September 28, 2007

The Next Generation

I recently attended my nephew’s wedding, in Paris. It was a wonderful celebration. The eldest son of three boys, born in Scotland but now living in London, marries an English girl living in Paris. For three years they had nurtured a relationship, connecting by cell-phone, email, and weekend trips under and over the English Channel. We called it the Eurostar romance, named after the train that carried my nephew though the "chunnel," the train tunnel that ferries passengers under the channel between England and France.

Close to a year ago, my nephew called me with the news. He would marry, finally, just before his 34th birthday. I was thrilled, of course. I had met his girlfriend at his younger brother’s wedding and I thought they made a great pair. He also gave me some other news. He told me that they would likely continue to keep separate residences as neither could figure out a way to transfer their jobs, and he also told me that they didn’t plan on having kids.

I realized he divulged this last bit of information because he knew his uncle and aunt had made the same choice. I had never considered that I might be a kind of "role model" for the next generation. I wasn’t in the habit of announcing my childfree status to relatives; most of them had figured it out on their own. But I did wonder: Did we somehow influence their decision making?

I didn’t think so. At most, we were the odd couple who lived a childfree life in America and seemed happy. They had come to the decision on their own, during the intimate conversations couples have when they imagine a life together and what that would look and feel like.

I was right. A week before the wedding, as I getting ready to pack, my nephew called me from London, wanting to know when would arrive in Paris. We talked about the schedule, what people would wear (kilts or suits?) and which relatives would be there. He told me that he had suggested that his friends leave the kids at home, that the wedding reception was intended to be "sans enfants."

So I was surprised to see a small child at the reception. It was the child of one of his best friends, a cute blond toddler in an oversized kilt, who was seated at the end of our table. All went well until the child started fussing loudly while the bride’s father was making a speech.

My focus was on the head table. The father continued with his speech, but the bride was clearly not amused at the interruption, or the noise. Fixing her eyes on the little boy, her expression looked like something between migraine and exorcism.

It was the face of someone who might be inclined to choose, for herself, a life "sans enfants." I must admit, at that moment, I felt both relief and empathy.

Flickr photo by austinevan (cc)
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1 comment:

Dani said...

And that is why we also had a "sans enfants" wedding reception. I didn't want to have the migraine/exorcism face!