Essays About


When a parent says, "time to come in," the playing child protests, "must I?" Parents therefore declare children to be willful. But to children, parents must seem willful, for children grasp the rules but not the reasons. For adults, the reasons make the rules tolerable. We go to work because we know we must earn money. But children go kicking to school because going to school is the inscrutable dictate of their superiors. Adults live in an orderly cosmos of law and consequence, but children live in a Homeric world of fickle gods and arbitrary fate.

Parents who boast of their child's developmental progress mistake a general miracle for a particular miracle. They do not so much overestimate the progress but the uniqueness of their child. Watching a being who was recently nonexistent learn to walk, speak, and socialize, they rightly marvel, but because their sample size is one, they assume they birthed a prodigy. Their judgment suffers from a deficiency not of accuracy but of scope. Could they watch other children grow up, they would discover them to be prodigies too. Their praise would spread from their family to humanity, their pride change to wonder.

We think of childhood as a time of stability, and adulthood as changing and uncertain. But whenever I visit my niece and nephew, this attitude is revealed as false nostalgia. Every visit, my niece and nephew walk differently, pronounce "R"s differently, attend a new school, are taller, play with different toys, have new wardrobes, converse with me at a higher level of consciousness. I must enjoy any likable phrasing or mannerism quickly, since next visit my niece and nephew will be new versions. What do adults know of mutability? Occasionally we switch gyms or jobs or towns, but children change their whole costume of body and mind on a regular schedule, cycling through identities faster than birthdays. Our unit of aging is the decade, theirs is the month. Humans age faster, the younger they are.

A part of me hates to see my one year old cry. But given that she cries over trivialities like falling ten inches from a standing to sitting position, a part of me loves to see her cry, because when her lips wrinkle and tears flow my love for her wells up. There is a disturbing paradox in love: we take pleasure in loving; the beloved's pain intensifies our love; therefore, we take pleasure in the beloved's pain.

By pleasure rather than labor, by release rather than exertion, we create life. Meanwhile, in all our other endeavors, we work much harder to produce a far less impressive result. It takes me months to write an essay; it took minutes to create my daughter.

True, my wife had to carry our child for nine months, and together we must guide and raise her for eighteen years, but these are outward and trivial aids. My wife in pregnancy, though I honor her suffering, was more acted upon than acting, a Petri dish for our fused cells to grow in. I am installing gates to keep our daughter from tumbling down the stairs, but she is mysteriously engineering her own ability to crawl. We parents are mere managers, facilitating rather than performing the critical work. We provide milk and play mats and cribs for naps, and out of these raw materials our babies assemble brains, speech, movement, emotions, and consciousness.

Why pore through parenting books as if a child's development hinged chiefly on our methods? Overzealous parents are like software managers who don't know how to program yet think projects will fail unless they tinker with the few superficial details they understand.

I used to come home every night to a childless house, and I was happy. But since my daughter's birth, if I come home and she is away for the night at a grandparent's house, my evening goes poorly. I check the video monitor of the nursery and feel empty to see an empty crib. My evening walk, without her in a carrier against my chest, is exercise without pleasure. How can I be dependent on a being who, six months ago, did not exist? I did not need her when I did not have her. But she has entered my life as a nail enters a block of wood, simultaneously creating a hole and filling it. Remove the nail, and the hole remains. Love completes unhappy people, but uncompletes happy people, because love means we can no longer be happy alone.