Nothing to Fear but Everything

I’m calm now, so this won’t be as entertaining. I was furiously unhappy throughout the first half of this month, repeatedly one-downing each new low like my mid-cap-heavy stock portfolio.

If only I could have gotten to a keyboard in those moments and shared with you. It would be like Costco shopping when hungry, which ends in intemperate decisions and regret. I actually wanted to go for it anyway and tried scribbling into a notepad.

But the problem is when I’m mad these days, it’s the exact same situation every time: I have something pressing on my mind or something I want to do, and my young children have taken away the use of my hands or concentration or both. It’s torture for my tortured personality, laden with obsessive and regimented traits. The 2.5-year-old and 2.5-month-old won’t let me take a dump or brush my teeth, let alone sit at a computer alone and think through words.

Now those intense feelings – possibly postpartum depression manifested as anger, as this article from my buddy illuminated for me – have faded. I will try to channel some of them again for reflection.

I hate to pull the nebulous “Studies show…” card and have no idea how you could even set up research like this, but humor me. Studies show people without kids are happier.

This is so interesting and provocative. It’s worth discussing openly because private conversations rarely help anyone else. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about kids until after they have them.

We spend plenty of time choosing the right colleges and careers, partners and pets, houses and cars. Yet no decision affects our waking and sleeping hours more than this one, and people seem to just do it without analysis.

People have kids because that’s what people do. No T-chart needed. It seems to be the default option with an opt-out in tiny print, when really it should be an opt-in decision with a block-letter ARE YOU SURE? confirmation screen. Come on life, hire a UX designer.

Not every human being in modern society should reproduce. We’re pushing 8 billion people on earth, and to think every single one will make the right decision about this is not realistic. There will be broken marriages, effed-up kids and parents, and more commonly, folks who are doing just fine – but would have been better off taking the blue pill (or whatever color birth control is).

I cannot bear to write out the statement that I would be happier or better off without kids now that I’ve met mine. If they didn’t exist though, I would have no trouble putting it in bold, italics, all caps.

I love my kids so much it hurts. I hate parenting so much it hurts. This might sound like cheap semantics to disguise a thinner love that lives in the superficial cuddles-and-giggles layer, like the one favored by extended family members who fawn over pictures but would never give up a Saturday afternoon to babysit.

You can call me out on this, and I will listen. Indeed it doesn’t seem like a very meaningful love if I’m ready to move on to something else after hanging out with my kids for a half hour.

My wife said the reason why parenting is so bad for me is because I’m selfish, and she meant that more thoughtfully than pejoratively. I agreed, but I also don’t want to exalt parenting as some selfless path unless it involves adoption or fostering.

She came to this conclusion after I spent an entire Thursday evening in an absolute meltdown. I couldn’t articulate anything and just kept repeating ad nauseum, “This is awwwwful.” I was irrationally mad at everyone and everything – Russia for invading, coworkers for not being organized, her family for not babysitting, the fact we still haven’t moved to Texas. She listened patiently and waited until her solo drive to Del Taco to cry, brought back some decent burritos, and listened to me some more.

I’d simply had enough. We were both working from our baby-cluttered townhouse, trading off with the shrieking infant, and then the toddler was sent home from school twice in three days with a fever. The school is awesome, but it requires 80 miles of driving per day on the god-forsaken 405 and 5.

This sucks. I wish people would say it more. At the playground, some angel masquerading as a random O.C. white guy struck up a conversation after noticing we also had two boys about two years apart. Without much context or transition, he blurted out that it sucks at this age. I wanted to collapse in his arms like Jordan into Pippen’s during the legendary flu game.

Source: NY Daily News

It does suck, Scottie. Yes they’re cute. So are most small mammals, but I don’t want to be a zookeeper. Moments of joy don’t outweigh a crappy way to live every day.

While watching the older one for five straight hours, I was in the process of losing my mind when he tried to say “Acapulco” and added like nine syllables. I melted for five minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of anxiety and drudgery.

When I was singing a silly Chinese nursery rhyme about two lions to the infant, he broke into a toothless smile. His brother came up behind me and started singing with me, along with hand motions interpreting the lyrics. I melted for 10 minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of suboptimal resource efficiency and no restorative time.

The math doesn’t add up. You touch the sky every once in a while, but live most of the time scrapping on the floor.

Raising children mirrors a hard drug habit in some ways. It takes away from peak performance in all other areas of your life and strains or neglects relationships. You age much faster. You try to convince yourself it’s not so bad and keep dangling hopes it will get better. You get high on short dopamine bursts, but the lows are deep and lingering.

Detailing my daily schedule and grievances would be too boring if I haven’t lost you already with my whining. The short of it is everything — from trivial hobbies like friends, tennis and this blog to the fundamental building blocks that make me happy like exercise, sleep, meal prep, cleanliness and minimalism — are squeezed to the margins if not oblivion. I’ve eaten more Taco Bell and McDonald’s in the last two months than previous 10 years.

Kids aren’t so bad if you don’t have an interest in anything else or mind the feeling of giving 60-80 percent effort across the board.

Let me just briefly document the reason why I started off the month sulking and wrap up with a thought. I started a new job in January and got a late invite for a four-day company retreat in Austin, Texas. Learn all day, party all night, all expenses paid. It was a chance to meet my manager in person for the first time and bond with end users and execs.

This was the kind of environment I thrive in, an opportunity to make lifelong connections at a remote-first, Zoom-heavy company during a formative time in its trajectory. I wanted to show people I have personality, that I can rip shots with the party bros and hold my ground with the brainy engineers, that the square quiet guy in meetings has another side to him.

Plus it was a snapshot in time for a company of 300 people that will either build something big or fail. Without exaggerating, this would have been the memory of a lifetime. I turned it down to support my family, and I don’t have one memory from that week except it sucked.

I should have gone to Austin. I don’t deal well with FOMO, which brings me to my thought. Having children is the risk-averse thing to do. You pretty much know how it’s going to go. You will love them more than anything. They will love you back. Your days will revolve around them.

Choosing not to have children means a lot more uncertainty around what your days will revolve around, how you will find meaning, or more nihilistically, how you will distract yourself until death. If you’re not afraid of that, if you’re not worried about FOMO down the road when everyone else is going to ballgames and recitals and graduations and weddings, if you have the conviction that kids are not right for you and you will never regret not trying, then I envy you. That’s like winning the lottery.

I didn’t have the balls. Everything I hate about parenthood I anticipated long before I met my wife. I think I didn’t resist having children because deep down I was afraid of fear of missing out on having them. That’s a big difference between actually wanting them, and I feel it every day.
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