It happened again yesterday. I’m sure she meant no harm. And I could have chosen not to react at all.
I bumped into a junior work colleague, a relatively new addition. She asked in a friendly voice about my weekend and what I did, etc. I commented on sleeping in and on the triumph of having made whole wheat bread that was actually edible–a first for me in many years of trying. She said, “You make home-made bread? Oh your kids someday will love you!” Here’s the part where I could have just smiled and nodded and walked on. But I didn’t. I spoke the truth. I said, “Nope, no kids, no plans.” She was stunned. Clearly it had never occurred to this young dear that someone would choose such a path in life. The conversation continued for a bit. I talked about my love for my job and my desire to focus on that and my love for travel and generally did a poor job of explaining all of the many reasons why I made this decision (a very long time ago). I mentioned that I was not alone, in that several other women in our office had made the same choice. In response to the typical “But you might change your mind some day” comment I responded that I’m going to be 35 on my next birthday and have really come to the crossroads on this one and am very comfortable with my decision. She was very unsettled and muttered something about re-thinking her career choice and wandered off.
I say “It happened again” because this conversation has played out for me over and over and over again. I’m usually pretty up-front on this issue and also tend to be on the offensive, letting people know my views when we first start to be friends so I can head off possibly awkward conversations. I’m always slightly mystified that people feel the need to comment on my decision. Or to try to convince me to have kids when I clearly don’t want to. I’ve been called selfish by near-strangers. I’m mystified why my stance would upset others so much but it seems to, perhaps they see it as a value judgement on their own lifestyle which it most certainly is not–it’s just the choice that’s right for me. And I am very close to being the last one standing, I have several pregnant friends at the moment probably because of the age we’re at. I have a few other friends who are professed to be childless by choice, including several peers within my profession and also some wonderful friends of the family who I have known for 25 or so years. I talk to them about this issue a lot, as it’s hard not to worry a bit when conversations such as the above-mentioned one do play out over and over. I know of people who HAVE changed their minds and done IVF at 45 or adoption around the same age. So it’s important to me to feel sure about this now. And I am.
So this whole concept of feeling “foreign” was familiar to me before I moved countries:
foreign (comparative more foreign, superlative most foreign)
1. From a different country. foreign students
2. Belonging to a different culture.
Eating with chopsticks was a foreign concept to him
3. Of an object, etc, in a place where it does not belong.
In groups of women who have made choices different from mine (and thank feminism that we all have the right and the option to make our own choices–this I applaud!) sometimes I feel foreign. My culture involves work and travel and not diapers/nappies or schools. But sometimes I don’t feel so foreign. As I’ve started to get to know some of the other expat bloggers over the last year and a bit, I’ve felt very much the opposite of foreign. Here were friends who have had similar experiences to mine and with whom I got along great from the very moment we all met.
And then came Cyber Mummy.
Cyber Mummy is the upcoming blogger conference in London in about a month. It turns out that of all the expat bloggers I know, most of them are going to go to this. Up until the hubbub started, I didn’t think of the expat bloggers as falling into two camps, those who were cybermummies and those who were not. But now I do. And guess which group wins on numbers alone? Not mine.
I think Iota had the most eloquent commentary on this particular event. And the buzz lately hasn’t been only about the conference, there’s also been the MADS. But it’s been an in-my-face, all-parenting, all-the-time few weeks of blogs and twitter and the like. And this weekend my exasperation hit a high point and I sent out a relatively desperate tweet. That I thought I should explain. So here we are.
There’s a deeper layer to this. I think my feelings about Cyber Mummy and the like tie in with my expat experience. The fact that there is a year of maternity leave allowed in this country is something that I am luke-warm on. I see how it’s wonderful from the Mummy perspective but I think it’s a bit of a disaster from the career perspective. My concerns were best summed up by the UK’s Donald Trump (i.e. host of The Apprentice on TV), Sir Alan Sugar, in his comments about not hiring women of child-bearing age. I don’t find the concept of a “Career woman” to be as common here as in the US, so it seems to me that there is a natural progression to an equation where inevitably,
Women = Mummies
So when I look at the Cyber Mummy agenda, and I look at the BlogHer agenda for their upcoming meeting in New York, I feel sad and homesick. In some ways the topics covered at the two meetings are not that different, what’s different is the focus on mummies versus females more inclusively. I, like Iota, don’t know that there are actually that many things of interest to me at either event, but if a big group of my friends was going to something more like BlogHer than like Cyber Mummy I would probably go along for the fun and friendship.
As it happens, it doesn’t matter how I feel about this as I’ll be just flying back from the US while Cyber Mummy is taking place. I’ll be heading up to Norwich the following day for Boudicca’s Feast, run by one of the very few other non-Mummy expat bloggers. And I do hope my bloggy friends have a wonderful time at Cyber Mummy. They are all wonderful people, and as far as I can tell, wonderful mothers. But I really wish this whole thing had never come up and I could continue to feel like one of the gang instead of the outsider. I worry I’ll never quite go back, and I really didn’t need another reason to feel foreign in this country.