22 July 2008

I DO have a lot to say about BlogHer 08

First and foremost: the Red Stapler portrait set is up at Flickr with 107 photos, a new record. If you have an urge to see your favorite bloggers holding an office tool, you can fulfill it there.

Going to a women's blogging conference with 1000 women is kind of like immersing yourself in melted dark chocolate. It is entirely delicious and entirely too much.

I think I will try to take it in small bite-sized stories, if you don't mind. I don't feel like I could do it justice in one large roundup.

My modus operandi this year was to have fun and to not get overwhelmed. I succeeded at #1 and did not quite do as well at #2, though I experienced vast improvements over the two years prior.

I only had two duties this year: to participate in the panel on being childless in the blogosphere and to read at the Community Keynote.

The panel turned out great, though I had almost nothing to do with it. None of us panelists did. We barely said anything because the audience was so fired up and ready to talk that the discussion happened with little input from us. It was 75 minutes of going all over the childfree map, from infertile women who really wanted children to women who did not have children, did not want children and who did not like children very much at all (for instance, boycotting baby showers. I did not know that was allowed!)

At the end of all of this childless introspection, there came a very odd moment indeed, one that I am still scratching my head about.

Moderator Teri Tith had reserved the right to ask the panel the final question. It was something like this "People say they get a lot of satisfaction from their children. What is it that YOU get satisfaction from?"

She looked at me.

I asked that the others answer first. I sat there like a stunned mullet, my mind churning, as the other 2 panelists answered with the usual stuff about work, family and hobbies.

It came back around to me and I blurted out "That question took me aback because I kind of feel like that question contains the same kernel of "What is your life about if you don't have kids?" that we have been talking about."

I know she meant well, that she wanted to end the panel on a happy note, but I felt like I had been sucker-punched. In my mind, there IT was again - if you don't have children, somehow you have to justify your existence because making children is the main reason for living.

Interestingly enough, my biggest support in that moment came from Denise Tanton of Flamingo House Happenings. She has 3 kids of her own and I think 3 of her partner's. She said that I didn't have to answer the question and gave me a big thumbs-up. She had talked in the discussion about how she really believed and understood that having kids wasn't the end-all and be-all. It felt good to have someone say aloud what I knew in my heart.

Clearly us childless folks have a long way to go, even among ourselves. Humans haven't had a choice about childbearing for very long and it is going to take some getting used to. The more reason to talk and talk some more.

25 comments:

Mrs. G. said...

I would have been tongue tied too. I'm sure she didn't mean to be rude, but this kind of thinking is out there. Children are only one slice of my life, and if I had not had any, I would have been just fine-like you.

Blog Antagonist said...

This is going to sound weird coming from a mother of two and a stay at home parent at that. But..I sometimes think that I would be MORE fulfilled and self-actualized if I didn't have children.

Why? Because parenting tends to usurp everything else and often mothers lose their sense of identity. We forego our own needs and wants in favor of our childrens'. That's not healthy, of couse, but it just happens. We don't even realize it has happened until it's too late and then it's very difficult to break out of that cycle of self denial.

I don't find scrubbing toilets fulfilling. I don't find refereeing 100 times a day satisfying. I do it because someone has to and when the day is done, I often don't have the energy or the mental stamina to do the things that I do find satisfying and fulfilling.

Maybe some women are more satisfied by mothering...maybe my downfall is not letting myself be defined by it. ((shrug))

Anyway, I think that was a somewhat callous question. I suppose, given the fact that it was the focus of the discussion panel, it was relevant, but it certainly could have been phrased better.

Suzanne said...

Denise totally rocks the house. That was awesome. I also thought that you and Laurie were fantastic.

And blog antagonist, you hit the nail right on the head. One of the main reasons I am not interested in parenting is because I don't want to make the types of sacrifices required to be a good parent.

thailandchani said...

I can see why you might have taken it that way. That undercurrent always seems to exist.

I wouldn't have known what to say. It feels too much like "justify your existence."

~*

michelle lamar said...

Suebob-Was so great to meet you this weekend and I feel so cool becuz I got a picture with the red stapler. In the words of our dear Queen of Spain, people that think children are the be all, end all of life can..suck it. You are a rockstar in my book, and i agree with blog antagonist.Just lurking around and had to say hi. Michelle

michellelamar said...

OMG. I just saw your header. You want to be a mythical hobbit. You. Totally. ROCK!

Robyn McIntyre said...

We did have a great time at that panel, Suebob! Great blog - your sense of humour is infectious. Thanks for letting me hold the red stapler.

jenny said...

I would've been very interested to hear your panel, since I'm part of the club. Sounds like there was some passionate discussion going on.

I never quite know what to do with the, "But you would've made such a good mother," comments, because I think they're meant to be compliments, but it never feels that way. It always feels like, "But you could have been relevant."

lildb said...

that last sentence is FUCKING BRILLIANT.

and i couldn't agree more. both about supporting you and about the we need to get used to it thing.

i love you to itty-bitty pieces, sweet friend.

xoxoox

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

My God, I love you. Seriously. Love.

I was going to say something here but blog antagonist said it so much better that I'm just going to ditto her.

jonniker said...

I would have stared at her too, and I want children. But that kind of question implies that my life up to this point is entirely meaningless, and that from the point of having children forward, I will have no joy outside of them.

It's a VERY small-minded question, and you nailed it: it's precisely why childless people have a hard time finding their identity in worlds where parenting is considered the only path. I'm frustrated just thinking about it.

Carolie said...

"People say they get a lot of satisfaction from their children. What is it that YOU get satisfaction from?"

Uhhh...my work, my friends, my passions, travel, food, reading cooking, gardening, etc., etc., etc.

The question really does seem to imply that it's hard to conceive of anyone finding satisfaction EXCEPT by becoming a parent.

That's kind of like saying "People say they love peanuts. As someone allergic to peanuts, how do you possibly find any joy in food?"

The question also implies that those who find satisfaction in being a parent are only defined by that one aspect of their lives.

Thank you for sharing this, and for sharing your perspective.

Project Christopher said...

WTF?

Honestly...

(I've typed, backspaced and retyped the beginning of this sentence 5 times... I'm "finger tied")
Does this moderator have children? I don't honestly know if that makes a difference, but you're right, it smacked... I mean SMACKED of sarcasm and I only read it. I'll give that I wasn't there, but if it made you speechless, it had to come out that way.
Did you hear what the other panelists answered or how they felt about the question?

You handled it with quite a large amount of decorum! Good for you.

Kudos to blog antagonist too for weighing in as a parent. I will say, if I found myself with children I WOULD make all the necesary sacrifices to make sure they had the same fantastic life I had growing up with my wonderful (single parent) mother. However, I feel no shame in saying that since I have a choice, I am too selfish right now to say yes, I'm ready to give up my freedom to raise children.
And even then I would adopt an older child. Mostly because they're so overlooked in lieu of babies and secondly because I am NOT at all about changing diapers... UGH! :)

Congrats on a good BlogHer SueBob!

Kizz said...

I was impressed that you didn't panic and answer right away even. As I read on and tried to answer for you I could only hear the censors' answer to any of my thoughts. Goldie! "Your DOG? Really?" Work! "All work and no play, what does that give back?" Activist! "Oh please, a couple of marches is better than raising good human beings?" And it wasn't just you it was my answers too. My dog? My crappy job? My self-centered acting career? What the hell? It felt awful and I was all alone in front of my computer, not in front of a room full of people hoping for you to give them the right answer.

Thanks for taking the bullet and doing it thoughtfully. Hopefully next time I'll be there to back you up.

melanie said...

I've had this conversation with so many people in the last number of years - friends who have been made to feel like they are being "selfish" for not wanting children. I've always though it is way more "selfish" to have a child in someways. I also hate it when people don't consider two people in a commited relationship a "family". "When are you going to start a family?" The Mister and I already felt like a family before our child came.

And yes, you can OPT OUT of a baby shower. I have friends who love babies but have no desire to have their own and friends who don't like kids and don't want any and recently, when one of my friends threw me a baby shower (first baby) I called up my friends who don't like babies and told them that I put them on the list b/c they are my friends but that I don't expect them to come if they don't want to and they certainly don't have to buy a gift (actually, I told everyone they didn't have to buy a gift but that is a whole other issue). I love my new little daughter but I can already feel some of what blog antagonist said about finding a balance and not wanting to be defined just by my children.

*melanie from www.meli-mello.com (who was not at BlogHer but wishes she was.)

KiKi said...

You know, it really bugs me that you don't have kids and aren't planning on having any. I keep reading your blog, hoping that one day, you'll come to your senses and either announce that you're pregnant and unhappy about it or adopting and unhappy about it. Look, just because you don't want kids doesn't mean you shouldn't have them. Look at all the other people in the world who have kids just because and then mistreat, neglect, or abandon them, creating more sociopaths... or spoil them rotten and raise hellspawn.

Who are you to rise above this by not giving in to societal whims? How dare you!

SUEB0B said...

I love you all.

Average Jane said...

It's sort of like saying, "Since you're allergic to chocolate, how do you go through life without ever having dessert?"

It's not as though people with kids don't have other sources of satisfaction in their lives.

Those of us without kids have all of that stuff and more. In my case, I have plenty of time to make music, read, hang out with my husband, friends and cats, do volunteer work, etc. ad infinitum.

Velma said...

1. I'm sad I didn't get to pet the stapler.

2. As others have noted, Blog Antagonist said it so well. Yes, I have kids, but no, I am not one of those women who will get up and blather on about how fulfilled they are by their motherhood. Because I'm NOT - yes, they are a fulfilling PART of my life, but being a mother has definitely sucked the energy out of other parts of my life, a life that for 34 years was my own and for 8 has not been. I love 'em, and I sacrifice myself for 'em, but I won't pretend that life choices other than motherhood are valid (and highly attractive at times.)

Sister Wolf said...

What a totally effed up question and how condescending. I admire you SO MUCH for not falling into the trap of answering it.

That is why you are Suebob. You see things with remarkable clarity and speak the truth without apology or pretension.

If anyone ever asks me what I get satisfaction from, I might say 'causing trouble' or 'spending money.' I wouldn't say 'my children.'

laurie said...

AGH. I ANSWERED THE QUESTION, okay? I ANSWERED THE QUESTION. ;)

I actually didn't think about it from your perspective until I saw the look on your face and then I kind of felt like a narcissistic loser for answering it. But then again, I think the whole point of this panel was to discuss something that isn't usually discussed, and that I deal with for the most part in isolation, so our missteps and screw-ups and awkward moments along the way are rather a reflection of that.

It was weird for me to be in the grayer area - the "I wish I had children but my life hasn't supported that situation and now I'm kind of freaking out at 37 and please don't tell me to freeze my eggs or go to China" area. There seems to be so much less of a sense of control there, and participating was a way to speak to that. Maybe that's why I'm okay with justifying? Why I sometimes need to list off the other things that are cool and beautiful and wonderful about my life?

Eh, you heard me and talked to me in our mirrored BlogHer experience. I hope you know what I'm trying to say. I do think that Teri meant it not to justify ourselves but to...something else. Just something else. No coffee yet, sorry. And no, in response to the person who asked, she isn't a parent. She's walked a very different path herself.

Then again, I also horrified myself by starting to cry at the mere mention of my godson, so these deep-seated issues are a bitch and perhaps permeate everything I do.

Regardless, it was awesome to be there with you for this Suebob and I'm glad I worked through all of my terror of sounding like a total fool - twice! - to do it.

coowen said...

Interestingly, I'm taking a course in the History of Feminism and the main topic of discussion is how the "destiny" of women is to have children and by thwarting destingy, you surrender your right to be a woman.

Skye said...

From the audience, it looked like Teri was going for something completely opposite of what her question ended up sounding like. I imagine in her head it sounded more like "We often get asked the idiotic question about what we do since we don't have kids, obviously we have plenty, so go on with your bad self and brag about your life."

It did come out wrong, though, and I'm glad you didn't answer.

It's quite interesting to see a bunch of the commenters here assuming a bunch of things about her based on the retelling.

mothergoosemouse said...

Stunned mullet - OMG, I haven't heard that in YEARS. An Army Colonel I worked for used to say that.

I guess I've just never viewed children in that way, even though I have them myself. I have an aunt who is childless - in fact, she married for the first time at age 50+ - and I've never considered her to be unfulfilled. It always strikes me as strange that people assume having children is the ultimate objective in life.

I do like what BA said about how parenting usurps everything else. It's really by necessity, but even so, it can warp your views on the rest of the world

nonlineargirl said...

What a weird question, both for the implication that the childless must work extra hard to make up for not having kids, and for the implication that people with kids have nothing else from which to draw satisfaction. I'd be a sad girl indeed if I didn't have kids AND the rest of my life.

It was lovely meeting you briefly. Debbie could not say enough nice things about you, so if your ears were burning the whole weekend, you now know why.

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