Things That Wake Up My Baby:
- the sound of me pouring milk on my cereal
- the door closing
- the dog barking at invisible squirrels
- a spoon stirring cream into coffee
- his own arms moving involuntarily
Things That Do Not Wake Up My Baby:
- the microwave
- the screams of people getting brutally murdered on television
- books falling on the floor
- the dog barking at actual men outside our house
- loud laughter
- power drills being used in the next room
How much can I trust the critical faculties in which I once had so much faith? Now that I see so few movies, every single one is an ecstatic experience. They all become impossibly brilliant and entertaining.
He’s hungry, but can’t remember the word “hungry.”
Someone touched his knee.
He’s not allowed in the oven.
I picked out the wrong pants.
Before having children, and provided we’ve moved on a little from the maelstrom of adolescence, it is possible to think of ourselves as good people: patient, kind, loving, tolerant. A few years of parenthood strips us of these illusions and we see ourselves in the raw: capable of fury, rage, pettiness, jealousy — you name it. For children confront us with the infantile aspects of our own personalities, the parts of ourselves we’d most like to deny, and we can hate them for it. Worse still, they can thwart our wish, even our need, to feel loving and effective.
I wonder if we ought to re-examine our commitment to happiness. It seems to me that there’s possibly some merit – if we persevere and have the sense to learn from it – in the other-orientation that is (good) parenting. It’s fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard.
To be sure, there are too many parents who, despite their children, remain narcissistic nimrods. But the nature of parenting is to beat that out of you. There’s just no time to spend on ourselves, at least not like we would if we didn’t have babies to wash and toys to clean up, usually in the middle of the night, after impaling our feet on them.
People are inherently self-centered, and especially in a peaceful, prosperous society, this easily leads to self-indulgence that in turn can make us weak and ignoble. There’s something to be said for ordeals – like parenting, or marriage, or tending the weak and broken – which push us into an other-orientation. When we have to care for someone, we get better at, well, caring for people. It actually takes practice, after all.
I’d never considered this side of having children later in life. From Julie Shulevitz’s essay excerpted in the link above:
What haunts me about my children, though, is […] the actuarial risk I run of dying before they’re ready to face the world.
Older parents die earlier in their children’s lives. […] A mother who is 35 when her child is born is more likely than not to have died by the time that child is 46. The one who is 45 may have bowed out of her child’s life when he’s 37. The odds are slightly worse for fathers: The 35-year-old new father can hope to live to see his child turn 42. The 45-year-old one has until the child is 33.
I think of children sort of like Voyager probes, except instead of sending them out into space you send them forward in time. They carry messages from your civilization inside them, on into the weirdness of the future.
I’d never thought about this before:
Here’s something to consider: Not everyone is comfortable with the abundance of noise, speech, color, smell, touch — especially touch — involved with small children. They’re in your lap, your arms, they’re tugging your hands, your shirt, your hair. Again, this affects men and women, introverts especially, older more than younger, and leads both men and women to withdraw (though women still tend to be the parent in the thick of it).
It’s no coincidence that the number-one woman on the list of self-made millionaires is Oprah. She has no kids and no husband. She’s fascinating, nice, and smart. But few of us would really enjoy her life.
One purpose of children is to shred parental black-and-whites into gray confetti.
Well, this is awesome. (via) Here we have an edited transcript of Jonah Weiner’s interview with Louis CK that was used for the Rolling Stone profile last fall. Lots of good stuff here. Here’s Louis CK on the importance of those early failures and growing experiences:
Stand-up, I didn’t know what that was going to feel like. I guess I thought it would feel like it does in TV shows or movies: they’re going to laugh. That’s part of it, right? You tell a joke and then they laugh. It has this feel to it that I knew, and boy, when you realize how wrong you are, that’s a fucking cold slap in the face. I think that’s true of anybody’s first time. […] You need to enter stand-up with that cold slap in the face, or you’ll never really understand what you’re doing.
This next part rang really true for me. I thought for a long time that I was headed to grad school right after college, but each fall afterward I just couldn’t bring myself to do the paperwork. That’s me sending myself a message. CK on resisting college and keeping a day job while he chased his dreams (cf. Steve Reich):
An old teacher of mine got me an interview at NYU film school, and I brought all these videos I’d made, and photographs, a portfolio – I’d gotten into photography and stuff, and they said that they would accept me to go to film school. So I quit my job with that in mind, and I’d been doing stand-up, but not well or successfully, and then I never filled in – I got these forms from this guy to fill in, on the floor of my apartment somewhere, but I couldn’t get my brain to…I was supposed to go back to my high school and get my transcripts, and the idea of doing all that, just that paperwork – going to NYU film school was this dream come true for me, but I couldn’t fill out the thing, couldn’t fill it out and go to the Xerox machine and put a stamp on an envelope, all that stuff. It made me want to vomit. That sort of thing has always been the case for me, I can’t get that done. That’s why I have an assistant. Now if I just dream up shit I want to do, I have her to take care of it.
So I decided, “Fuck it, I’m a comedian. I’m just going to do that, I’m going to stay in Boston.” That’s when I worked at the garage. I stopped working at local-access cable. I drove a cab for a while. I started taking shitty jobs so I could do stand-up, I didn’t want an all-encompassing job. I liked that, I just liked having dead-end jobs and doing stand-up. I thought, “Fuck it, that’s what I’m going to try to do.” I had an instinct that if I just kept hammering it and hammering it, I had a head start on people, I was very young, and I was resilient, I didn’t mind living stupidly, I wasn’t anxious about making a living, just played it close to the bottom for a long time, and I knew how to do that, it didn’t bother me. I liked the freedom, I didn’t have a job-job, I’m not working for a company, I’m not going to a school, I live on my own.
And, wow, on the typical sitcom plot:
With a lot of these shows, I know what’s going on, and I think the audience does, too. Here comes the part where they’re going to walk in the door while the credits are still rolling. They’re going to trade quick barbs, “What did you do?” “I went to the store to get a coffee and they had the Michael J. Fox coffee today, so they spilled it.” “Oh, ha ha ha.” “What happened to you today?” Kind of inconsequential jokes. Joke, joke, joke, then somebody goes, “Somebody was here to ask you about this” – here comes the story, and it gets quiet, and then, “Oh, I can’t go, because I have this thing,” “He’s only in town for one day,” and now we’re laying pipe and it’s getting quiet. “What are you going to do about that?” “I don’t know,” because here’s a joke about the character that is an outside world joke or observational joke, and then the blow, the big fucking blow to get out of the scene – you have to have a blow, a big enough laugh, and it’s something really contrived: people sat there in the writer’s room, fucking eating fast food and going, “Where’s the blow for this scene, I want to go home.”
Then here comes the funny character, the guest star, who’s in town, and we find out what the lead character hates about him, and then there’s the guy, the character, that carries all the jokes. He says dumb things and keeps it going, there’s this energy, he’s like a circuit or something, just does this one thing. […] So there’s a guy on every show that does that, he has his one way, he has his variety, about eight different joke formulas, and you refill them with different stuff. He’s either the dumb guy or, like, Lisa Kudrow’s character on Friends or whatever. “I thought coffee was from Brazil.” “Ugh, no the guy’s name is Coffee. He’s from Italy.” Garbage like that. Then you start building the story, then you go away on an act break. Then you build a third act that just is the train wreck of not really much fun, but it pays everything off, it leaves everybody feeling exactly the same way they left, that they felt before the show started. That’s what shows are meant to do, is leave on par and leave a few jokes behind, to be printed in Entertainment Weekly’s sound bites.
On kids and growing up:
Having kids, you don’t escape from it, you seize onto it, it’s a big, stressful, exhilarating, real life thing. And it’s permanent, it’s something that you have to evolve for. Some people don’t, but I think you have to actually change your values system, and you have to revolutionize yourself in order to do it properly, because kids can’t raise kids, and I think you’re somewhat a kid until you have them, then you really have to grow up.
Lastly on being in control, experimenting, being wrong, being interesting:
I’m not a dictator, because I’m not in control of anything, I’m just deciding what to try. To me, it’s not that I control a bunch of people, it’s just that nobody controls me. There’s nothing above me except responsibility to the product. That’s the ultimate responsibility, is if the show sucks, then what was the fucking point of being in charge? I’m right about these things on the show, and when I’m not, it’s interesting to watch me be wrong. I don’t think you have to be perfect, you just have to be compelling in the work you do.
It strikes me as plausible that a world in which kids spend more time unsupervised requires a parenting style more reliant on swift punishment for detected wrongdoing than rewards for good behavior.
This is probably the best summary I’ve ever seen for 1) why I got spanked every so often, and 2) why I don’t really feel bad about that.
Today’s kids seem to be not only supervised but regimented; most of their time is supposed to be spent in some sort of structured activity. This makes it very easy to create elaborate reward systems, because there is all this elaborate surveillance that makes it very easy to monitor compliance.
File under: parenting.
There are, for example, only two reasons for children to go to school – apart, that is, from acquiring the werewithal to earn a living: to make friends, and to see if they can find something of absorbing interest to themselves.
School buses lined his block every morning, like vast tipped orange-juice cartons spilling out the human vitamin of youthful lunacy.
The Swing Incentive | Spousonomics. The homemade cradle-swing is genius. Mental note for when I have kids.
It’s fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard.
“Want to hear a really good story? Turn off your TV and turn toward the nearest 4-year-old.”