Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Better Half

There's something missing from my last post.  In a committed relationship, it takes two people to make the important decisions.  So where is Ken in all this?

Ken's rule is that I can write anything about him in my blog, as long as it's true.  I was going to leave him out of the discussion, based on the urge to protect him from being blamed or scapegoated, but this topic is incomplete without him.

The bottom line for Ken is: he doesn't want to have kids.  He doesn't have moments of waffling, when he's around adorable babies or watching perfect families share warm moments on TV.  He doesn't even want to produce offspring as insurance against being alone in his old age.

Why is he so unmoved by the prospect of raising a family?  Because he spent too much time taking care of other people in his youth, and now he wants to have his life to himself.

Ken's older half-brother, now 38 to Ken's 34, is both physically and mentally disabled.  He has cerebral palsy, and has the intellectual age of a four-year-old, approximately.  Ken was made responsible for looking after his older brother, Gabe, ever since he can remember.  

Ken and Gabe's parents decided to put Gabe into the regular school system with other kids close to his age, perhaps in the hopes that this would stimulate his development.  Ken went to the same school.  Almost every day, the older kids would make fun of Gabe and push him around.  And every time, Ken would step in to try to defend his older brother - from the bigger kids.  Ken took abuse, both verbal and physical, from these older kids almost every day of his early school years.

He told his parents what was happening.  They were going through a hippie phase.  Their response: they advised Ken to be a pacifist.  I get angry every time I think about it.  They let him continue going to school to get beat up by older kids every day.  What's worse - the pummeling, or knowing that your parents aren't going to help you deal with it?

Ken didn't even get time off during summers.  Instead of enjoying leisure or having fun at summer camp, he was signed up by his parents as a volunteer for Gabe's "special" camp.  He spent all his summers helping disabled kids, who didn't all have sweet and sunny dispositions.  

When he grew to young adulthood, Ken often felt lost in the world.  He never had a chance to live for himself, to develop his own identity.  He didn't get a chance to try things out and decide what he liked or disliked, like most kids.  He started from a disadvantage, and he still feels like he's trying to catch up.

As if this wasn't enough, Ken's dad got really sick in 1999.  When I first met Ken, I was told that his dad was dying of cancer.  For two whole years, Ken's dad hovered at death's doorstep.  When he finally overcame the cancer, his liver and kidneys shut down due to a drug interaction, and he almost died from organ failure.

Ken took a minimum-wage job with flexible hours so that he could care for his father.  He spent every weekend for a year driving his dad to Buffalo and back again for special cancer treatments.  He couldn't afford to stay in a hotel while his dad spent the night in hospital, so he'd drive back home with just enough time to sleep, and then leave early the next morning to drive back, pick his dad up, and drive him back to Toronto again by nightfall.

When the cancer treatments were done, Ken spent hours by his dad's hospital bedside, throughout another whole year, praying and giving his dad hands-on energy healing.  His dad was in the palliative care ward at St. Michael's hospital. It's almost unheard of for patients to leave that ward alive, once they've been transferred in.  But Ken's dad inexplicably recovered.  His organs, slowly but surely, regenerated and began to work again.  The doctors called it a miracle.  Ken's dad attributes it to the hours of prayer and energy transfer.

Obviously, Ken is an incredibly caring and devoted man, when it comes to his loved ones.  No detail is too big or too small for him to attend to.  He has always treated me like royalty.

When we were first dating, he would bring me armloads of roses.  One dozen was never enough.  He would bring two or three dozen, in different colours.  I had vases all around my little apartment that were constantly filled.  He kept track of when the blooms would start wilting, and brought replacements.  I didn't know this at the time, but he sold almost his entire CD collection to the used CD store to pay for all the flowers.

Nothing much has changed to this day.  Ken bends himself over backwards to be the best husband he can possibly be.  He listens.  He volunteers backrubs.  He cooks fantastic feasts just for the two of us, and then insists on doing the dishes too.  He does more than his share of the housework.  He tucks a blanket around me while I'm on the sofa, watching TV.

Sure, he's not perfect.  We have fights a few times a year.  We get on each others' nerves sometimes.  But boy does he aim high!  I trust him completely and I never doubt his love.

When I occasionally bring up my broody impulses, he meets my eyes, and says with all the generosity he can muster: "I'd be a Dad for you.  I'd do my best."  But I know that he's burned out on that intensity of care-giving, maybe for the rest of his life.  A baby screaming at all hours of the night, financial stress, disagreements on parenting: I fear it would all be too much.  That could be what it takes to break us up.

So this is what it feels like: if love and happiness were money, I have been scrimping and saving all my life to finally amass a small personal fortune, i.e. my relationship with Ken.  I have a chance to gamble the whole thing on one spin of a roulette wheel.  Red doubles up my love and happiness.  Black - I lose it all.  It truly could go either way.

I'm not a gambler.  I never play the lottery: neither the pick-your-numbers variety nor scratch 'n' lose.  And I surely have no desire to struggle as a single mom.

If Ken had even 50% enthusiasm for being a parent, we could put that together with my 50% and maybe make a go of it.  But as it is, between the two of us I just don't think we have enough. 

Of course, I could turn around and change my mind tomorrow.  The urges of biology are powerful.  I can feel the undertow of maternal instinct trying to pull my logic off-balance.  In the end, only God knows what the future has in store.  Either way, I'm in His* hands.

*(His/Her/Its as you prefer.)


NicoleB said...

Tough to find words on this that don't sound profane.
I admire Ken for his ability to care for his loved ones.
I had a father in a wheel chair for long enough to comprehend a small part of what he went through.
(Not the part with his parents and leaving him being the pacifist with his fellow students, I know what I would have done, grrr.)
If it's in your book to have kids (a kid) one day, it will just happen.
If not. Not.
I sure do understand your thoughts. I think for a woman it IS different. A man can always (well, sort of always) reproduce, no matter the age. For a woman it is sure as heck time limited.
There's always the option of adoption. I know there's a shitload (excuse my language) of restrictions as well, but that's an option hubby and I are keeping open for ourselves.
He's originally Mexican and I (if it ever came up) wouldn't mind raising a kid from Mexico or South America.
Once again, hugs to you both. You are so strong and yet so lovable :)

NicoleB said...

And uh - Happy New Year :D!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Happy New Year. I admire Ken for his commitment to his family. I also feel sorry that his parents gave away a portion of his childhood instead of taking the responsibility fully upon themselves for their older child. His choice is valid as is yours so enjoy babyworld on the weekends.

UnrulyDuckling said...

I think I really know what you mean when you talk about having children being such a high stakes gamble. I actually wrote a post called Gamble I'm Not Willing To Take. Unfortunately, it's kind of an angry post since I was getting a hard time about my decision and was feeling fed up and exasperated. Being a married, thirty-something woman in this culture, I should probably learn to address the questions and pressure as thoughtfully as you have.

Anonymous said...

Ken sounds like a really nice guy. He's lucky to have you to take care of him.

savia said...

I just fell more than a little in love with Ken. Any chance we can clone him and ship the extra guy to Saskatchewan for me?

Sparkling Red said...

Nicole: Hugs gratefully received! I can feel your support coming to me undiminished from its trip half-way around the world.
(And Happy New Year to you too!)

Ron: Thanks. I will continue to enjoy Babyland. I should probably get a clue considering how much I watch the clock when I know my shift there is almost over. Obviously the reality is that I prefer small children in small doses.

UnrulyDuckling: I've added a comment to your "Gamble" post. Trust me, I get angry too, sometimes. There's a lot of pressure to conform, and it's not easy to get comfortable with that.

Unsigned: Thanks. :-)

Savia: I promise you, next time I come across a cloning booth I will definitely send you a Ken by overnight courier.
He does have a single younger brother, who is also very cute to look at, but the younger one is kind of spoiled and whiney. I don't think you'd want him.

Karen said...

Ken sounds like an amazing man. You are lucky to have him. He also sounds like he would make an amazing father, but I do understand his need to have a break.

If I was a shrink, I'd even say part of Ken would be scared to have a child because he saw how rough it can be on a family if that child less than perfect.

Yeah, but alas, I am not a shrink. So that might just be total BS. :)

Nilsa said...

You know what I think is unfortunate? Well, besides the fact Ken was forced to grow up far too early. What's unfortunate is you find that you have to explain yourself. Our society has become so fixated on procreation that we don't allow couples to marry since they can't procreate naturally and we place that expectation on loving couples that they will. You know what? So long as both you and Ken are happy, that's really all that matters.

Jenski said...

I can imagine, in addition to wanting his life for himself, having to take care of an older sibling with a disability has also made Ken acutely aware of how difficult raising a child really can be. There always volunteer work if you need a kid fix or reaffirmation that your decision is right for you. You and Ken have an amazing relationship. It is wonderful that you found each other!

Sparkling Red said...

Karen: You are 100% correct, both about Ken being an amazing man and about the origin of his fears. And by the way I have worked with a few psychiatrists in my job, and they were mostly full of BS. ;-)

Nilsa: It's true: sometimes I feel a compulsion to explain myself, because a) I want to be understood by others and b) because I sometimes need to explain myself to myself. It's an answer to an internal argument as much as a public declaration.
Either way, getting support from friends is wonderful. :-)

Jenski: We're so lucky. I truly believe that we are soulmates. We're both very unusual people, and yet we match and complement each other like we were made for that purpose. We even have matching food allergies. So, it must be destiny! ;-)

Keera Ann Fox said...

There is one other consideration: Pregnancy can make your lupus flare to the point that it kills you. Lupus ain't no picnic.

I have no kids by choice. Fortunately, since I also have no husband, nobody asks me why I have no kids. Aren't people strange? ;-)

Sparkling Red said...

Keera: Woah. I didn't know that, about Lupus.
Regarding reasons not to have kids, I guess eventually I'll get to an age where everyone will assume that I was tragically infertile. At least then I won't have to answer their thinly veiled questions anymore.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I wasn't sure you were aware of that side of lupus, so I had to tell you.

I personally know a worst-case: a father of two widowed when the youngest was only 11 months. His wife probably would have survived having one child (which did worsen her lupus), but she didn't survive having two. She also miscarried twice.

They are wonderful kids and everyone's happy they exist, but it came at a high price. Good thing we don't know the future, huh.