Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#8 [2016/CBR8] "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself" by Jen Kirkman

I've had I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids (2013) on my to-read list for quite a while. But with so many other books to read, I never got around to it. That is, until I finally picked up the audio version and started listening on my, lately, significantly increased drive time. The subject of this memoir by stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman is pretty obvious from the title. Kirkman shortly describes her life, from right after college, deciding to become a comedian, meeting her husband, and her decision not to have children. The largest part of the book, however, is dedicated to stories of people asking her if she has kids and then harassing her when she says that she doesn't want kids.

I have a hard time immediately diving into a comedian's memoirs when I don't already have a good idea of who they are. Aziz Ansari had to slowly worm his way into my heart as I read Modern Romance, and it took me a couple chapters before I warmed to Jen Kirkman as well. At first glance, we have enough in common: We're both in our thirties and not interested in having kids. But these similarities made me a little more sensitive. In a way, she was representing me to the masses, and I didn't necessarily want Kirkman being the spokesperson for my childless self. It wasn't until the chapter where Jen goes to an all-inclusive, beachy vacation with a friend and complains about the kids in the adult-only pool, that I really started to like her. Seriously, the entire complex is dedicated to kid-happy, water entertainment. Why do kids have to blatantly ignore posted signage and infiltrate the one kid-free zone? And why are parents letting them? After that, whether Kirkman was speaking for me or not, I was on her side.

My job is very male-dominated and very traditional, so I get a lot of pointed comments and questions regarding my fertility and family planning. And yet, I was still surprised by the number of people harassing Kirkman about her life choices. From her hairdresser, to acquaintances at a wedding, to even her divorce attorney, she is constantly being questioned and challenged. One of the most common responses to Kirkman saying that she doesn't want kids is a pompous, "Oh, you'll change your mind." It is obviously infuriating to be told what you will be thinking in the future by a stranger. What works for you, doesn't necessarily work for me. Let's just agree to make different decisions about out lives, okay?

Occasionally, Kirkman veers toward what feels like defensive attacks against pregnant women and mothers. She says they're attacking her because they're jealous of her freedom, and their only conversations are about poop and gross bodily functions. Although this is [kind of] true, and there's nothing worse for a friendship than marriage and children, I don't want to turn this into a battle between moms and child-free-by-choice women. One moment that stuck with me was Kirkman stating that the judgment doesn't stop when you have kids. That's certainly true. It never ends. All decisions surrounding your kids are up for debate and unsolicited advice. Are you going back to work? Breastfeeding? Letting them watch television? And for god's sake, what are you feeding them? The answer is obvious: Stop judging and let people live their own lives. But it's easier said than done.

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