“They see me workout. They see me train. They see the effort I put in. But I’m always Dad to them. If I try to show them how to make a move, they are like, ‘Dad, seriously?’ [Like] I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just Dad. It’s awesome.”
Since my son was born I realized: soon, he’ll be three-and-a-half. Soon, he’ll be able to see who I was. And shortly after that, what he’ll be reading in the oldest blogs will be closer to his age than mine. Now, I write for him.
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.
Humans are quite bad at estimating the results of different interventions, if the feedback only comes years later. One needs only to see the plethora of different parenting guides and opposed schools of upbringing thought. Such variety couldn’t maintain itself if it were easy for parents to see which methods worked and which didn’t. Thus parents are poor at knowing what they need, and hence make ineffective consumers from the economic perspective.
Also, “a lot of parenting techniques are procedural, rather than declarative.”
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.
Daniel Day Lewis, getting ice cream with his father, poet Cecil Day Lewis.
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.
Whenever we invent something new, our neuroses rush over there and get writ large.
George Saunders. And further in his LARB interview:
A definition of parenting: “That state in which, because of the existence of great love, an individual feels that he or she has failed, or is failing, or will soon fail.”
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).