a dangerous age


The much anticipated documentary Babies is finally showing in Edmonton. Unfortunately it was only showing in South Edmonton Common, the massive big box store complex. But I really wanted to see it, so Alessandra and I took the train to meet Sarah after work and then all three of us drove south for dinner and a movie. I usually don't get excited to see documentaries, but this one looked particularly good mostly because it didn't seem to be pushing any particular agenda (and it featured cute babies). Fimed without narration, the film was a fascinating look of the first year of life across many different cultures.

Anyhow, now that I've put babies on your mind, amuse me while I meander towards the real (and related) point of this post... However, be prepared for a very tangential lead up.

I used to work with this Bulgarian bridge engineer (to be referred to as the Bulgarian henceforth) who smelled strongly of cigarettes and somewhat reminiscent of vodka and who told the most amazing stories of his life. The details of his stories were always hilariously unexpected and although I don't doubt they were true, they always seem sort of unbelievable. My friend and I would be sitting eating our lunch in the lobby when the gentleman in question would chance upon us and sit down for five minutes that would turn into an hour. I would go back to my desk afterwards and relay his tales to my co-workers and we would all sit stunned by how completely ordinary our lives were in comparison.

The Bulgarian had a particular way of telling stories, full of aphorisms and amusing asides. He did not reveal his full narrative chronologically. I would always have to piece together the greater narrative over the course of many lunch hour sessions, sorting through the tangential storylines to discover how everything fit together. However, it was always very clear that he had lived a very epic life. As a young boy he was a bit of a violin prodigy, achieving a modicum of fame playing with the national orchestra. As a teen he rebelled against the wishes of his family that he continue with the violin when he realized he was talented but not truly gifted. Having always concentrated on his music and not academics, he was faced with the daunting challenge of improving his marks in order to qualify for a national scholarship so that he could attend university. And that he did, winning the top scholarship that gave him access to his choice of university in any Communist country. He chose to study engineering in Russia, later returning to Bulgaria becoming one of the country's top bridge engineers, then emigrating to the UK and United States before once-again returning to the country to become unwittingly involved in a political scandal with the Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation (a former student of his). Then he made a quiet exit and ended up in Canada. Seriously epic stuff.

When the Bulgarian returned to his native country after completing his degree in Russia he started work in the Ministry of Transportation. His colleagues/comrades were always highly skeptical of him, because they feared he had been brainwashed with Soviet doctrine and could not be trusted. In very communist fashion the work environment within the Ministry of Transportation was very collaborative and engineers were divided into teams to work on projects. However, because not much was known about the Bulgarian, his team members did not trust him and refused to cooperate with him. So he was given design projects that were far beyond the capabilities of a new engineer. However, while the Bulgarian had only been a talented violinist, he was a gifted engineer. When faced with a nearly impossible design challenge he went down to the archives, flirted with the clerks and gained access to all of the blueprints and design schematics of successful bridge projects. From those designs he was able to solve the problem and he created a design for a new bridge that received accolades from the Minister of Transportation and won a national award. Rather than this winning him favour from his team members, instead they only grew more resentful of him. His supervisor especially hated him but could not outright banish him from working for the Ministry. So instead he had him transferred to another unit. The Bulgarian fared a little better there, expect now he faced a new problem. His supervisor was a very attractive woman, and as he described she was of a 'dangerous age' alluding to the fact that she strongly desired having a baby. Nearing 30, she was married but she and her husband were having difficulties. She found the Bulgarian charming and wished to initiate an affair, the product of which, the Bulgarian surmised, would be a child. However, the Bulgarian was also married (to a woman he met during his final year at university in Russia) and he was devoted to his wife. And so he was faced with a conundrum. How could he defend himself from the advances of this seemingly baby-hungry woman who was also his boss? In the end he did his best to explain that he loved his wife and could not engage in an affair.

While it's been a few years since I've even seen the Bulgarian, every now and then I'm reminded of something he has said. Earlier last week, while I was going through some photos that I took while babysitting my surrogate nephew,  I recalled what he said about his supervisor being of 'a dangerous age', certainly a more poetic way of calling someone baby-crazy. I never really thought too much about the Bulgarian's supervisor, having no way to hear her side of the story. But it would be interesting to hear her perspective. Maybe she was sort of crazy, but maybe the Bulgarian had exaggerate her side, and whatever sort of flirtation between the two combined with her honesty about wanting a child had been misconstrued over the years to provide a more interesting tale (the Bulgarian did have a flair for theatricality).

I've had the first part of this blog post written for a while now. And I've been thinking about how to conclude it because it is difficult to think of how to succinctly express where my thoughts have wandered on the subject. Essentially what I want to say is this. I think it's sort of ridiculous that talking about having kids still garners stereotypical responses. Often the response is one of judgment (why would you want to give up on your career?) or it's explained away by your hormones (you must be baby-crazy). Why do people react this way? It's just as bad as people thinking that having children is an inevitability for all women. And then there is also this idea that because more women are having children later in life, that expressing interest in having kids before 30 is somehow premature. (and then there is the opposite situation where women are judged for waiting too long, or the others who are judged for not wanting kids at all.) I really don't get it.

I've been waffling over whether or not I will publish this post, but I think I'm going to even though there is a chance that strangers who read this might make assumptions about me after reading it. I just wonder why we can't talk more openly about the type of things that women have to take into consideration when thinking about their future whether it's planning their career or keeping in mind any physical realities that come with age like decreasing fertility or menopause. Sure there is legislation in place that says things like you can't be discriminated because of your gender, parental leave is no longer a novelty, but still, when you have conversations about work you don't often hear your female colleagues discussing whether or not they want to have children and how that might work with their jobs, although those plans are no less speculative than some career or other life aspirations that people have no problem expressing.

I guess all I'm saying is that I find it offensive to call someone as baby-crazy, career-obsessed or any other sort of label when all they are trying to do is take a realistic look at the things they may want out of life.