I recently returned from a week long vacation at my parents’ house for Christmas. It included the usual stroll down memory lane as I flipped through my high school yearbooks, dusted off my once treasured Beatrix Potter figurines, and examined the contents of my childhood bookcase. The last includes a book called What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry that my father used to read to me. According to the jacket, the book “shows and tells what busy people do every day to build houses, sail ships, fly planes, keep house, and grow food.” In other words, I am not a busy person.
Nonetheless, the subject of what I do all day seemed to be a favorite of my father’s on this visit. It first came up as husband and I were on our way out the door to see a movie for the third night in a row.
“Is this what you do all day? Eat out and go to see movies?”
Well, yes, dad, we like to do those things.
“We are on vacation,” I reminded him before heading out the door for Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, a movie in which Tom Cruise’s character Ethan Hawke breaks out of a Russian jail, rappels off a skyscraper and crashes a car from ten floors up on a parking platform to save the world from nuclear annihilation. Or, by Richard Scarry’s definition, is never really busy.
I am not surprised by father’s reaction. Something about going to the movies seems to set people off, especially people with kids. Invariably the news that I have seen a new release in an actual movie theater is greeted with wistful comments from my parent-friends who cannot remember the last time they went to a movie theater unless it was to see the Muppets or Sponge Bob or such.
But there was some subtext to my father’s comment, which translates roughly as “Ok, now that you are practically forty your mother and I accept you are never going to have kids but can you please be a little less blatant about what an empty shell of a life you live for nothing but your own pleasure?” In other words, it is ok to busy yourself with your kids, but if you are childless the ways in which you choose to busy yourself are subject to scrutiny by the virtue police. Best not to appear to be enjoying yourself too much; that would just upset people.
Normally I ignore everything my father says, but in the spirit of New Year’s Eve I have indulged in some seasonal guilt/self-flagellation. I have asked myself what the point of my life is and concluded only, pathetically, that I need to make some charitable donations. No, I am not reconsidering my decision not to have kids. Sure, children will guarantee you will be busy for the next eighteen years or so, but even parents are subject to the virtue police. Mothers tell me there is a special force dedicated to unsolicited advice on breast feeding, toilet training, and preparing your infant for an Ivy League. Besides the older I get, the less convinced I am there is any virtue in being busy. Being busy is easy; it’s the doing something I am finding hard.