For one couple, questions continue to come, so the baby must wait

ON the console stereo in Gary and Karen Mann's living room, a gold frame displays a color portrait of their dog, Rusty. ``That's our child,'' Mr. Mann says jokingly as Rusty, part retriever, part springer, settles down at the other end of the room.

The Manns, married nine years, have had ``serious talks'' about a baby for five or six years. ``But we discussed this even before we were married,'' says Mrs. Mann, a dental assistant at the University of Minnesota. ``I wasn't sure. Gary contended, `It's fine if we do, fine if we don't.'

``I don't know why it's been so hard. It has a lot of implications. It's the unexpected, the unknown. There are lots of questions nobody can answer.''

Those questions and concerns, still unresolved, take many forms.

``When our combined salaries were $30,000,'' Mr. Mann recalls, ``we said, `If we just had a little more money. . . .' When they were $40,000, we said the same thing. I suspect we would say the same at $80,000. I suspect this may be another convenient excuse.''

For Mrs. Mann, watching other mothers sometimes increases the confusion. ``I work with women juggling work and day care, and I see them uncomfortable with it,'' she says. ``I also see challenges with discipline.''

Her husband, an auditor at the university, believes differences between urban and rural settings also influence decisions about a family.

``I grew up in a little farming community,'' he says. ``The vast number of kids I grew up with graduated, came home from Vietnam, got married, and had kids. Everything there is based on little family groups. People say, `Let's get together with Betty and Bill and the kids.' It's a social structure that supports having kids. We don't have that down here [in Minneapolis]. There are so many temptations -- theater, sports, the whole cultural and social gamut.''

As he talks, the doorbell rings. It is a neighbor's preschool son who visits the couple frequently.

``Nick is the neighborhood kid,'' he explains affectionately. ``But being a pal to somebody is different from being a parent. Children need a role model.

``I don't have a problem with giving up things,'' he continues. ``I don't have a problem with financial issues. But having a child is going to force me to grow up. I have a close friend who has three kids. I can be irresponsible until the day I die. He can't.''

At the same time, he is quick to acknowledge the positive effects of watching friends raise children. ``Most of the people we know do an outstanding job as parents,'' he observes. ``That's been a real asset to us. We've had a tremendous field study here.''

For now, the Manns are philosophical. They are adding a family room and two-car garage to the house they built several years ago, and Mrs. Mann is completing her BS degree.

``When school is out of the way, maybe it will be easier,'' she says. ``Our obstacles as we see them -- the house, school, whatever -- once they are gone, maybe we can more clearly see the answer. Or maybe there will be new obstacles.''

To which her husband adds, ``In this situation, non-decision is decision. Ten years from now it's going to be academic.''

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.