Coming back to this strange grey town, the beginning of each academic year seems to bring with it its own unique sense of anticipation. For first years there is the nervous excitement of starting a new chapter in your life. For the second years (or the majority, anyway) there’s the adventure of living out of halls and navigating (semi) adulthood. I don’t pretend to know what the fourth years feel, no doubt it’s mixed with a hell of a lot of stress. But for the third years, there is the unique challenge of attempting academic adoption and the parenthood that follows it.
Academic families are a hallmark of life at St Andrews. Even the university website, which understandably seems to censor some of the more bawdy realities of life in the town, mentions the tradition as a ‘fantastic way for first years to meet new people’. Not only is there the expectation that all first years will want to be adopted, there is also the expectation that all third years will themselves want to adopt. Why wouldn’t they? With fond memories of our own academic families, and an endorsement from the university itself, surely adopting is the natural decision to make.
Well, as it turns out, not all of us want to be parents. As a third year student myself, I have had what can only be described as an academic vasectomy. And I’m not the only one.
The reasons for undertaking this procedure are manifold. The first amounts to the classic student trope, ‘can I really be bothered?’ Now before I’m called a lazy antisocial bastard (all valid accusations, I’ll admit), I must underline the enormous effort it is to adopt. There is the waiting around on shady nights out to approach most likely intoxicated freshers. If you’re a man, this will always be a little creepy. If you’re a woman, it can easily be misconstrued. For a number of my friends, the proposition of motherhood has been interpreted as a proposition for something altogether different. Even if not, things can still get weird. I was unfortunate enough to be present when one potential son asked my housemate whether breastfeeding would be a part of her maternal role. I shudder to this day.
Having been through the process of finding children, the next issue is whether the family ‘clicks’. Let’s be honest, no one wants a dweeby child. As much as we pretend to be open, accepting mentors, the prospect of someone you barely know sitting in the corner of your sitting room sober, sombre and silent doesn’t really appeal. Then again, no one wants a child that’s too cool either. Such a dynamic forces you to question your own dweebiness and wonder why oh why you couldn’t have been as cool as them when you were a fresher. One friend summed up this experience reflecting on her numerous confident, beautiful children. ‘How did this happen?’ she asked. ‘Do they even know who we are?’
While not adopting will save you much stress and anxiety, the perks go much further still. Just because you may not have children of your own, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a plethora of academic nieces and nephews scattered across loosely connected families. You receive many of the benefits of academic parenthood – meeting new people, booze and parties – without ever having the responsibility of looking after children of your own. It’s rather like being that very distant relative at a wedding. You show up, make unsolicited speeches and have one hell of a time at the open bar with no one being bothered to ask the nature of your familial connection: an indispensable element of any decent wedding, I’m sure we can agree.
As the beginning of the semester draws to a close, I couldn’t be happier with my decision not to have children. Avoiding the process of drunken adopting was a mercy, although witnessing such attempts has left me scarred with memories that haunt me to this day. Furthermore, I am proud to have many wonderful nieces and nephews – more than I could ever have adopted as a parent. But what I’m most proud of is that, when Raisin gets going and thousands of inebriated students dressed in god-knows-what to break the peace of the town and their livers in the process, none of it will be my responsibility. And that is a joy indeed.