I have pretty faint memories of my Intro to Economics course in college. The 8am class time rings a sharp bell, but the rest of that course is just a blur of colorful supply and demand curves on the whiteboard, fat textbooks squeezing onto our too-small pull-out desks, and my vague environmentalist concerns directed toward “infinite growth.” But one memory stands out: the lesson on opportunity cost. That morning, my petite, gray-haired, lovingly uncool professor taught us the definition of opportunity cost by talking about NBA basketball players. She explained that if LeBron James had gone to college for four years after graduating from high school, he would have lost out on four years of his gzillion-dollar NBA salary. For LeBron, college came with a really high opportunity cost, so of course he went straight to the pros. Thus, opportunity costs are the things you give up when you choose another path. Or, put in economics mumbo jumbo, an opportunity cost is:
The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
My professor’s apt analogy not only seared the definition into my head, but also created a Pavlovian reminder of professional athletes’ lack of higher education / extremely high pay every time I watch a sporting event.
Nowadays, opportunity costs have moved from the theoretical to the practical. As Ian and I consider if and when to have children, we are critically pondering the emotional and financial costs that accompany parenthood. Certainly, children come with some hefty opportunity costs like sleeping in, melt-down free trips to Disney World, and, of course, and the actual financial cost or raising a child.
But whenever I think about the opportunity cost of raising a child, one item seems to have a larger price tag than the rest: travel. Specifically, living abroad. As Ian and I consider if and when to have children, the badgering voices of Leslie Mann (Debbie) and Paul Rudd (Pete) in Knocked Up rings loudly between my ears:
Pete: Isn’t it weird, though, when you have a kid and all your dreams and hopes go right out the window.
Debbie: What changed for you? What went out the window? You do everything exactly the same.
Pete: No, I love what I’m doing. But say before you’re married with children you want to live in India for a year. You can do it.
Debbie: You want to go to India? Go to India! Seriously.
Pete: Do you want to go to India?
Debbie: No. You can go.
With my fertility clock a-tickin’, I’ve been ruminating over the “India” question. You see, many of my friends and college alums joined the Peace Corps or moved abroad for work after we all graduated college five (!) years ago. I stayed in Chicago, choosing to battle the cold winters instead of the heat in West Africa. But even with my propensity for heat rash and my penicillin allergy, I can’t help but wonder if my choice to stay is one that I’ll regret. And the Kids Question has put this India Question front and center because having children is the denouement of the slide into adulthood known as "settling down."
If you want to know why I never joined the Peace Corps, and why I’m not jumping on a flight to Delhi, it’s these guys:
I love travelling, but I love my boys more - and I refuse to see love as a limitation. But I didn’t quite realize how this powerful love factor plays into the Kids Question until I heard the answer come out of my own mouth earlier this summer. Two of our teacher-friends stayed with us over a weekend in June, and they both love dogs. But they’ve hesitated adopting one because they fully intend on travelling the world during their summer vacations. We enjoyed their company of course, but Teddy thought they were the best house-guests ever! They wrestled with him and threw his favorite ball to fetch. They gave him lots of cuddles and pets and loved on him like any dog-lover would. So during one late-night cuddle session, I looked over at them and just had to say what I’d been thinking all along, “I know you want to travel every summer, but you guys should really think about getting a dog. Sure, Teddy keeps me and Ian from doing everything we want to do, and he limits our wanderlust. But it never feels like a limitation because every day with him is an adventure.”
So when it comes to the Kids/India Question, I think I may have answered it in my heart awhile ago. I never joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to stay in Chicago with my Ian. I can’t imagine spending a year abroad now without my Teddy. You might say I’m giving up too much for them. Call me a Romantic, but when you sacrifice for love, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. It just feels like the right decision.
In my book, Love should never be an opportunity cost. So maybe the sleepless nights are worth it after all.