I get to babysit tomorrow and here are some thoughts running through my head.
It seems I’m thinking about children 40% of my time. Life is a crazy, weird experiment. It’s a mixture of absolute misery and pure joy, and sometimes it’s hard to sort out the two. Then throw meaning into the equation and things get fun. I’m one of those people who thinks everyone gets to decide where meaning comes from. For you it can be finding a reliable job and taking care of a family. For me it can be attempting to destroy myself once a week to see what survives. But I also happen to enjoy love and beauty. I wonder if any sort of love – from the insane and unstable to the strong and slow moving – is as fulfilling or complete as love for your children. I see it first hand and though I love my niece – possibly as much as I can love – I can’t touch the level of her mother and father. But life isn’t accommodating. I choose instability too often. Some ways of life don’t or shouldn’t mix, so I have to make a pretty interesting decision. One that happens to rebel against millions of years of evolution. The definition of biologically successful is the number of grandchildren you leave. It makes sense that saying no to a drive that ancient would take up a bit of my time.
Darwin had a fair few children and loved them a ton. The death of his daughter almost broke him. Here’s what he wrote to a friend.
“Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none, — perhaps not a wife; for then there would be nothing in this wide world worth caring for & a man might (whether he would is another question) work away like a Trojan”
– Charles Darwin
Darwin looks at what he could do without any distractions. I think of that too, but I also worry about messing up in the opposite direction. Neglecting any potential children because I get too wrapped up in my work/thoughts. I don’t actually think Darwin is being serious here but highlighting a conflict that will arise with that sudden appearance of children.
Kurt Vonnegut was a little more positive but still realistic. In a letter to his daughter he comforts her in his classic style of funny and hopeful and serious and sad.
“You’re learning now that you do not inhabit a solid, reliable, social structure — that the older you get people around you are worried, moody, goofy human beings who themselves were little kids only a few days ago. So home can fall apart and schools can fall apart, usually for childish reasons, and what have you got? A space wanderer named Nan.
And that’s O.K. I’m a space wanderer named Kurt, and Jane’s a space wanderer named Jane, and so on. When things go well for days on end, it is an hilarious accident.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
I think that’s true and beautiful, but I see how sad it is at the same time. I want to be a space wandered named Matt. And I’m okay when the hilarious accident of calm fails to materialize.
I can’t wait to see my niece tomorrow. I see all her potential in her unknowable future. But I also see the inevitable crushing sadness and how nothing can stop it. I hope she wants to be a space wanderer, too.
Oh, and I hope she reads Vonnegut.
“You’re dismayed at having lost a year, maybe, because the school fell apart. Well — I feel as though I’ve lost the years since Slaughterhouse-Five was published, but that’s malarky. Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d planned them. Neither was the year in which Jim had to stay motionless in bed while he got over TB. Neither was the year in which Mark went crazy, then put himself together again. Those years were adventures. Planned years are not.”
Adventure is out there!
Damn it, now I want to cry thinking about that stupid movie. Stupid Pixar.