TIME Parenting

Take It From Me: You Are Not Sure You Don’t Want Kids

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Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

Present you knows very little about what future you will desire

There has been an avalanche of writing lately from women who decided, often quite young, that they would never have children. What these women fail to realize is that they might change their minds. It’s not because they’re women, and it’s only partially because they’re young. The fact is, men and women of all ages understand very little about what will make them happy.

In his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that we assume that what makes us happy today will make us happy in the future, too. We don’t imagine all of the things that may happen to us that could change our perspective. Present you knows very little definitively about what future you will desire.

I have some experience with being unable to predict what will make me happy. I was a serial monogamist in my 20’s despite knowing with great certainty that I would never be anyone’s wife or mother. I never aww’d at babies or daydreamed about my wedding. I pictured myself at 80, alone and fabulous in sequins and false eyelashes, smoking cigarettes at a hotel bar. Become one of those harried moms who yells at little Billy for smearing peanut butter on the wall? No, thanks. The thought of that kind of commitment kept me up at night. I just wanted to be free. I didn’t want that permanence. Tattoos and babies—neither were for me.

What happened next was entirely unoriginal. At 30, after ending a long-term relationship of 6 years with a really great guy because I couldn’t move forward, I found myself feeling something for my closest male friend of over a decade. Conveniently, he was feeling something for me at the same time. It was different than all of my previous relationships, and I was unprepared for how real it all got, and how quickly.

For one thing, we were already together all the time, so I couldn’t pull any of my tricks to keep him at arm’s-length like I’d done to others. There would be no offering to only see each other a few times a week and encouraging him to go spend time with his own friends. His friends were already my friends, too. And I didn’t want to push him anyway.

A few weeks into our relationship we were talking about marriage and children. For the first time ever, this was a conversation that excited me and didn’t make me nervous or uncomfortable. Less than a year later we were engaged, several months after that we were married, and 10 months after that our first baby was born. Our third child is on the way. The big regret is that we didn’t realize everything sooner: Who knows how many little Billys smearing peanut butter we could have had today.

Will a change of heart happen to everyone who makes the proclamation that I made that children were out of the question? Of course not. The “right guy” may have zero effect on a woman who has decided not to have children. There will be people who don’t want children today who won’t want children tomorrow. Humans have an endless capacity for change, and proclaiming something doesn’t mean it will happen. Before making irreversible decisions, we should try to remember that.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Etiquette

6 Rules for ‘Happy Birthday’ Etiquette in the Age of Facebook

Rainbow Cake on White Pedestal
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Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

An Emily Post–worthy guide to navigating today's pitfalls in wishing your nearest and dearest a happy birthday.

We’ve reached a point in history where social media has been around long enough to require some etiquette rules. Don’t post about fights you’re having with your spouse. No inspirational quotes. Limit pictures of your children to only the supercute ones.

But birthdays have become complicated to the point where people don’t know the rules anymore. Facebook has changed the whole birthday game, as it were. No longer do people get credit for remembering the day you graced humanity; now they get an alert (and a follow-up reminder!) about it. The ease of remembering has led to confusion about how to offer the appropriate “happy birthday” greeting.

To many, the day of one’s birth remains something to celebrate. Birthday wishes are received, cake is eaten, perhaps gifts are given. Sure, there are some who shrug off the whole thing as a celebration for children. But those people have dark, black souls and should be shunned.

For everyone else, here are the general guidelines for modern-day happy-birthday wishing:

  1. Midnight, in person: A requirement for your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Watch the clock, and then give your special someone a big kiss. Don’t tell me you don’t stay up until midnight—you’re not 100, and if you are, it’s all the more reason to greet 101 as soon as it arrives.
  2. Midnight, via call or text: If you’re close with your siblings, you call at midnight. You have the same eyes, you put up with your crazy parents together, you know things about each other that can’t be put into words. Honor them with a call at midnight. Text if you must, but then follow up with a call the next day. You get bonus points if you get your greeting in before their spouse does.
  3. By telephone: Old friends with whom you are still close and any member of your family should get a phone call. If you’ve known someone since you were children or teenagers and you stayed in touch in the days before social media and cell phones, you call on their birthday, even if you think a Facebook wall post would suffice. You wish them well, you remind them of how awesome they are, and you make plans (which you then keep!) to celebrate their birthday in the near future. It should go without saying—but it doesn’t—that you call your mother, your aunt and anyone you are related to on their birthday. Don’t leave messages (ever, really, but especially not on someone’s special day). You’re not as busy as you think—try them again.
  4. Calling preferred; texting permitted: Friends you’ve made in the past five years. New friends are where the birthday greeting gets somewhat tricky. As you get older, you will meet fewer new people and connect with only a small number of them. If you are close enough to text a few times a week, then a text is the minimum of what you should do. If you talk on the phone, like people did in the days of yore, then you need to call. Even if you don’t text but go out once or twice a month, recognize how difficult it is to meet someone and hit it off after a certain age, and at the minimum, text them to say happy birthday.
  5. Post on a Facebook wall/send a tweet: Old friends with whom you keep in touch on Facebook only. Acquaintances you like, but with whom you have limited interaction. Twitter friends. I’m not against the Facebook wall post or a tweet, but it’s not for every person in your life. If your friendship “lives” on social media, it’s fine to keep it there. But understand that it’s not for everyone.
  6. On your own Facebook wall/Instagram feed: Don’t do this. Really. We all know you love your BFF 4EVA, but unless you’re under 20—and even then—putting up a collage of pictures and wishing your friend a happy birthday on your own page is just cheesy. The exception to this might be a milestone birthday or during a year when your friend has really helped you through a hard time. Otherwise, just don’t. Spouse and sibling birthday wishes in this manner are sometimes O.K., but again, limit them to special birthdays, not yearly.

Celebrating birthdays, whether your own or those of family and friends, is a happy occasion. Let’s not mar that with overuse of the Facebook wall or texting when we should call. Social media should be complementary to other kinds of interaction, not in place of it. And birthdays are a good time to pause and reflect—offline—on the important relationships in your life.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

America Shouldn’t Tolerate ‘Biden Being Biden’

Carter delivers acceptance speech as new US Secretary of Defense in Washington
Gary Cameron—Reuters New U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter delivers his acceptance speech at the White House in Washington on Feb. 17, 2015.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

The only reason Joe Biden gets away with getting handsy with women is because he has a (D) after his name

There isn’t anything new about men in positions of power behaving inappropriately. A handsy boss, who has no filter and no fear of offending, is a staple of old movies and shows like Mad Men. For much of history people just looked the other way. These men were too powerful, to criticize them was to cross them, and to cross them might mean a lot of trouble for the whistleblower. Your career might be lost, your family ostracized.

What then can be said of people, today, looking the other way as the vice president of the United States paws woman after woman in public, with cameras flashing and their husband or parent three feet away? We’d love to imagine that the husband or father would step in, remove Joe Biden’s hands from his wife or daughter, and give him a hard, warning look. The truth is, Biden’s harassment often comes at the swearing-in events of the husband or parent. These men, reaching the pinnacle of their career, stand on a stage or at a podium with their supportive families at their side. The vice president’s attendance is itself a showing of respect and a recognition of their success. It is not the time for anyone to make a scene.

The most recent victim is Stephanie Carter. Her husband, Ashton Carter, was sworn in as the new defense secretary. As Ashton spoke at the podium, Biden rubbed Stephanie’s shoulders and whispered in her ear. She is only the latest in a series of women inappropriately groped by the vice president, America’s “Creepy Uncle Joe” as people stood by and watched. One of the more awkward moments from the Joe Biden inappropriate behavior reel is his whispering, grabbing, and ultimately trying to kiss Delaware Senator Chris Coon’ daughter Maggie. She is 13. Coons defended Biden saying that “he was being Joe” and it was just his way of being “thoughtful and sweet” to a young girl in the spotlight. Ultimately, what else could he say? Biden being Biden is an acceptable explanation to the media watching, what is a senator from the vice president’s party supposed to do?

His defenders claim he’s from a different era, the equivalent of the kissing host on Family Feud. Except this isn’t the 1970s and these women aren’t on a game show. Others find the humor in sexual harassment in a way they likely wouldn’t if Joe Biden didn’t have a (D) after his name. NBC’s Capitol Hill Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell joshed Biden was “multi-tasking” when he had his arm wrapped around a teenager while swearing in her mother, Senator Joni Ernst. Biden also told the teen “I hope mom has a big fence around your house.” Today co-host Matt Lauer wise-cracked that this was Biden’s way of “welcoming” the families of the new Senate class. Even PBS found “Biden being Biden” just so adorable.

The phrase “boys will be boys” has been used historically to excuse bad behavior by men with a shrug instead of with punishment. But in 2015, things should be different. We don’t allow bosses to rub their secretaries’ shoulders, smell their hair, or look them up and down and exclaim “holy mackerel!” all things Biden has done to daughters and wives of people with much less power than he has.

That this goes on in front of all of us, and few criticize it, is shameful. It might be hard for the families of these girls and women to stand up to the vice president. It shouldn’t be as hard for the rest of us.

Read next: Half of Americans See the Future in Hillary Clinton, Poll Says

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Blame De Blasio and Cuomo and Christie for the Blizzard Snow Job

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in New York.
Yana Paskova—The New York Times/Redux New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exits a news conference with Department of Sanitation workers in preparation for a blizzard in New York City, Jan. 26, 2015.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

As politicians rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy.

Every modern event has a hashtag and this morning, as New York City takes stock of the #snowmageddon2015 that wasn’t, it’s turning to #snowperbole.

On Monday, as Governor Cuomo, Governor Christie, and Mayor de Blasio rushed to out-serious each other, New Yorkers were whipped into a fear frenzy. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare, photos of Whole Foods depleted of kale circulated, and people stocked up for what would likely be days (maybe weeks!) indoors.

Even as we were doing it, we acknowledged it didn’t make much sense. After all, we’re in New York City. Bodegas never close. Delivery guys on bicycles have been a constant through all previous winter storms. All New Yorkers have their stories. That time we ordered Chinese Food during the snowstorm of 1994. Swimming on Brighton Beach during Hurricane Gloria. Buying Poptarts at the corner bodega during Sandy. Driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again during the blackout of 2003. Yes, those are all mine.

MORE Here’s Who Decides If Your Flight Takes off This Week

As we waited for the storm deemed “historic,” the only real history was made when the subway shut down for the first time ever in preparation for snow. The real insult came when it was reported later that the trains were indeed still running, empty, as trains needed to keep moving to clear the tracks. Citibike was shut down. Cars were banned from the roads and anyone who didn’t take heed risked being fined.

These are all symptoms of our infantilizing “do something!” culture. Everyone understands the pressure politicians feel to be seen as proactive. But this time they went way too far in the name of protecting us. It’s one thing to warn drivers that conditions are dangerous and that they go out at their own risk. It’s another to shut down all roads in the city that allegedly never sleeps.

The 11 p.m. curfew resulted in lost wages for delivery people who count on larger-than-usual tips during inclement weather. Why couldn’t they make their own decisions about working during the snow? Not everyone makes a salary the way our mayor and governor do. Many workers count on their hourly wage, and their tips, to make their rent each month.

The storm was a dud, but even if had been as severe as predicted, bringing a city like New York to a preemptive standstill makes little sense. The people who keep New York humming take the subway after 11pm and can decide for themselves whether to keep their businesses open. Preparedness doesn’t have to mean panic.

Read next: 9 Takeaways from the 2015 Blizzard Bust

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Etiquette

Parents Who Take Their Kids on Planes Don’t Owe Anyone an Apology

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Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

An airplane is not an opera, and there can be no expectation of silence

Recently there was an adorable news story about parents flying with their new baby and giving out a “goodie bag,” including earplugs, to passengers seated nearby in case the baby should make noise. It was not the first story of its kind; several of these well-meaning parents have done this over the years. It is seen as some sort of progress in the relations between those who have children and those who do not: Yes, my children are annoying and you are stuck with them in a small space for x number of hours, but enjoy this chocolate and hope those earplugs block out their noise.

This is the entirely wrong way for the world to proceed.

Children often cannot contain themselves, that’s true. They have problems with volume control. If they can’t say what they want, they cry. Sometimes they cry even when they can say what they want. They’re also entirely unpredictable. Our daughter, who was a very good baby and toddler, screamed her head off on her first international flight, despite having been perfectly well behaved on several domestic flights previously. She settled down after a while and was a model child the rest of our trip, but with kids you just never know. On a recent flight, my son sang the ABCs loudly. Sure, we sshhh’d him a lot, but he’s under 2 years old, so there’s only so much we can do. Duct-taping his mouth shut didn’t seem like an option.

While adult behavior may be more consistent, are we really so much better? I have sat next to smelly people, drunk people, loud people, lecherous men, overperfumed women, close talkers, a teenager crying loudly over her cheating boyfriend and an old lady who showed me no fewer than 78 photographs of her cats. Yet none of these people ever gave me candy or an apology to improve my situation. I admit to being the annoying passenger myself — a particularly hungover flight in my 20s springs to mind. Yet it never occurred to me to try to ease the experience for my fellow passengers. I simply made minimal eye contact and got through it. I also admit that once, on a long flight while I was pregnant with our first child, I snapped at a child behind me for kicking my seat. His mom, busy with three other children, did nothing to try to stop him, and my limited experience with children did not serve me well in dealing with him.

The idea that parents must apologize for any noise their child makes in public has gone too far. An airplane is not an opera, and there can be no expectation of silence. If you can make it through the loud whir of the engine and the constant pilot and stewardess announcements, you can survive a child being noisy.

The real problem in American life today is that we treat children as something we must hide away until adulthood. The airplane battleground extends to other areas as well. If you’re the type of person who takes your kids places, then you are probably used to the questions: Why would you take your children shopping/to brunch/on trips if you didn’t specifically have to? But what kind of adult does a child become who hasn’t had these necessary life experiences? If we never take our children to restaurants or on flights, or expect a bad reaction when we do, how will they grow up to be the kind of fellow diner or flier we all wish to see?

This isn’t to say that children should run rampant, making as much noise as they’d like whenever they’d like. I think back to myself snapping at the kid on a plane and know that if I had seen his mother making an effort to stop him, even unsuccessfully, I would have given her a sympathetic smile and dealt with it. We absolutely should try to discipline our children to minimize the discomfort of those around us, but bracing adults for the very presence of children sends a bad message. Short of very fancy restaurants or ticketed events, children have a right to be among us as much as the most annoying adult. So take your child places, show her the right way to behave through your own words and actions, and don’t give out earplugs. We’re all in this together, even the cat lady and the crying baby.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

My Jewish Family’s Incredible Shrinking World

Rabbi Shmuel Segal of the Jewish educati
Odd Andersen —AFP/Getty Images Rabbi Shmuel Segal of the Jewish education centre looks up at the Chanukkah lights in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, December 20, 2011.

Synagogues from the UK to France have been defaced, and there's no sense of outrage to be found

My first flight was international, 2,500 miles from my birthplace in Kyubishev, Russia, to Rome, Italy in 1978. Italy was a common stopover for Russian Jews fleeing the Soviet Union. We stayed three months in a small apartment in Ladispoli, a suburb of Rome. I ate a lot of chocolate and oranges while my parents learned Italian and waited to hear that America would let us in.

When we got to Brooklyn, they got busy working. In Russia, my father had been a doctor, my mother a teacher. Here, he drove a cab and she knitted yarmulkes for the local Judaica store.

My parents had spent their lives looking at maps of the world and planning where they would go when they were free. We were poor, but they saved all of their money for the traveling we would do. The world was suddenly so big, after a lifetime of insurmountable Soviet borders, and we were going to go everywhere. My first trip was to Venezuela in 1983.

The first few days we stayed at the Caracas Hilton. It was magical. I had never seen a pool that big. I may have never seen a pool at all. No one spoke English but, well, neither did we, so a lot of the conversations were an interpretive dance. We’d act out eating to find the restaurant and spoke in pidgin Italian and hoped it was close enough. Somehow it always was.

Two days later we flew to Canaima National Park, our real destination. We slept in a hut, swam in red water and saw piranhas. We’d hear animals outside of our door at night. I saw little children on monkey bars at a nearby school and marveled at how similar they were to me.

No one goes to Venezuela anymore. It became, for all intents and purposes, off-limits years ago. The State Department warns American travelers about kidnappings and suggests not visiting.

We traveled a lot through my childhood and adolescence. My parents were partial to weird places: Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana in South America, and the Amazon River, where I saw bugs the size of my head and met people who didn’t use currency so they traded their handmade goods for Disney World t-shirts. We saw beautiful, safe places, along with the strange and dangerous. Istanbul, Punta del Este, Buenos Aires and a tiny island called Îles des Saintes all stick out in my mind. But what I remember most from our family trips is the smell of sewage, impoverished children selling gum to tourists and an element of danger everywhere we went as my parents forced my brother and me to really see our wide, strange world.

When I traveled alone for the first time, I wanted something more…familiar. I didn’t want to worry about drinking the water; I didn’t want to do that interpretive dance. My first trip alone, at 17, was to England, Scotland and Wales. They spoke our language, sort of, but everything was different enough to mark it foreign. I got off the bus in beautiful Edinburgh and ended up falling deeply in love with Scotland, visiting again the next summer, then living there two separate times during college. When I tell my 4-year-old daughter about that time, I add that I’ll take her there someday.

Will I, though?

My children both had passports before they turned one. Unfortunately, the big world, the one my family couldn’t wait to see, is getting smaller. I keep track of places off-limits to me because I am Jewish, and that list grows all the time. I check Wikipedia for countries that don’t “recognize” Israel. Those are the ones where I know definitively I am unwelcome. North Africa is tough. I’m only partially surprised Sudan doesn’t recognize Israel, even though U.S. Jews showed an overwhelming support for Darfur. Truth be told, I’m in no rush to get to Mali or Somalia. I guess I’ll miss out on Morocco.

The Middle East is even more fraught, of course. “You can go to United Arab Emirates, certainly to Dubai,” people say. Can I? “Don’t be too open about being Jewish but they don’t care there. They’re very modern.” My husband was born in Israel and it says so on his American passport. They don’t allow Israelis into the United Arab Emirates, at least that’s the official policy of this “modern” country. Even if he wasn’t marked for exclusion, I’m not keeping my Jewishness a secret. If Saudi Arabia opened its doors to me tomorrow, I still wouldn’t go. I’m not covering my head. I’m a woman of the free world, I have spent my life being grateful for this, knowing that a twist of fate gave me freedom I could have so easily not have had.

I wore a Star of David around my neck the entire time I lived in Scotland. I think I’d be uncomfortable doing the same now. The rage emanating from Europe toward Jews is white hot. A synagogue in Surrey was defaced. Another synagogue was vandalized in Miami of all places. But what’s lacking when it happens in Europe is any sense of outrage from the Europeans. In Miami the atmosphere was “how could this happen here?” In Europe there is no such question. Of course it happens there. In France, when synagogues get firebombed, as they do with alarming frequency, there isn’t a national movement to say they won’t stand for it. They very much stand for it. French Jews are the scapegoats for the real problems in France, between the French and those the French call “the Arabs,” even though “the Arabs” have lived there for decades and should just be French by now. Forget Turkey, a country I once enjoyed visiting. They went off the rails years ago. It’s an election year in Turkey now, so obviously Israel is the top issue in a country with 9% unemployment.

Israeli performers get disinvited from a festival in Edinburgh as if disinviting artists from countries whose politics you don’t like is a normal thing to do. Where is the outrage? They pretend it’s because of Israel, not because they’re Jews. Then the Jewish Film Festival gets canceled in London. An embarrassment. Britain should hang its head in shame. It doesn’t. A crowd in Germany (in Germany!) shouts “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” Where is Germany’s soul-searching that this goes on within its borders? Forget Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem signing an anti-Israel letter in a Spanish newspaper. No big deal when the second-biggest newspaper in Spain prints a piece arguing Jews “are not made to co-exist,” with references to how good they are with money, how they deserved expulsion, wondering how they still exist (“persist”) at all.

So no, I won’t be taking my daughter to Scotland anytime soon, or any place where Jews are made to feel unwelcome. I still want to see the whole world and show it to my children, but much of the world right now does not want to see us. I’d take my children to places off the beaten path. I don’t want it to be all Hiltons for them. Sometimes it has to be the hut. But I won’t take my children to places where they are hated for who they are.

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t let a few anti-Semites keep me from traveling. But it’s not the anti-Semites who are the problem. It’s the people in these countries sitting idly by and not saying that these people canceling Jewish film festivals or writing despicable op-eds don’t speak for them. The silence is what is so troubling. The optimist in me hopes things change and that the world opens up to us again. A lot would need to change for that to happen. I wonder if my kids will see Edinburgh or Caracas first.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

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