"So do you go out in the evenings?" asked my pal, currently in Southeast Asia, over Skype.
She has kids, so there may have been wistfulness in that question, but the answer was basically "Ha, ha, ha!" because the vast majority of husbands, from what I've ever heard, including my mother's and my own, don't go out in the evenings. I don't think the vast majority of English-speaking husbands have gone out in the evenings since the invention of the radio. They come home and either turn on the TV or the computer, and you chat to them briefly over dinner, and then it's the TV or the computer again.
And I don't mind. That's what I grew up with. For me the revolution was figuring out I could go out in the evenings on my own, if I had a good reason, and so I go to Polish class. Why this was such a revolution is a question, though, since my mother has always gone out at night to her Catholic Women's League meetings. I guess, though, that Polish class lacks the CWL's gravitas. Nobody prays. And there are men. How very weird.
But as a matter of fact, B.A. and I did go out last night, to a dinner party. And it was a very good dinner party, involving sherry, red wine, dessert wine, port and song. I'm sorry I had the port (I usually don't) because it gave me the headache I woke up with this morning.
There were nine people at this party, and at least eight of them don't have any children, and the ninth has a mobility scooter, so if she does have children, they are certainly grown up by now.
I am sure the other partiers would all think this was an extraordinary thought to be having during the party, for we didn't talk about children at all. We talked about the new Archbishop of Edinburgh, and someone's trip to Berlin, and excitement at work, and the biography of an interesting person and someone's attempt to master reading German. But there was something about going to a godson's wedding, and something about thinking someone had a daughter when she meant something else entirely, and I thought, "How odd, how odd, to have the long chain of my ancestors stop here, with me."
Being someone who thinks deliberately sterile marriages are shocking and yet does not have any children is darned ironic. On the one hand, I champion the whole beautiful human project of men and women looking outside their families for a spouse and to graft new families onto the old. On the other, I haven't managed to make a new family to graft onto the old, and from an outsider's point of view, B.A. and I look like any other couple who would rather have a lot of fun and pursue our hobbies, etc., etc.
That's rather a drag, but there are heavier crosses to bear, that's for sure, and it is a great mercy that B.A. and I know so many other childless religious people. And I mention it to assuage any panic Single childless readers may be feeling about what on earth you are going to do if you don't have children. In my case, I carry on and make friends with people who share my childless circumstances and make the most of them. No doubt many of the younger ones will find spouses, have children and move on, but not all will (e.g. future priests), and the older ones are tough old birds who may well outlive me.
As a matter of fact, the long chain of my ancestors does not stop with me but has continued to three little people, more proof that one of the best presents your parents can give you is a brother or sister. The childless women I feel sorriest for are those who have no siblings or siblings not particularly interested in having children.
Still, I imagine that these are the childless women least likely to find themselves alone in huge, child-centred parties, where they are made to feel like sexless drones. The childless make excellent company for the childless, especially when we all agree that children are marvellous and we all, sometimes, sigh a little sigh.