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on wanting children

So it's been no secret that Andrei and I are going to try to have a child fairly soon. (No, I'm not pregnant. No, we're not actively trying yet. But soon, in the next couple of months, most likely.)

This post is written to myself, a year or so from now - to an exhausted, frazzled new mother, who just can't quite silence the voice in the back of her head saying "why did you do this to yourself again?"

Why do I want a child? I know it will throw my life into upheaval - whatever semblance of order and sanity I have painstakingly imposed on my environment in recent years will vanish. I know it will mean years of not enough sleep, too much worry, expense, sickness, frustration. I know it will make time alone with Andrei, or out with friends, that much harder to come by. I know all this (even as you, the future me, shake your head and say "you think you know, but you don't know").

(Sure, a part of my mind is spinning out all the ways in which we will be Super-Parents, raising a child who is happy and zen and well-behaved from day one, but I also know that the genes going into this kid will be far too inquisitive and adventurous for him to not push the boundaries every chance he gets.)

Why do I want a child? Sure, I've got the flood of maternal hormones, the cultural and evolutionary pressures whispering that I must have genetic descendants in order to be fulfilled and successful - but there's more to it than that. But even as I try to put it into words, it slips away, undefinable.

Here's one approach, perhaps. I am an artist. Art, and the act of creation, is fundamentally a dialogue between the artist and the medium. I lay a stroke of paint, intending one thing - but the paint and the paper may intend another, and in its most successful form the art is a compromise between the two. Let the paint run wild, and you get muddy, unrefined chaos. Refuse to let the medium have a say, and the painting becomes overcontrolled, mechanical, lifeless. I cannot help but look at raising a child the same way - as the greatest work of art I will ever have a part in making.

As an aside to the readers - I know the above paragraph sounds egotistical. Certainly I've had trouble communicating this concept of art as a dialogue to non-artists. Paint talk back? But that's just skill, isn't it? If you're good enough, you should be able to make the paint do whatever you want it to. And that's what I believed for a long time. I spent ages beating myself up for not being able to get it to come out like it does in my head. But when I finally learned to lose the ego in the work, to listen to what the medium was telling me, my art suddenly got a whole lot better. Egotistical? If anything, this is the opposite of that.

From a more logical point of view - I have my beliefs, about the world, about people, about what it takes to be a happy and healthy person. Passing on these views to a child is perhaps the strongest validation of them there could be. Now, I admit that sounds like I'd be using the child as a guinea pig. But I truly believe in these things, and I want to pass them on, in the hopes of the ideas spreading and making the world a better place. There we come back to the evolutionary motivation, only with philosophy in place of raw genetics.

Finally - and I think this comes closest to the wordless core of it - every time I see a mother with her child, I get an empathic echo of an eternal, boundless joy - the joy of seeing another human being and knowing that she came from you, that you created her, and that still she is more wondrous and complex than anything you could have imagined. Like the joy in planting a seed and watching the flower blossom; like the wonder at watching a brilliant performance of something you wrote; take these and multiply them a thousandfold, every day of your child's life, and I feel the echo of the real thing.

To my future self - remember the joy. Stop, and breathe, and look at your child with fresh eyes. Your most wondrous creation, the glory of humanity, wrapped up in a small bundle of cries and poop, who will grow into a whirlwind of clutter and tantrums, who will even become a teenager - it is still a wondrous, amazing thing.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2004 06:19 am (UTC)
nicely said!
Aug. 21st, 2004 07:20 am (UTC)
You said it well, and sound prepared, and depending on how you approach it, the reality of it can either exhaust you or astound you (or both). A child is your art, become flesh and bone with his own personality, his own brain, his own soul. Everything you do from here on will mold and shape and form him—but the mystery is, it will never affect him exactly in the way you expect.

If you let it, parenthood will continually push you. It will also test your patience and love all the way to their very ends, and then push it some more. Good parents don't just make art, they become art, changing and shifting and discovering along with the new child, letting the new life influence you as you are influencing it. You will learn more than you ever dreamed about life, about love, about innocence, about yourself.

What people who aren't parents don't understand is not how much it changes your physical life, but how much it can change YOU. It's a long and sometimes exhausting and scary, but rewarding road. And I look forward to watching you travel it.
Aug. 21st, 2004 10:18 am (UTC)
What can I say, I think you will make a wonderful mother. However, a few things to keep in mind, as you start your journey, from my own humble experience. Your analogy about the compromise between artist and canvas is very apt (and I understand it completely)... more so then you know. In terms of philosophical beliefs, in this particular case the canvas is going to win. Look at the difference between your own beliefs and your parents, everybody finds their own path in time... and it may not be yours. In fact in those teenage years it may be necessary to the child that they aren't, just to prove his/her individuality. Children can be exasperating, they don't listen the vehemently refuse to do it your way... you will clash in ways that you can't even imagine now. To put it another way, A friend of mine once asked me (on the beginning of his own journey) "is it worth it?" To which I replied

"Having kids will take from you more then you think you have to give... but it will give to you more then you can possibly imagine"

I love my girls with a fire I can't even describe in words. They drive me insane (more insane some might argue) but I adore them... which some days is the only thing that keeps them alive.
Aug. 21st, 2004 03:13 pm (UTC)
:) I think you'll be a good mother.
Aug. 21st, 2004 04:12 pm (UTC)
1) Very well put.


2) I can't wait to become an auntie!


(Oh, and 3, I write notes to my future self too. :))
Aug. 21st, 2004 11:31 pm (UTC)
It's even good when they become teenagers!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


firesea: self-portrait
Heather Keith Freeman
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