Yeah, everything hurts. ALL the time.
Let the games begin...
As the sun rises on my 38th year, my mind wanders to a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago:
Dad: Getting old sucks.
Me: Oh yeah?
Dad: Yeah, everything hurts. ALL the time.
Let the games begin...
Prep is over, time to work. My goal was to ride the entire length of the state of Florida, which means I should have started somewhere just south of Saint Mary's, Georgia. Jacksonville is the best I can do for now. Perhaps I'll ride the remainder when I get back to make up for it.
Since it's late January the weather is divine. Not a cloud in the sky. Temperature makes me want to hug a kitten. Glorious.
Today will take me through downtown and east to the ocean. The stretch of A1A between the two cities is a favorite: gorgeous houses, tall ocean grasses, velvety marshes, and roads that go on forever.
Song in my head: New Day by Celine Dion.
Since it's my first night out, I have no survival skills (yet), and I've never camped alone before, I decide to spend it at Anastasia State park. Love this spot.
The ride is exactly as I'd envisioned. Breathtaking, serene. I manage to have lovely thoughts and look at nature. And, of course I believe that this is how every day traveling by bike will be. I chuckle now at this.
I cross the last bridge into the nation's oldest city, downshifting on my way up the steep stretch of concrete. A loud grinding noise, but nothing I've not heard before. The wheels lock up.
Chain came loose, fell off, and got lodged between the spokes and a plastic guard. No problem, proclaim I, I'm prepared!
I worry not, for I have all the bells and all the whistles. The tools, and the lubes, and the things to tinker and prod.
I quickly realize this is no ordinary chain situation. I can't seem to dislodge it from its position and it's holding on for dear life. Well, darn. I flip the bike over and begin the surgery. The surgery does not go as planned.
Thirty minutes. Forty five. That chain decided it wasn't coming out. Not for me, not for nobody. Frustration commences. Kid-gloves come off.
After an hour it's settled. I'll cut the *&#$%@ thing off, and take it to the nearest bike shop. Not a good start to my fantastic adventure, but hey, this stuff happens.
Little did I know, one cannot simply cut a bike chain off with a multi-tool. (Insert your favorite meme here.) They're made extremely strong for a reason. They will not be cut. They will not be broken. They will not snap when you hit them repeatedly with blunt objects while pulling, jerking, sweating, and f-bombing.
They will not dislodge for strangers, either. That nice man had to give up after 20 minutes with yours truly on the bridge.
Plan B. Attack the chain guard. Turns out these are not easy to cut either, especially with a tiny pair of scissors. I throw every cutting implement in my arsenal at the sonofabitch. Many f-bombs later, I rip its mangled corpse out of the frame.
The wheels move, but I've destroyed the chain. And probably a lot of other things. Off to the bike shop with me. It's 45 minutes away and I'm hoofin' it.
I realize quickly walking is stupid. I have a thing with wheels! So I hop up on the seat and sort of “row” the bike through the ancient streets. Big foot push, roll. Other foot, roll. I look like a lunatic.
If there's one piece of advice I can give my past self in this moment it would be: get used to looking like a lunatic.
The nice hipsters at the bike shop fix me up and it's back to the races. I have no time to do anything because I've spent half the day battling the fearsome Chain Lord. It's time to meet a friend for dinner and get my ass to camp.
My last day in Portland. What shall I do? Everyone's at work and church, so this day is mine.
A bike ride sounds nice. But where shall I go? I don't really have a desire to visit any neighborhood in particular or go to any place in particular.
Certainly there must be a carefully constructed plan on how this valuable day will be spent. But I cannot seem to formulate one.
This bike ride sounds nice but since I can't think of a destination this entire exercise is pointless.
What would possess one to just wander out without a clear vision of what the near future will hold? No, my only option is to remain here, indoors, in front of a screen.
Just wander out and let the world happen to you! My past self professed. It is certainly more fun to say this to others.
Leave some room in your life for serendipity! Oh, how I love being a “thought leader”!
Seriously, guys. I was seriously going to just sit here because I couldn't decide where to go.
I've said it a million times before and I'll say it again: it doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter. Talk about some of the most powerful words in the English language.
I'm outta here.
Journal entry from January 5, 2017
Just a pen, paper, and the flicker of a candle. When the words ran out I tried “listening” to my body for a few minutes, just like the experts say to do.
It said, “I hurt. I'm desperately trying to keep you healthy, but you keep assaulting me.”
I don't feel like writing about the bike adventure today, so I'm going to write about one of my favorite things in the world: crazy conversations I have with my best friend. (We're going on 23 years of these conversations, so there's enough to fill up a book. Maybe I should...)
These days, a good majority of the conversations center around the kids. She likes talking about them because she loves them more than anything in this universe. I like hearing about them because I'm a nerd and am fascinated by how humans develop.
I really like how she doesn't beat around the bush with stuff other parents might label “too soon”. When the kids have a question about their body parts, she, let's just say...answers them honestly and thoroughly.
Kind of reminds me of an exchange I had with my mom when I was about three or four. A far cry from what I heard in the homes of my friends parents:
My Little Friends: Mommy? Where do babies come from?
Little Friend's Mommy: Well, when a mommy and daddy love each other, they get married and a baby is made from their love!
So one day I try...
Me: Mommy? Where do babies come from?
My Mom: From an opening between my legs.
Short. Sweet. True. Gotta love nurses.
Maybe it's Portland parenting, or maybe it's that my best friend is also a nurse, but I love the honest answers she gives her kids to perfectly legitimate questions:
(I'm changing everyone's names here to protect the innocent people I love who let me write about them. We'll call best friend's daughter “Crocodile” and her son “Hot Dog”.)
Crocodile: Mommy? What's this?
Crocodile was in the bathtub and pointed to her lady parts.
Best Friend: That's your vagina. All girls have them.
Crocodile: Does Hot Dog have one?
Best Friend: Nope. Boys don't have vaginas. Only girls have vaginas.
Crocodile: Oh, okay.
I don't have kids but I know sibling rivalry is universal and starts early. When one kid realizes the other kid got to have/do something and they didn't, meltdowns ensue.
Sure enough, Crocodile couldn't wait to find Hot Dog and rub in his face the fact that she has a vagina and he doesn't. Hot Dog, of course, has a meltdown, starts crying and runs to Best Friend.
Hot Dog: Mommy?! Crocodile said she has a vagina and I dont! I have one, too, right?
Best Friend: Nope. Only girls have vaginas. Sorry, buddy. You have a penis. All boys have them.
Hot Dog: Does that mean Crocodile doesn't have one?
Best Friend: That's right. She doesn't have one.
This revelation satisfied Hot Dog greatly. He could not wait to torment Crocodile about her shortcomings.
The other night Best Friend and I we're drinking wine and talking nonsense, like we always do.
Best Friend: Hot dog loves his penis. He just loves it. He loves the fact that Crocodile doesn't have one.
I crack up.
Me: Congratulations, Hot Dog! According to our media, you are now qualified to work at any large corporation in America!
Best Friend: He loves showing it off and teasing her.
Me: Oh, crap. Really? What do you do?
Best Friend: Oh, let's just say, they don't take baths together anymore.
For all the bitching I do about kids, it really is fun to observe them. They exist in an almost primal state I look upon with burning envy.
Before the shame. Before the PC thought police. Before being taught to hate others for having a different outer color. Before imagination dies. Before the world becomes gray, dull, scientific, and robotic. Before money is the only thing that matters.
To exist one day in their shoes would be grand. I could go around bragging about my vagina and how the boys don't have them. Funny how I delight when children do this. And seethe with rage when adults do it.
“I'm a person who desperately wants my life to be interesting, even if that means my life will be stressful.” Journal entry from January 4, 2017
Of course, I wrote this because I might have been trying to talk myself out of becoming a “homeless” traveler.
I assure you, my crazy ideas are not without serious thought.
I'll spend this week living without electricity (other than that I need for work). When the sun goes down, the lights stay off. I'm hoping it will improve my sleep, as I keep reading about all the bad stuff “blue light” can do to natural sleep rhythms. We'll see.
First thing's first: outfitting the bike with storage, proper lights, and trying to learn as much as I can about repairing stuff myself. It was a cute thought...I knew I probably wouldn't learn how to fix jack.
Nevertheless, I track down everything I have and make sure there's plenty of tools, a spare tire, and good, light weight rain gear as it's still very cold in Northern Florida (according to me, anyway, others would disagree).
I order a “pop-up” tent. A kids play tent. It's a black camo color and has plenty of space for me and my crap.
Since I have no patience for setting up tents, I figure the obnoxious size of this thing – a two-foot diameter disc when folded up – will be worth the time and frustration it will save me. All I have to do is take it out of the cover, unsnap the retaining strap, and toss it out onto the ground. Whoooppp! It springs violently out and up, into a fully formed shelter. Breaking it down takes less than 10 seconds, too. I'll figure out where to put it on the bike later.
I get every article of clothing I can think of in pure wool. I know wool provides the best warmth for the weight, but even better, it stays warm when wet. Wool underlayers. Wool socks. Wool balaclava. I got a huge laugh for that one from a Northerner. Whatever. What is my face gets cold? Guess I'll learn shortly.
I'm not too worried about power or batteries. I'll just have to keep my phone sufficiently charged to make emergency calls, should I need to. GPS will be unnecessary – just get on the bike and ride south. When I can't go any further south, it means I'm there. Simple enough.
Two large water bladders. Camera (maybe I could get some cool shots?). Camping lights. I dunno...what else?
I'll find out when I get on the road, I guess.
I'm not worried about food at all since the east coast of Florida is one big, concrete strip mall. To carry food at all would be a giant waste of space.
There's no way I'm buying anything special, like panniers. I'll throw everything in my large “backpacking” backpack, and that will go in the basket behind the seat, strapped down with an old, barely functional bungee net. I decide not to put a penny into bike equipment until I'm halfway to Key West. That way, if I realize this is a bad decision, I'm not any poorer for it.
What am I looking forward to the most? A month of being alone with my thoughts.
I think of all my past road trips. Just me and the road. Behind the wheel on a long highway. I zone out and think about stuff for hours. Creative ideas come fast and furious. Sometimes I think of all the people I've hurt. I apologize in my mind and hope somehow the apologies travel through space and make it to their recipients. It's a cleansing, relaxing experience. Almost like a mental reboot.
This will be just like that, right?
Knowing what I know now, this naïveté is endearing. This trip would be a reboot, alright. But not in the way I imagined.
Fear drives a lot of our actions. And like anything in this world, it can be good and bad at the same time.
The fear we feel when the kids go out to play is good fear. Our fear serves to protect them from things they're not yet aware are dangerous. It keeps them alive.
Some fear, however, is bad. Well, maybe not “bad”...let's just say misunderstood. It causes some of us to lose sleep at night. I suffer from this kind of fear daily.
During my 20's I worked my little lady nuts off and socked away money like it was going out of style. It was the era of Enron and Bernie Madoff, so I didn't dare invest it in the markets. No, instead I let it rot away in savings accounts and real estate. I was married at the time and we both worked hard on our own businesses, lived simply, bought everything with cash and managed to each save quite impressive little nest eggs for ourselves.
Yeah, there were a couple of years where I succumbed to the I earned this! mentality, so I bought some fancy things, lived in a fancy house, and basked in all the dumb shit people do to feel successful. It really wasn't that great.
I quickly grew bored, and maintaining all that shit was a real pain. Not to mention, really expensive. I didn't work so hard to support all that crap. It was like having a brood of full-grown adult kids living with me at home and draining my bank account and will to live.
So slowly and steadily we sold off all the nonsense and rejoined the simple life. The savings now had to go somewhere.
I was so exhausted from “investing” for myself, and furthermore, horrified at the amount of money I'd lost. I'm a terrible investor. Terrible! It would make your head spin if I told you how much money I incinerated because I thought I was smart. Nope, I needed an adult to step in and save me from myself.
Time to join the markets.
Being a childless wanderer means I have a lot more free time than most. A lot of time to read and a lot of time to think. I spend most of this time reading books on sociology, economics, history, and all sorts of topics in between.
I'm fascinated by economics and economic theory. It's like being able to look under society's hood and understand what all those weird little wires, valves, and belts are doing, and how they work together to make the engine run.
Once I got the basics of economics down, I ventured into economic history and all of the crazy stuff that our forefathers went through. The booms and busts, the bubbles, the famines, the regulation, the groundwork for our current financial laws. Good stuff.
There has been and are some really awful people responsible for a lot of money. The life savings of teachers, firefighters, and broken blue collar workers which made its way into their accounts drip by drip over many, many years. Since none of us know much what to do with these savings, we have to sit back and pray that those we entrust to invest it for us are not complete psychopaths.
The good news is, 99% of them are not. They are honest, skilled, educated folks who've studied money and how to grow it and know how to keep their hands out of the cookie jar.
But what if that one little steaming turd gets his hands on your retirement account? Oh man.
It took me a long time to develop trust in fiduciaries and markets. And, honestly, I had no choice...I would have driven myself into the poorhouse. I had to grit my teeth and send my precious little dollars out into the world, hoping they'd return to me someday...and bring friends.
Ever since I did this I've spent a lot of time worrying that my retirement fund would be stolen or disappear in some kind of horrific market event. I would be so, so incredibly screwed.
But what am I supposed to do? There's nothing I can do. I have to sit on this plane and let the pilots do their thing. Worrying all the time won't make a crash less likely, so I try my best not to.
What I fear, and what I'm sure a lot of others fear is not necessarily the loss of money. It's the result of that loss. What we fear is poverty.
I love sharing stories that changed my life here. And this is one of my best. Hope it helps somebody else out there deal with fear...even in a small way.
I'm sure we all can recall a handful of moments in our lives that changed the course of our thinking. One of these moments for me was about eight months ago when I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast.
Tim doesn't really have a “schtick”. His topics range from working out, to entrepreneurship, to relationships, to philosophy. He's just a really interesting dude. He's what I call a “macro-thinker”. He's brilliant at looking at a ton of different life themes and being able to weave them all together. I imagine macro thinkers are like winged souls who are able to rise above the world, look down, and see the human condition as a whole.
On this particular day, I believe he was doing some sort of random question show in which listeners ask whatever they want. I had headphones on and was probably cleaning or something, vaguely listening to his voice in the background.
As I recall, the question had something to do with a listener wanting to start a business and being afraid. Afraid that it would blow up and he'd end up in the poorhouse.
Tim's response was so wise and profound, I had to stop, sit down, stare out the window and process it for quite a while.
I'm absolutely paraphrasing here, not quoting him, but it went something like this:
*“Ok, so you're afraid. That's cool. Let's think about this for a minute. What are you actually afraid of? Let's assume the absolute worst-case scenario. This business doesn't work, you lose everything. Ok. What does that look like? Again, imagine the most terrible outcome.*
Are you homeless? Are you starving? Do you have zero options? Will nobody you know take you in? Will you be unable to procure food and shelter under any circumstance? Will you die in the streets?
My guess is none of these things will happen. Even if you lose every last penny to your name.”
What I gathered from his answer was that we tend to imagine things will be a whole lot worse (or better) than they actually will be. Our brain really doesn't know the difference between “bodily harm” fear and “fear of poverty” fear. It's all the same: nauseatingly uncomfortable.
But what Tim said next was the real gem (again, paraphrasing from memory):
*“If you've imagined the worst case scenario and you are still afraid, think about this: try living your fears. If you are afraid of the electricity getting shut off, shut it off yourself. What do you do?”*
I followed along with this thought experiment. Perhaps I'd do all the things that required light during the day, when abundant light streams in for free. I could read at night by candlelight, or with the headlight from my bike. I could cook on my camping stove, wash laundry by hand, and leave it to dry outside when the hot sun came back.
No matter which scenario I ran, I was never defeated, destitute or naked.
If I needed to work on my laptop I could go to the library and use their electricity and internet. My work would not have to stop.
Even if I cut myself and needed stitches, perhaps I could work out a trade with the local doctor. I have many valuable skills. I know I could produce something worthy of my medical bill.
I ran what-if? after “what-if?* and couldn't seem to get to death or nakedness no matter how hard I tried.
The exception was a life-threatening accident requiring hospitalization. That scenario meant death. So a few days later I purchased a cheap, high-deductable medical policy that would cover that and a separate policy that would cover devastating chronic conditions such as cancer, heart attack, or stroke. As long as I could make $74 a month to cover the premiums, and had $7500 in the bank to cover the decuctables, I wouldn't die. I was pretty certain I could find a way to make $74 a month in cash, so a crazy thing happened...I was feeling alright for the first time in years.
This experiment was indeed liberating. But, as a weirdo who's never satisfied, I had to go further.
My January was looking a little barren. (I have a business at the moment that's feast or famine. When the work rains, it pours. Otherwise, crickets. Maybe my clients all conspire to dump work on me at the same time?)
So I'm looking at my calendar and the crazy starts flying. Above all, my biggest fear about poverty is losing the ability to travel like I have for so long. So I'll take Tim's advice:
I will become voluntarily homeless. Additionally, I will travel with only the equipment I have. My bicycle and my legs.
If I can do this, I don't have to be afraid anymore.
It's winter in Florida and Key West is calling.
I feel bad. Bad for sitting there in silence. Bad for the patronizing smile I gave them when they came over and waved “hi” with little hands. Bad for looking bored. Bad for feeling bored while looking bored. Bad for thinking over and over again, I don't belong here. Bad for smiling genuinely only when the doggies came out to play. Bad for cringing at the chaos. Bad for imagining that every waking moment is chaos. Bad for getting up to take a walk so I could think about something else. Bad for getting utterly depressed on my walk to think this is what my life would be. Bad for getting grossed out when the baby licked me. Bad for wishing desperately that we could talk about something else besides babysitters, schools, and all the cool things the kids do. Bad I didn't really care what cool things other people's kids could do. Bad for wanting to get to know them better without being interrupted every two seconds by someone waddling off, someone falling, someone needing more food to stuff into their face, someone crying, someone hitting, someone...
Bad that I'd go insane. Bad I couldn't stare at the flowers, trees, and playing doggies and just drift off. Bad that I'd not know quiet and peace for a long, long time. Bad that I'd have to wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. Bad that we'd be expected to go to a special place to play where everything is powder-coated and perfectly geometric.
Bad that I probably look like such a bitch right now and I'm probably embarrassing my best friend in front of her friends. Bad that I wish this blanket weren't covered in Cheerios and cheese.
Bad that I feel like I'll have to practice for next time...in front of a mirror.
Me: Wow! How old is he? Her: He's sixteen months! Me: (Big smile, head tilt.) Wow! That's so interesting!
But I really have nothing to say, nothing to add. I can't relate. I can't ask questions because what if I accidentally give away my insincerity? I can't ask questions because the answers aren't interesting.
I tell people there are very good reasons I'm not a mother. They don't seem to take me seriously. Just going to a park and watching the dozens of little bodies (and their moms) depresses me.
I'm the broken one. Not them. Not you.
The best part about traveling isn't the adventure. I'd say, without hesitation, that it's the exposure to all kinds of different people, cultures, and ideas. If I'd stayed in my hometown I would be a radically different individual than I am today. Traveling has made me a human sponge, absorbing ideas and ways of life that I then mish-mash and morph into my own worldview and personality.
The biggest reason to start writing things down is to document how I've changed as a person. I no longer hold many of the ideas I did when I was 24. Had I remained in the “monoculture of ideas” of my hometown...well, you get the point.
Hopefully writing down old travel stories will help me remember where I was mentally when they happened. I have a lot of projects going now, but I have a feeling this one, purely out of desire to reflect on the last 13 years, will turn out to be one of the best.
Traveling physically is phenomenal for developing into a well-rounded person, but time-traveling might be even more important. I've recently come to believe that if one has x hours in a day to consume words/ideas, at least 50% should be spent on consuming the stories and lessons of those who came before us.
When I think about what a small blip of nothingness my life is compared to the whole of the human experience, instant humility sets in. To list all the examples would be impossible. There are too many.
Nothing has done more to help me understand others and take a more compassionate view of the world than has the study of history. Full stop.
I've always been a fiercely independent person, even as a child. And for reasons I may or may not discuss in the future, self reliance, toughness, and creativity in navigating the world have been an absolute necessity.
As such, I became drawn to libertarian ideology as soon as I was old enough to “take a side”. (If you're not from the US, basically you are either a Republican or Democrat. You need that “D” or “R” after your name, otherwise other Americans have no idea whether or not they're supposed to hate you. So you help 'em out a little.)
So growing up I observed that one was expected to flock with one's fellow birds, right? Lutherans hang out with fellow Lutherans. Goths hang out with fellow goths. Nerds hang out with fellow nerds. Bored soccer moms hang out with fellow bored soccer moms. This makes complete and total sense when you think about it: we want to be in the company of people who are like us. Additionally, we tend to like and trust people who are like us. It ain't bad...it just is.
So as a fresh-faced, fiercely independent adventurer, for the first time in my life I was charged with “finding my tribe”. I was no longer under the spell of the homeland and could now choose who “my people” would be.
I chose the libertarians. After all, I desperately wanted to meet more open-minded, freedom loving, accepting, self-reliant, tough individuals. I wanted those types of people as my friends and adopted family. (That's another really cool thing about being a single, childless wanderer...you can choose your family. You'd be surprised how many other single, childless wanderers there are out there. We all need someone to have barbecues with.)
So, after a very short time I had my tribe, but it was an interesting one. For one, the tribe is big and its scattered all over the globe. When ex-hubby and I lived on the sailboat, for example, we'd meet all kinds of fascinating characters while on shore in marina lounges and picnic areas. We'd have drinks, share travel stories, and break bread together. I adored quite a few of them. But then, for the first time, it struck me: we're probably never going to see this person again. It was a feeling unlike any I've had before. Making a new friend and then losing them the next day.
This happened over and over for several years. We always stayed in touch, and promised to visit each other should our paths ever cross again. And sometimes we did. We developed a large network of kindred souls scattered all over the globe. I'm still in touch with many, many of them to this day. (I really want to share this part of my journey in more depth, as its important to the way I view friends and loss.)
Alrighty, I'm way off topic. Back to libertarians.
A year into the globetrotting, I meet future hubby, and a few years later we settle down (whatever that means) for a while in South America. We find our local tribe, which is held tightly together by ideology, nothing more. There are Germans, Canadians, Italians, Hungarians, South Americans, Australians, Lebanese. There are black, white, and every shade of brown in between. There are rich, not so rich, and poor. There are families and singles. Ideas are what bound this disparate crew together...and I. Was. Hooked.
Like any group bound by ideology, this one had its “radicals” and its “moderates”. I always believed myself to be pretty radical. That's until I met actual radicals.
So I'm humbly back in the “moderate” bucket. I mostly want to engage with those who mind their own f'n business, do for themselves, try not to legislate others lives, and base their existence on untethered freedom.
Now, to be fair, most of them were normal, sweet, moderates. But there were also those who would bite my head off if I said I didn't believe 9/11 was an inside job. Not in this group, but some of them had friends (or were members of online groups, I can't remember) who believed it was morally wrong to break into a neighbor's apartment to escape a burning building. In other words it would be considered a violation of said neighbor's rights or freedom or whatever to force your way into their property to access their window through which to escape. (Geez, those last two sentences are abominations...apologies.)
Some of these more radical libertarian principles were hard to deal with at first. But I didn't dispute them or condemn them. I was open-minded after all! What I did do was think a lot about them – ponder, if you will – and a whole LOT of reading.
Trying to learn more about these mysterious and fascinating libertarian principles was a noble venture, I assure you. In my innocence, I did what any rational person would do when they want to learn more about a subject. In my case, I read more libertarian authors and thinkers. And then some more. And more, and more. And, lucky for me, I had a tightly-knit tribe of comrades, real and virtual, to reinforce and stoke the embers of my newfound ideas.
And just like the real world, a good percentage of these authors were rational, moderate people with well-considered beliefs. Others, however, were angry. Very angry. And very frightened. And they shared their anger and fear freely and passionately. The more angry and fearful they were, the more anger and fear they spewed. Anger and fear: two of the most potent human emotions that exist. They're riveting, they're highly addictive.
They're so powerful and addictive, they can take the strongest, most logical human being under their spell.
I can't claim to have never been a drug addict, because many years ago anger and fear, dealt by captivating, trusted drug pushers got me real good.
I have to wrap up for today, but I'm sure you can see where this is going. I'll continue with my unfortunate descent into the “monoculture of ideas” in a future essay, as well as how reading history and traveling saved my blighted little mind.
Best Friend: Your loins will be burning for a child by the time you leave Portland.
Me: Bwahahahahaha! Not gonna happen!
My best friend has two kids. The last time I saw them, they were barely out of babyhood. Her eldest, a daughter, was the first diaper I've ever changed. I was 34.
The first time I announced to the world that I didn't want kids, I think I was around 18. I have no idea what my reason was back then. It might have been some kind of shocking way to rebel against society. (Knowing me, that's exactly what it was.)
My family and friends assumed I'd change my mind when I got older. So did I.
It was curious how, when I hit 30, that “my loins were not burning” yet. I'd been married for 3 years at that point. That was actually a good thing, because my then husband had convinced a doctor to perform a vasectomy on him at age 28, six months after we met.
Then 35 rolled around. I literally did not think about it. Ever. But its amazing how many people think about it for me. And remind me about it.
You know those movies with the wacky, single, childless “Auntie” character who rolls up at Christmas dinner on a motorcycle, fully decked out in camo and feathers, fresh off a three month hike through Nepal? Well, that's me.
I fully embraced my “crazy aunt” truth many years ago. I've meticulously designed the lifestyle I have and have no intention or desire to adopt the suburban, structured life 99% of my family and friends have. To do that would be throwing away the years of sacrifice and fighting I endured for the dream: the life of a wanderer.
A lot of people mistake my not wanting children with my not liking children. You don't want kids? Oh, you don't like em, they'll say, smiling. They just can't wrap their heads around the disciplined thought I've put into the decision.
For the record, I find children gut-wrenchingly annoying. I don't like being around them. This is not the same as “not liking them”. They're alright, and they bring a lot of joy to those who choose to have them. And whether I like it or not, they are in fact, our future.
But the high-pitched, whiny voices, the constant need for approval, the stomping, the shitting, the messes, the toll they take on their parents, the expense...uh, I'm happy to let someone else do that job.
But, it's different when they're yours! Oh, if I had a dime for every time someone has told me this. And, yes, I believe them. Of course it would be different...without question.
What a lot of people don't know is the real reason I don't want kids. I don't dare explain it to them, because it would take too long and move polite, boring chit-chat into a philosophical realm most people don't want to enter.
So I'm perfectly happy letting them think, she doesn't like kids, so she doesn't have any.
The real reason: I like my life too much.
I've done the impossible in my family. Since I was a teenager I've dreamed of a life of freedom, fluidity, serendipity, and discovery. Like a killer whale in a giant theme park tank, I knew I had to commit to die fighting for the freedom (and danger) of the open ocean. Any thought to the contrary I quickly beat from my mind. Simply put: I'm one of those whales who will go mad and start maiming people if I'm kept in a tank. It's better for everyone involved if I go.
I've had some fantastic adventures, which I can assure you, 100% would not have happened if I had kids. And the thing is, I'm hungrier for more.
I would love to have my own family. If I could be assured that my life wouldn't change too much, I would do it in a heartbeat. But that's not possible. My life would change a lot. And right now, in this moment in time, the benefits to having a family do not outweigh the joy I get from exploring the world unhinged. Think what you like...that's the honest truth.
I've told my best friend this a thousand times. She doesn't seem to agree.
Best Friend: Your life wouldn't have to change that much if you had a baby. I want you to have a baby!!! She says with big, excited blue eyes.
Me: You know how things would go? I'll tell you. As soon as the umbilical cord fell off, I'd throw that shit in my bike basket and we'd go on adventures!
Best Friend: That's fine. You can do that.
Me: You mean to tell me that if I took a newborn infant on a multi-month road trip on a bicycle, they wouldn't call DHS on me and lock me up?!
Best Friend: No! Well...as long as the baby was wearing a helmet.
I start cracking up at the vision of a tiny baby in a basinet on the back of my bike wearing goggles and an itty-bitty helmet. And you know it would be one of those helmets with a mohawk on it, too!
Best Friend: It's Portland! People do all kinds of crazy shit with their babies and nobody cares.
Now, this, I can believe.
*Me: Fine! But you know what else? I'm deathly afraid of messing this person up. I would be one of those moms everybody thinks is a huge weirdo. I wouldn't allow them to watch TV, have electronics, play with Pokemons, or whatever the fuck. They'd eat paleo, spend all day outside building forts and inventing stuff. I'd judge all the kids they played with...big time. And they'd judge me.
“Wow, your mom doesn't let you watch Disney (whateverthefuck)? That sucks!”
Don't you think this person deserves a chance at being normal? Knowing what's “cool” in the world? Not being some kind of traveling intellectual weirdo none of the other kids will relate to? They might even be hated or feared by other kids.
Sorry, if I have a baby, I'm going to do things my way. And I'm not sure I'm okay with being responsible for raising a social outcast.*
Best Friend: Lots of people make decisions like this for their kids. There's nothing wrong with it.
Me: AND I have to deal with their father having his own desires about how they should be raised. If I have to agree to things I'm not comfortable with, will I just end up miserable?
Best Friend: You figure this stuff out as you go! Seriously. You are so damn serious and afraid. We love you anyway. She laughs at me, sympathetically.
Best Friend: You'd be an amazing mom.
This, ladies and gentlemen is why you don't want weirdos having babies! (Just kidding. I have to laugh at myself for being so overly analytical and computational when I regularly accuse others of being robotic and losing their humanity.)
But, seriously. I don't want to raise cute little consumers. I want to raise warriors. I want a five year old who can grow his own food, set up his own tent, and find his way out of a forest, unharmed. Hell, I'd probably leave him in the forest just to see if he could do it. That would make me a proud parent. Not how “polite” he can be in a classroom full of sugared-up dickheads. Not how well he did on some standardized test based on regurgitation. Not how “cool” the car is he picks up his first date with.
Plus, if I had a baby, I would commit 100% to raising him. I don't feel comfortable with the “baby as accessory” I see with so many couples. You bring this person into the world and then throw it into daycare? And when it's not in daycare, it's sitting in front of a screen with all kinds of colorful, loud lunatics bouncing around, forced to consume ads for plastic, squeaky garbage?
That means my career would drastically change...something else I've worked very hard for. Not that I'd be the sole breadwinner...both parents need to be equally involved. I don't like the thought of one parent working all the time and one raising a child. So there would have to be some financial challenges to overcome. I can live incredibly simply and cheaply, and think a child could, too. But, traveling, my friends ain't cheap. Unless you are willing to ride a bike (or walk) and camp every night. Wait! Did I just prove myself wrong? We're back at the baby bike adventure again!
I have to go, but there's lots more to explore here. Including how my best friend may not be so far off in her predictions about this trip.