I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again many, many times, but we don’t spend nearly enough time telling people about the responsibility of raising humans. You get married, you’re happy (maybe), have more time and disposable income than you even realize (maybe), and then you get the baby itch (or society makes you feel like a wretched, selfish asshole and you cave) and a few months later, you are knocked up and wandering around Buy Buy Baby with a registry gun, arguing with your spouse about what kind of nipples you should register for.
Someone probably throws you an adorable party with cookie shaped like onsies or rattles, someone (likely the gay uncle) gives you a $500 cashmere blanket your kid will NEVER be allowed to touch, and you spend your evenings folding and refolding tiny clothes and sitting in an empty nursery thinking about your forthcoming bundle of joy. At this point we are at least 8 months into this whole thing and still NO ONE has so much as mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. You’re inundated with questions about natural childbirth vs. an evil and completely unnatural (eyeroll) medicated birthing experience, what kind of nipples you registered for (BECAUSE THIS MATTERS A LOT), and whether you’re going to be gender specific with your new born (eyes rolling so far back in my head they may be stuck).
Then, it’s about your boobs. Strangers asking about your plans for feeding your child. Suddenly you feel like a capitalistic satan for registering for nipples in the first place when you’re obviously going to breast feed your child until he is using a sippy cup (or at least pretend you are so some wealthy organic wheatgrass farmer with nine children who have never had the flu doesn’t shame you in line at the Whole Foods).
Then it’s happening. YOUR BABY IS BEING BORN. You have a beautiful hospital bag with silk pajamas and snacks in it waiting next to the door. Your husband is whispering encouraging words to your unborn child before the three of you drift off to sleep. And in the middle of the night you soak your brand new mattress with enough amniotic fluid to sink the Titanic and the moment has arrived.
Still. No one has mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. No one says, “hey, you. Babies are fleeting. Humans are forever.” In fact, the ASPCA likely spends more time reminding folks that puppies become dogs than the universe does reminding us that babies become people.
And become people they do. Infancy is hard. It’s physically straining, emotionally demanding, and it makes you question all the things you thought you were good at. But babies live in tiny warm bubbles. You can control every single thing about an infant except the infant itself. There’s almost no limit to what you can protect an infant from. (Save dying from something horrible because the anti-vaxxers are a bunch of Satanists. Oh, hey, Measles in Europe.)
But humans are harder. At some point you realize that your child doesn’t need you to get from breath to breath. They need you to help them navigate the universe and understand humanity. They start to need answers from you that you don’t have. And you can’t just stick a boob in their mouth and make everything okay. (Until they are about 17. Then a boob [NOT YOURS] may do the trick again.)
Little humans are a special kind of mind fuck. We have one at home currently. He’s not an infant. He’s not a toddler. He believes he has some kind of master insight and reason about the world and he is totally wrong. But it doesn’t change how he feels. He feels massive injustices are being done to him on a daily basis. (Nope, you can’t watch TV. Nope, we aren’t going to wear the same shirt for 16 days. It’s growing mold. Nope, you’re not allowed to take that in the car.)
But he’s also beginning to experience real emotions that we can’t control. Exclusion. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Jealously. Emotions that even now, as adults, we don’t fully understand. He wants to know why someone said something hurtful or why someone wouldn’t play with him. As a parent, your first reaction is to light the school on fire or hunt down the 3-year-old that hurt their feelings. But you have to take a step back. You have to understand that human emotions are complicated and necessary. And if you don’t allow them to feel these things, to try to work through them, they will become emotionally stunted fuck heads when they are older.
The world is moving a lot faster than it did when I was a kid. We could blame it on technology, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. It’s just a different world. It’s more connected, while simultaneously being completely disconnected. We have more access than ever, but things also seem strangely inaccessible. Kids are shepherded out of childhood more quickly to give them more time to be adults. More time to excel and be accomplished grown ups. As a parent, I can’t help but feel like that’s misguided. If there is anything about my life I wish I could have extended, it would be my childhood. It would be those years before boys and college — and certainly my twenties — when long, hot days were spent cellphone-free at the pool, ordering chicken fingers and playing Marco Polo. It’s easy to idealize our memories, but I don’t think I’m crazy to believe that the less I knew, the easier it was to be happy.
There’s not a Buy Buy Baby for these years. There’s no registry list for those years when the things you tell your children impact the way they see the world, or the kinds of humans they start to become. These days, I laugh at the tough choices we made between the UppaBaby and whatever the other option was. Because how I pushed my child around the city seems a much easier choice than how I teach my child not to push others. Curating a nursery, though necessary and fun, seems to have overshadowed the time when my husband and I should have talked through the kind of human we wanted to raise and our plan and path to get there.
How do you raise a good human? Or can you? I don’t know. When you drop them off, move them in, or give them away, how will you ever know that you’ve made the right choices or shown them the right things? How can you be sure that they will go forth with confidence, humility, and a sense of what is right and wrong?
Maybe you can’t. But it’s worth trying.