Sunday, December 19, 2010

Contraception vs. Chaos

Kids are wonderful. We all know that. Well, some of us know that. Some of us would beg to differ, on some occasions. And the problem is, once you have them, any of them, you can’t imagine being without them. Each individual child is an angelic godsend... except when they’re not. Each individual child is a perfect, unique gift... except when they’re not. Each individual child is a blessing... except when they’re anything but. But let us also not forget that each individual kid was the result of a choice, conscious or subconscious, to forego that TRUE godsend... which is contraception. And don’t throw those figures at me about the failure rate of each method of contraception because I will argue that, except for the very, very odd occasion when there was a true glitch in the system, most of these statistics could be proved wrong if we could wind back time and find out that a pill was forgotten that one day, or the condom wasn't checked that one time.
Oh what do I know, I’m not a family planning statistician and I don’t have my own kids, but I do know this, sex without contraception usually leads to kids... except when it doesn’t, the agony of which I have also witnessed. I have watched several close friends struggle with fertility problems; I have seen their pain when they look on as other women get pregnant the moment their husband comes home, smiles sweetly, and asks, “How was your day, honey.”
I know many people, with many kids, but I haven’t met many families with four of them. That’s because I’ve never been to New Zealand before, where a family of four kids is considered relatively modest, average at the very least. So when I found myself in a household with four kids, their ages ranging from 8 to 15, to say it was a shock to the system is something of an understatement.
The woman I'm staying with is a single mother of four. She is a single mother of four and works full time. She is a single mother of four and works full time and runs an efficient household... and she still manages to have lot of fun with her kids. This is the great the thing about Brit/Kiwi hybrids, they get the best of both worlds. They have that inbuilt British survivalist mentality (“Get that vacuum out at 11pm, and do the dishes before you go to bed, hard work never killed anyone, lass!”) mixed with the “She’ll be right, whaddaya reckon?” laissez-faire Kiwi attitude.
Anyway, the main point I'm making here is that people seem to have an awful lot of kids in New Zealand. In Los Angeles, most of my friends have one child. In fact the most populated household I know in LA contains two adults, two kids (aged 5 and 2), two (outside) dogs and two (indoor) cats. And that feels like chaos! In New Zealand they seem to breed like rabbits. Well, I guess they have the room. Seriously, there is no one here. I went to the beach on Saturday. It’s a stunning beach, just north of Auckland. The weather was beautiful. Last time I was on a beach on a Saturday, it was Zuma Beach, several miles up the coast from Malibu. Well, getting a spot on Zuma beach on a Saturday afternoon in July that gave me enough room to spread out my super-size beach towel, erect my beach umbrella, and not be forced to smell someone’s sweaty feet was a veritable bun fight. I couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a smorgasbord of people and hearing a cacophony of sounds. On the Kiwi beach the other day I saw the grand total of five adults and two children, and overheard a seagull having a fight with a magpie over an apple core. You might think that sounds a little boring, but imagine what it’s like living in a household with six or seven people. You need the damn beach to get away from the chaos!
Talking of chaos... although impressively organized chaos, it must be said... here's what I witnessed last week. This woman I'm staying with, this highly successful executive, who runs the best part of one of the biggest banks in the Southern Hemisphere, this superwoman, leaves the house at 7am on Friday morning, she has back-to-back board meetings, she gets home at 4pm, shovels some food down (she skipped lunch), and spends the next two hours making pizzas and setting up games for her 10 year-old’s graduation party. Balloon blowing, cake making, and disco ball rigging had been delegated to the 15 year-old and 12 year-old before she’d left the house that morning, and the 8 year-old had his share of jobs (sign making and tidying) when he got home from school.
With an hour left to go, this Superwoman races around the house, picking up clothes and toys, and gathering up other random objects (where do kids find half the stuff they leave lying around, anyway?!) whilst hollering last minute instructions. Without a moment to spare, at 7pm, a group of thirty 10 year-olds descended on her immaculate house. She immediately divided them into five teams in order to do an “Amazing Race” style challenge around various stations in the house. In the dining room there were word games to be completed. In the living room there was a blindfold game. In the garage, teams of two had to carry medicine balls balanced between their heads around an obstacle course, and upstairs there was apple bobbing in the bathtub (it was pouring with rain so this location was an inspired contingency plan). She supervised most of it herself, using a small army of other mothers whom she plied with Champagne first. At 9pm, she threw the last of the kids out, put her own ones to bed, loaded the dishwasher, downed the last of her wine, and got out the vacuum cleaner.
Okay, let’s back up a few months. I remember a friend of mine in LA giving her child a birthday party. This glamorous woman sits in an office all day negotiating contracts for some of Hollywood’s most sought-after talent, for which she is paid handsomely. She has two assistants, a part-time housekeeper, a full-time nanny, a weekend nanny, a gardener, a pool guy, and a dog walker, and a massage therapist comes to the house twice a week. She paid a party planner to hire a venue to give the kids a themed tea party. I think she had a manicure and pedicure an hour before it started.
Well, never mind the comparisons between the mothers, the point I actually want to make is about the comparisons between the children. There aren’t many. “I’m not going to bed,” and “It’s not fair she had more cake than me,” are the same words in different accents. There’s gratitude for you!
I was standing in my kitchen in LA a few weeks ago with my old Mexican housekeeper and she suddenly announced that she thought I should have kids soon because I’d make a really great mother, and I told her that this was a little unlikely since I was single and about to go off travelling by myself for a year. She laughed and said maybe I didn't need a man, maybe “God” would give me a baby, like he gave Mary a baby. Perhaps God is a sperm bank, I mused, smiled wryly and said,
“You don’t seriously believe that Mary got pregnant without having sex, do you? You have two children, you know how babies are made. You get that Joseph got Mary knocked up out of wedlock and then, to protect her honor, some bright spark put it about that she’d been impregnated by “God,” which made it okay?”
No, clearly she didn’t believe this, because she looked at me in horror, quickly crossed her chest, and mumbled something under her breath that I took to be a prayer for my poor depraved soul.
The point is, throughout time there has been an imbalance in those who want to get pregnant and those who don't, and you don't tend to ask people if they wanted four children or if they wanted none. Forget the Immaculate Conception, someone needs to invent the immaculate contraception. Maybe we should all be made to hang out with a bunch of screaming 10 year-olds for a few weeks right before we make any life-changing decisions. That might just do it.

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