I'm having dinner with a Romanian friend at the newly opened Cafe RUCola on the university's campus. The Weissbier is a good Hoegaarden, and as expected, whereas the so-called Italian food is not so Italian. We talk about children. My friend is on the verge of handing in her PhD dissertation at the University of Warsaw, and tells me that while on her research semester in Denmark, she couldn't understand why all of her Danish female colleagues were on maternity leave. Now she works part-time at Roskilde U, and she has observed that things aren't any different here where the 'have-children-while-studying' phenomenon is concerned. Beats me, I say. When I was a PhD student at the, then, University of Odense, now University of Southern Denmark, my female colleagues were also on maternity leave. Almost all the time, and without exception. I decided then that it was a particularly Danish tradition enabled by the handsome state grant for PhD researchers. During three years of good salary women could in principle squeeze in at least two children. Which most of them did. Except me, but then I am still a Romanian in a certain regard, in spite of what my passport says.
I disclose that I like other people's children, for about one hour at a time, and that I intend to have none of my own. I can tell that she is surprised, but not that surprised. Curiosity takes over. I engage in a quick tirade. While my verbosity doesn't necessarily explain anything about my motives, it says something about my opinion about people with children. I tell my friend that there are three things which irritate me in parents. These things are based on personal experience and on the fact that I have as yet to meet a couple with children who deviates from any of the three: (1) feeling sanctimonious (2) feeling righteous, and (3) feeling sacrificial. People having children often invoke tradition in their defense. In this demurral scheme tradition prescribes that children mark a sacred way of life which one must honour by ensuring that one does the right thing, such as making sure not to contribute to the world's doomsday, so there'll be something left for generations to come. Sanctimoniousness and righteousness are easier to handle as they involve the parents' emotions that are smaller in scope and do not call for the attention of the rest of the world. Parents please themselves by procreating and feel good about being concerned with what happens to their offspring. The third feeling, however, is more complicated as it is something which parents serve not only non-parents, but also their own children. As it goes, in the name of having sacrificed their freedom, parents call for respect from the likes of me, egotistical non-parents (I've been told). And I comply. Respect goes where respect is due: I admire women who want to be pregnant 9 months and then worry for the rest of their lives (imagine some mothers' disappointment when after having decided on their son's 5th birthday that he must study at Lund University, 15 years down the road they discover that all their son wants at the age of 20 is to become a truck driver. This is a real life scenario). Right, my friend says, and then rhetorically asks: isn't the greatest arrogance on earth comprised in the narcissistic thought that (1) our children continue our line and (2) that anybody gives a damn? Right, it's my turn to say, and we both turn to our pasta. I think to myself: it is a fact of life that life is meaningless, hence having or having not any children is hardly going to make a difference once we'll all lay dead in the ground. And the thought that, for once, I'm not accused of being arrogant, makes me humble. I suddenly get optimistic: I'll get myself a cat and train it to eat the holy cows surrounding my life, or at least help me box conventions out of their goatly skulls.