Friday, August 9, 2013

Nerds and Non-parents

Realizing I’d promised to write about family-hood and other domestic pursuits since returning from my year of imposed solitude, I’d like to natter on a bit about step-mother-hood if I might.  Well, if you’re still reading, I suppose that answers that. If not, well, I already have a five-year-old, so I've learned not to cater to toddlers.

I do find myself bombarde by mom-ness these days.  It's not what you think though. Actually, it started before I even got back to 'Merica. All over the social medias I'm seeing mom-ness. Everyone who can is making babies, and throwing up pictures. All the time the talk is about the babies. For the most part I'm still pretty well conditioned to turn and run the other way when I see stuff like this. Anyone who knows me knows my feelings about having actual babies, and while I don't believe I've ever come right out and said it, my earlier post, Mountains to Climb, is a pretty good introduction to my ambivalence about the joys of parenthood. Nevertheless, I tried to use the baby frenzy as a sort of jumping off point for my imminent leap into step-parenthood.  This, along with a decided bias on the part of most of my female colleagues at work back in Astana towards The Awesomeness-and-Necessity-of-Being-a-Mom even had me looking forward, at times, to coming back to a ready-made family.

I find I’m feeling a bit left out since coming back, though.  The truth is, I’d envisioned being a step-mother as something quite rewarding—trying, at times, to say the least, but the ability to shape a young mind, to share some of the things I’d loved as a kid, to watch as a child made newer and bigger discoveries—however I’ve found it to be rather, well, not.   I suppose I imagined that in coming back to a country so much more forward thinking in terms of women and children and families, I’d feel this great influx of solidarity and warm fuzzies and feelings over my choice to be a parent. Yes, just a stepmom, but still, it was a choice I could’ve said no to.  Could’ve happily gone my own way, not got married, moved on in my happily kid-free state. So many parentless kids in the world, so many progenitors-but-not-parents, and I chose to be a parent to a kid I didn’t even make!

Let me go back just a little bit. In Kazakhstan—on a side note, I’ve also often come to wonder if I’ll still be using that phrase 50 years from now, and if people will still be asking where that is and if it’s actually a country—all women are mothers, even if they don’t know it yet. I’m not making it up! I have friends, actual real friends, being reminded every day that having kids is the thing they should and will be doing.  Doctors. Loan agents. Bosses. Relatives. Having kids is just a thing women do over there. It’s not glorified; there is no cult of motherhood there. Women just get to a certain age, have a few kids, move on.

Thus my sense of being left out—cue flashbacks to middle school and being shunned by the popular kids because I didn’t have the right color backpack (or whatever it is I was being shunned for at any given moment [I was usually reading something so didn’t really stop to find out what it is I was being shunned about])—when I came back to the land of free choice and freedom to not reproduce and all those other things women have come to take for granted back here in ‘Merica.  Now that women are so free, all the time, to do and not do things, motherhood has become this cult, and only the great sacrifice will get you in.  No buying membership to this club, no, if you didn't push it out, they will be pushing you out, and don't let the door hit you.

Every once in a while someone who doesn’t know me sees me with the husband and stepkiddo and makes the mistake of referring to me as his mother, and I immediately find myself looking around, waiting to be found out, revealed for the fake mom I really am. For someone who already has social anxiety, it’s really a stressful situation. Doesn’t matter how many meals I cook, how many lifeskills I impart, how many tantrums I successfully ignore—because every good fake mother knows that giving in and giving the attention said tantrum-creator wants is just bad fake parenting—I’m still not a real mom. I don’t get to have the real mom feelings. Don’t get to have the real mom credit.

Well, yes of course he has a real mom (this is hypothetical me, answering the totally real and next question of hypothetical you), because of course you’re going to ask that the minute I start talking about wanting to take real mom credit for any feelings or doings I do while being the fake mom. And that’s what I’m saying. I was sold a lemon. Got talked into this great scheme called parenthood, only to find out I’m not qualified anyway. People keep asking when I’m going to have one of my own. I say I’ve already got one (usually at this point I’m walking away because I don’t want to get rejected from the mom club again), when I stick around to hear the answer it usually revolves around the strange notion that I need to have a baby, will want it even; raising a kid, apparently, is not the same thing as being a parent.

But at least I’ve had one question answered. I’d always tried to fathom why it is that the nuclear family is such an important things in good old OOSA, why everyone’s always scrambling to determine paternity, why women always have to have the kid, and don’t get to opt out through crazy things like abortions or birth control or whatever. Because anything but a birth parent isn’t really a parent here. Must be one of those laws they never talk about. You’re not a card-carrying parent unless you made it, then decided to take care of it. For all you librarians and sundry computer nerds, the Boolean operator you’re looking for is AND. No ORs need apply. Have we any NOTS? Don’t worry, just like the kids, you’ll be left out. Probably forgotten.

Oh yeah, you're probably wondering about the "Nerds" in the title. Nerds, being left out, literal definitions of things. You figure it out.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Questions and Answers

I've gotten plenty of questions about my trip since I got back.  My favorite, or course, has been, "You left the country?" But the most often-asked is not one you might expect.  No, it wasn't "You went where?", "How long were you gone?", or even "What was it like in... what was that place called again, Russia?" No, the question people ask me the most since I returned to the U.S. has been, "Glad to be back?"

Now, I am by no means a psychologist, but I know a loaded question when I hear one. You've gotta know that when a person asks a question like that, they expect a certain answer. And I'm happy to oblige, as it happens. Why yes, I certainly am glad to be back in a place where things make sense, where the traditional order of things I've known since birth is still in place, and where I can take advantage of all those, well, advantages I've been taught belong to me. Yes, I enjoy knowing my place in the world.

Not that everything and everyone didn't have a place in Astana. It was just an equally, shall we say allotted, place for all. Take for example any business larger than a basement-level mini-mart. They all have lockers. Not for the convenience of shoppers, especially in malls where you might have many bags by the time you're done, but for the convenience of the ever-present security. Everyone who walks into a business—for some reason in grocery stores more than any other place I've seen—is under suspicion, without exception. Ok, maybe grandmothers, but everyone is afraid of them, so I can see cause for dispensation. And everyone who walks into these places just knows and accepts it. People aren't to be trusted, no matter how they're dressed, or whether they follow the unwritten no-smiling-in-any-place-there's-a-chance-someone-might-see-you-do-it rule.

Now, I suppose I might have come under more suspicion in the "everyone's a criminal" initiative. It's not what you think though. Well, not directly. Security didn't profile me because I was a foreigner, but because, being a foreigner, I looked differently. Being a female who wore clothes that were actually comfortable, roomy even, naturally brought me under suspicion for intent to steal everything in the store. Wearing a sweatshirt into Gal-Mart, the upscale grocery store in one of Astana's many malls, is just an open invitation for a security guard to follow you around and stare at you the entire time you're in the store.

Also, I had a silly proclivity for carrying things—a messenger bag, a backpack, a purse that could hold more than a tube of lipstick—that immediately made me stand out as an obvious shoplifter. Women in this city, as I'm sure I've mentioned, don't carry things, often not even a purse. Probably it has to do with the fact that even a clutch is enough to upset the balance and tip those tiny women right off their four-inch heels. Luckily, there are men willing to display their masculinity at every opportunity and carry the purses of their women.

Now, I suppose it was a bit easier for security people to pick me out, being that I was recognizably not Kazakh. I could've passed for Russian, I suppose, if I'd dressed differently, but clothes were so expensive I just never bothered to try. So yes, I'm also be glad to be back in a place where I'm so recognizably not the person meant to be profiled. I can wear what I like, carry what I like, do incredibly suspicious things in places of terribly expensive commerce, and I don't even get a look. You can't be that, can you?