“Let’s never get on a plane again,” Paul said when we got back to Seattle after a long, long Christmas vacation. From December 17th through January 3rd, I had traveled by plane, train, and car to visit four states and countless friends and relatives. I slept in five different beds (technically four and one couch), and despite my thrifty habits, I probably spent close to a thousand dollars.
Why’d I do it? Well, I love my family and wanted to see them. But the result was now that I was exhausted and, like Paul, I never wanted to travel again. Of course, I would have to. We’d have to do the Christmas visiting all over again next year, wouldn’t we?
“It makes me wish I had a baby,” I said. “If I had a baby, no one would expect me to visit. They would come to me, or they would understand why I can’t come to them. I could stay home and no one would guilt-trip me about it.”
When you have a baby, everyone is willing to give you a break.
Just like when you’re getting married, everyone is willing to make the effort to come to you. I had flown to the east coast in October for a friend’s wedding, and I had marveled at all the people who had spent the time and money to get themselves there for the occasion.
It makes me wonder: is there any reason, besides my wedding or funeral, for which all my friends and family would get dressed up and convene in one location to celebrate me? What if I threw a big party for my thirty-fifth birthday? What if I had a novel published and threw a big book release party? The answer is no, especially not while I’m living in Seattle. Maybe a few people would show up, but most wouldn’t.
But if I get married, oh, all of a sudden everyone will make me a priority. Is getting married and having babies the only way to be seen as important?
It seems like it is. Or, at least, it did the other day when I was reading the William and Mary Alumni Magazine. I know it’s dorky, but I always flip to the back and skim through the “class notes” for my graduating year to see what my college peers are up to. Turns out what they’re up to is getting married and having babies. In the Winter 2014 issue, the notes for the class of ’04 discussed three people getting married and eight people having babies. At the end there was a mention of an alumna who is a doctor at a mission in Nepal, but the majority of the column was dedicated to people’s weddings and offspring.
I was annoyed. Hadn’t I sent an update to the alumni magazine? I looked back in my email. I had! Last spring the class reporter put out a desperate-sounding plea for people to contact him with their updates. Hmm, I had thought, I haven’t gotten married or had any kids, but I have done a few interesting things. So I had sent him the following update:
Eva Langston received an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of New Orleans in 2009 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011. Recently she was a faculty member at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. These days she is working on a novel, writing math curriculum, and tutoring Ukrainians on Skype. She is a regular contributor for Burlesque Press, and you can follow her adventures at inthegardenofeva.com.
So why hadn’t my update been included in the class notes? Was it not important enough? Did I have to get married or have a baby in order for people to care about me?
Feeling incensed, I emailed the class reporter, demanding answers. He wrote back immediately, telling me gently that he had included my update in the Fall 2013 issue. Oh. Oops. I guess I didn’t read that one. I apologized and thanked him.
But my sense of injustice wasn’t appeased. OK, so the class reporter hadn’t snubbed my update, but still, 90% of the updates in that magazine are about people getting married and having kids, as if that’s the only important thing that people do. Sure, it’s important, but why does it have to be the only thing that’s recognized?
It’s not the alumni magazine’s fault. I bet the only time people write in with updates is when they are getting married or having kids – not when they get a big promotion or a PhD or a hard-earned prize. Why? Why don’t we see those occasions as noteworthy and cause for celebration? Why is it that when I wrote to the class reporter last spring, I almost felt like apologizing: “sorry, I’m not getting married or anything, but I guess you might want to report on what I’m doing”? As if I was afraid of seeming conceited because my update was about me alone and instead of about me and a man, or me and a baby.
Let me be clear: I don’t have anything against getting married and having kids. I hope to do one or both some day. I just wish that people would start placing a little more emphasis on all the other awesome things that their friends and family accomplish besides marriage and children. I wish that women wouldn’t feel that they only have something to report when it involves someone besides themselves. Can’t we learn to be proud of the things we achieve on our own? Can’t we learn to celebrate ourselves every now and again?
“Yes, I have to admit, updates like yours are fun to report,” the alumni reporter told me. “It is kind of tiring to think of creative ways to say a person had a baby or wedding.”
True enough. And on that note, I’m not getting married or having a kid (yet), but I am still important, dammit! And so are the things that I do. Maybe next year I won’t travel at all for Christmas. I’ll tell everyone that I have to spend time with my baby – the novel I’m currently writing.