Workshop Hell

Photo by Justin S. Campbell via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My husband and I both started attending employment counseling last week. After the first appointment, we came away with very different schedules. My counselor had me fully booked for workshops and appointments every day this week and into the next. Meanwhile, my husband was scheduled for only two workshops and one one-on-one appointment with a networking expert.

I had even been honest with the counselor about how overwhelmed I get and told her I can only handle part-time work (if that). She must not have understood what I was getting at. She would not have over-scheduled me if she had.

The workshops have proven to be pretty much useless. I already know how to write a resume. My problems are far more complex than that. What they’re teaching is so basic I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to get much out of it. I’m not saying I learned nothing though. I learned a couple of sneaky, unethical tricks to get my resume seen by potential employers. That’s the kind of stuff they’re teaching people.

There were really only two things I hoped to get out of all this, which have already proven to be complete busts:

  1. I was hoping to get help identifying a new career path that is a better fit for me than office admin. The only thing that’s come out of this in that regard is the advice to “find a way” to make money using my writing skills. No shit. Easier said than done.
  2. I was hoping there would be some kind of government funding for retraining, but my counselor told me on day one that there is nothing like that available.


I have ended up extremely overwhelmed and stressed by something that is proving to be of no value or benefit whatsoever. The problem is that I don’t know how to get out of it. It goes against everything in me to just not show up, so I know I need to cancel, but I don’t know how to. I will feel like I need to offer some excuse, but I don’t have one. And I don’t want to piss anyone off in a small town like this. In fact, my counselor even goes to my former church, which I intend to start attending again. If I bail out of all this without a good reason it’s going to be really hard to face her socially.

So I’ve continued to go.

My state of overwhelm finally came to a head today in a workshop on “Finding the Hidden Job Market.” This was the most useless workshop yet. It was basically hours of the instructor saying, “You have to socialize and talk to people to get a job in this town,” in a variety of different ways. I was already well aware of this. There’s no new way anyone can say it to make it any easier for me in practicality. So I was sitting there, feeling physically worn out from the week’s schedule, feeling tired from days of having gotten up earlier than my body can cope with, and with a blinding headache from the fluorescent lights. I was trying to look at the printouts I’d been given and the letters and words just started swimming on the page in pools of bright light, blending together, indistinguishable.

And then things took a bad turn, socially. She was talking about how if you’re new in town, employers are going to love that you’ve moved here, because…. she paused… she then looked at me and for some reason decided to single me out. “Do you and your husband have kids?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

“But of course you will in the future.” Not a question. A statement.

“No,” I snapped, too loudly. “I’m already 43; if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to.”

The room went silent for an awkward moment while everyone stared at me. Or at least I felt like everyone was staring at me. My face started to burn. I had overshared. Typical.

Then she, apparently unfazed, went on to say something… now I will probably not quote this accurately, word for word, because my head was in such a whirl that I’m not sure exactly what she said… but it was something to the effect that if we had kids, we would be seen as more valuable to the community, because our kids would be going to school here and would be involved in things and would be seen as the future of the community.

So, wait. What? She’s telling me I have to procreate to be valuable to the community? That employers would be happy my husband and I have moved here if we had kids? Was she implying they’d be more likely to employ us if we were parents and could contribute to the future population of the town? Is that how people think?! I hope I misunderstood what she was getting at because that is fucked.

I remained silent during this little lecture.

Not long after that, she had each person do a role-playing exercise with her. We were supposed to pretend that she was a potential employer and we were introducing ourselves for the purpose of networking. As she went around the room, getting closer to me, I felt this tightness rise higher and higher up my body. I started wracking my brain trying to think of something to say when she got to me, but my head was in such a fog by that point that I was a complete blank. I could not string a coherent thought together. When I realized that, I started trying to weigh my options for escape. But again, my brain wasn’t really working. My first instinct was to run from the room. But that would attract so much attention. I hate attracting attention. And there was actually someone in a chair blocking the path from my seat to the door. I would have to ask them to move to get out. So that was out of the question.

That was as far as I had gotten in my thought process when she finally came to me. She stuck out her hand and said, in her role as potential employer, “Nice to meet you. What can I do for you today?”

I blurted out, “I’m so sorry, I cannot pull it together to do this right now. I have a blinding headache and am not okay. I don’t want to be difficult but I just can’t.”

“Oh yes, you’re so difficult,” she said jokingly. Then she made some comment about how you shouldn’t be approaching employers if you’re having a bad day anyway and moved on to the next person. Funnily enough, and perhaps fortunately for me, two other people declined after me. One guy said it takes him all day to think of something to say and he can’t handle being put on the spot like that. A fellow Aspie, maybe? I could certainly relate.

As I sat there, I was feeling so awful, physically and emotionally, that I started having — okay, don’t be alarmed here; I’m not suicidal — mental images pop into my head of me shooting myself. I wasn’t actively thinking about suicide, or wanting to do it, or planning it. I don’t even know how to use a gun. It was just these images, unbidden. I used to get them a lot when I was young, but it’s been a very long time since the last time it happened. In fact, it was here, in this town, where I used to have them a lot.

When I got home, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I thought I was waking up the next morning. It took a few minutes to gain my bearings.

I really don’t want to go back to that place. Am I a terrible person if I don’t?


Other People’s Opinions and Questions About Our Non-Parenthood

Photo by desmondnwj via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by desmondnwj via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

This is continued from Thoughts on Having Kids, Part One and Thoughts on Having Kids, Part Two, where I explain the long journey that has brought us to this point.

It’s tough picking a word to describe our state. Childless implies something’s missing. Childfree implies some kind of antagonism towards children — that you think they’re something bad that you need to be free of. I met someone online who refers to himself as a non-parent, and I like that term. It’s not loaded with hidden meaning. It just is what it is.

Anyway, certain people have made it clear that they don’t approve of our non-parenthood. Infertility is not seen as an excuse. They ask if I’ve sought treatment, tried IVF, taken medication that stimulates ovulation, considered a surrogate. They ask why we haven’t adopted. They tell me all the reasons we should do these things. Check out a childfree bingo card — I’ve heard it all. They’ve told me that when my husband and I are old and alone we’ll have regrets. They’ve said that you don’t truly become an adult or learn true love or selflessness until you become a mother. One woman who had adopted children said to me, “I don’t know how anyone can be so selfish as to not make room in their life for children who need a home!” (Yeah, we’re not friends anymore.)

Oddly enough, people never direct these questions and comments at my husband. It’s always at me. My mother-in-law got me alone one day to have a chat with me about the situation. She told me that my husband had always told her he wanted three children, insinuating that I must be solely responsible for his dream not coming true. (I later asked him about this, and he told me he’d said that when he was about 15, and like a lot of things people think and say when they’re teenagers, he no longer felt that way.)

Thankfully, my own mother understands and doesn’t pressure me, but I know it causes her pain that she will never be a grandmother (I’m her only child), especially when her friends brag and whip out their photos of their grandkids, or worse yet, actually ask her if I’ve made her a grandmother yet. I would have expected people to stop asking by now (I’m 42), but they haven’t.

And meeting new people is hard because of the questions. Even though I admit that it’s completely appropriate to ask someone, “Do you have kids?” I feel awkward when people ask it. It gets even worse when I encounter someone who’s particularly nosy and asks follow-up questions. I have had awkward conversations with people like this:

Do you have kids?
No, no kids. 
Are you planning to have kids?
No, no plans.
Why not? Don’t you like kids?
It’s not that I don’t like kids. I’m infertile. I haven’t been able to conceive.
Oh, so you do want kids, but you can’t have them?
No, I don’t want kids.
Oh… [Puzzled look.]

Part of the problem, of course, is that I’m not good at explaining when put on the spot. And when it comes to procreation there are three positions most people seem to understand, even if they don’t approve:

1. Want kids and have them.
2. Want kids, can’t have them, and feel sad about it.
3. Don’t want kids and choose not to have them by using contraception (or abstinence, or abortion).

It seems like no one’s ever heard of infertile and okay with it.

And I know from things people have said and from reading comments online what many people assume about people who don’t want kids: We’re selfish, self-centered, lazy, cold, unloving, immature. So being asked, “Don’t you like kids?” is extremely anxiety-inducing, especially when I’ve just met someone and I know they’re forming their first opinions about me.

I wouldn’t know how to answer it even if it weren’t such a loaded question. I’m not even sure how to define my feelings in a short sound bite appropriate for a first meeting. I mean, I like kids as much as I like any other humans, I guess. I wish them well. I want the best for them. I want them to be happy and well. I’m horrified at the thought of abuse in any form. But do I want to mother them? No. Do I want to be around them? I know it sounds horrible to say, but no. No I don’t. I don’t actively dislike kids, but I’m not good with them and the desire to be around them is just not there. Should I tell people all this? Isn’t it a lot of information to tell people you’ve just met? And why should I be put in a position to have to bare my soul with people right away?

If I could only figure out what to say, I might feel differently, but every option I can think of seems like a bad idea in some way. I don’t want to come across as annoyed or defensive. I don’t want to give out too much information to people I’ve just met. I don’t want to be dishonest. I don’t want to encourage undesirable treatment from people (like if I say I like kids, the next thing I know, I’m being asked to babysit or teach Sunday School, which I definitely do not want — or if I say I don’t like kids, I get ostracized or criticized).

Someone told me once that since I’ve chosen an unusual path in life I have to expect people to ask questions. That it just comes with the territory. I can understand that to a point, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me.

In spite of my concerns about the correct way to respond, I’m also aware that no matter what choices you make in life, especially when it comes to things like procreation, someone’s going to have a negative opinion about it. I’ve seen people get judged for being stay-at-home moms, being working moms, having too many kids, not having enough kids, having kids too young, having kids too old, having kids while poor, and even waiting to get out of poverty before having kids (“There’s never a right time, you just have to do it!” they’re told). My own mom was given a hard time for only having one, despite the fact that she wanted more and endured miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. It’s crazy. So I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be judged for something anyway, I might as well be judged for doing what I want to do, and doing the thing that’s actually right for me and my husband.

I don’t really understand why some people are so interested, to be honest. It has never occurred to me to judge anyone else about the choices they make when it comes to procreation. But then, I already know that the way I think is not typical.