Having A Kid
Looking back at eight months
Before I had a kid, I wondered how it really changes your life. I got unsatisfying answers from friends who were already parents. They would inevitably smile and say things like, "It's wonderful." Or, "It puts a lot of limitations on you." One jovial friend remarked as my wife was eight months pregnant, "Are you ready for your life to end?"
I knew all that. I knew all the stuff about no more spontaneity, no more freedom, hello noise, interruption, chaos. I knew that. It all turned out to be true. But that's not the point.
The point is that there were other things, things I think someone could have thoughtfully explained to me, as I am now explaining them to you. These would not be great generalizations that are true for all families - such things probably don't exist - but simply each person's observations from his or her own experience.
For example, before I had a kid, I would often wonder whether I was doing enough in my life. Was I achieving enough, was I justifying the time I was spending on planet Earth? Weirdly, having a kid ended that - and not because having a kid gave my life purpose. (We know that pop-psychology tells us that such a belief is a big no-no: do not define thyself through thy children.) Rather, I am so overloaded with things to do now that it is simply inconceivable to me that I could not be doing enough. I must be justifying my life. I call this the Exhaustion Argument against existential doubt.
What else? Before having a kid I got up in the morning at different times each day. If I had a job, my weekend rising hours were still different than my weekdays. Now I am up with the kid between 6 and 7 in the morning every day, Christmas included. While this sounds awful, there is a certain, unexpected plus to this change. It is as if I was beginning to withdraw from life, and suddenly it became a required course. I do not always enjoy getting out of bed, but there is a peace in realizing I have no choice.
Before I had a kid, I had to balance taking time for myself with putting time into my marriage or "relationship." That balance occupied my attention at some point every day, and there were always choices that were unsatisfying. Now, with a kid, I have to grab time for myself wherever I can find it, and similarly for the marriage. Yet in a way this feels better, because whatever time I grab is guilt free, simply because the load of the child is so great. My conclusion: having children eliminates guilt over taking care of yourself or your relationships.
Before I had a child I had to cultivate and nurture all my relationships. Now I have one relationship in which I am always unconditionally regarded as great, and (if you pretend that taking care of the kid is not "nurturing the relationship") I don't have to do anything for it. It is a surprise to see the little face always excited to see me. This is the truly new experience that I think people find addictive and don't even realize they are addicted to.
Before I had a kid, I used to live every minute in the larger context of what I was going to do today, tomorrow, for the year and maybe a few years ahead. Now, when I am caring for the kid the only way I can keep going and retain a positive outlook is to not think ahead further than an hour. What I am describing is how I handle the mind-numbing aspect of child care, but the fruit is that I spend a significant amount of my time essentially in the present. I have come to distinguish between purposeful activities, where I am working towards a goal, and purposeless activities, where the goal is simply to pass time enjoyably. Before, I never did the latter if I could help it. Yet purposeless activities are remarkably enjoyable, and form a beautiful counterpoint with purposeful ones. I suspect you live longer if you do more purposeless stuff.
Before I had a kid, trips to visit relatives were time lost, time we could be spending doing more interesting things. Now, trips to visit relatives are as interesting as staying home - often more stimulating. You can be tied down by your kid at home, or you can be tied down in the company of other people. The latter is inevitably more interesting.
The process of getting used to having the kid in the house was as delicate as a car crash. It was in fact a "crash course," so it's hard to remember everything that I learned. Like most crash courses, this one monopolizes your time and attention so thoroughly that it redefines your reality while it continues. Unlike most crash courses, this one doesn't end for 20 years or so. Looking back it's hard to remember what life used to be like. I think I used to be disgusted by excrement, but it's hard to imagine that now since it's so much a part of my daily life. I think I used to leave the dishes unwashed some evenings, but it's hard to imagine that now since if I let such a drop of chaos creep into the house today I'd likely find myself engulfed by a tide of it tomorrow.
Before I had a kid, I used to travel whenever and wherever. I can still do that. You can take a kid virtually anywhere: to Afghanistan, to the opera, to the pool hall. Some of these outings may be unwise however, or better left for an older age. But the point is that you still have choices once you have kid. You may pay a price of naps missed, or have to add extra destinations, or have to leave early. But you still have choices.
Since I have had a kid, and since he became old enough to radiate his exuberant joy about everything he sees, it is hard to stay in a bad mood in his presence. He is a permanent source of infection with unpretentious delight - in the simplest things. Looking out a window. Seeing the cat. Tasting a banana. This easy source of good feeling makes it easy to accept the limitations of my situation.
Since I have had a kid, I have had more fun being a lunatic. I sing silly songs whenever I feel like it, dance when I feel like it, free associate words and ideas out loud, and laugh at my own jokes. It is as if my life has become so unimportant that no one critical is watching any more, and I can actually do whatever I want. This is fun.
Since I have had a kid, I have found that when I walk down the street with him on my back beautiful women smile at me. This is probably more of a thrill for guys than girls.
Lastly, before I had a kid, I thought that we each seek the best partner we can find, so that we can enliven and encourage each other. We look for someone who is intelligent, well-educated, enterprising, creative and powerful. Now I see that there is an implicit and un-discussed tragedy here. By marrying and having kids, we condemn each other to loads of work which has nothing to do with education, intelligence, insight or power. It is drudge work, domestic work, the kind of work teenagers take before they can get any other job, and the kind of work society does not even recognize as legitimate "work." I am referring to taking care of the kid. Rather than flying higher with him or her into the skies of knowledge, insight, power, reputation and achievement, we meet our love and then together take our highly developed selves and descend into the mud of child care. What, then, was the purpose of all that self-development?
My conclusion is that we are in the habit of ignoring the immanence of coming full circle. For instance, we ignore the fact that after ascending and blooming in our lives, we descend to die; or the fact that after "growing up" and being increased in choice, power and freedom we will probably be reduced to child care. But having a kid put the ever-present pattern of coming full circle right in my face, and as a consequence I think I live in less ignorance about the really big picture of life.
© Copyright 1999, Morgan Hite