Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Petrified Forest – Why I Have Kids (When I Always Said I Wouldn’t)

From Po:

I promised this post last week, so I apologize it’s taken this long to arrive.

Today, many of us face the choice of whether to have children.

The question I want to pose is, “Can you use a rational process to make a decision about a mystical journey?”

Part 1. – High School Philosophy Class

A boy spends most of his childhood and teens unable to listen to reason. Around the age of seventeen, he suddenly matures to a point that not only can he listen to reason, he can use his mind to reason logically all on his own. It’s a thrill akin to a race car. He suddenly wants to apply reason everywhere, and see how much he can figure out, or how much damage he can cause. Anything that defies logic is called out and ridiculed.

In my twelfth-grade philosophy class, twice a week the socratic dialogue ground to a halt. Inevitably, one of us boys demanded to understand how one of the girls could believe in God. If she would just admit that it was a matter of faith, we wouldn’t have had a problem. But when the existence of God was portrayed as a logical conclusion, then we wanted to pick apart the evidence on which such a conclusion was made. Was it the occurrence of miracles? Was it diversity of our planet’s species? Please, tell us, we begged – luring the girls into our new race car.

I made a girl named Drea Cable nearly cry once, and I felt terrible afterwards. That was the last time I tried to apply a logical/pragmatic/reasoning schematic to what is entirely a mystical phenomenon. Just because I couldn’t prove that God existed, I wasn’t going to deny the existence of a God.

Part 2 – Falling in Love

In most decisions we make, there is a point at which we jump from Reason to Faith, from Plan to Hope. It’s the moment at which we turn off the “choice” part of it, and we accept fate.

This is true in love. We try to pick our partners smartly. We look for partners who share our hobbies, who touch us the way we like to be touched, who bring something into our life we have missed. We look for someone we can help and be helped by. We look for someone who pays their bills and understands commitment. All of that analysis takes about 3 seconds. Then we start saying things like, “This is the one, I’ve got a feeling.” Or, “We just have a connection that I can’t explain.” Falling in love goes from pragmatic to mystical in the blink of an eye.

And we accept this. In our society, women talk endlessly about what they’d like in a man. And men think about what they’d like in a woman (without much talking about it). But when faced with an actual choice – a real live human being – that schematic is tossed. We go with our gut and hope it works out.

Part 3 – Do You Want Kids Someday?

When it comes to choosing to have children, we also apply a pragmatic schematic. We tend to overintellectualize. As I wrote in Chapter 2 of WDILTP, “The evidence is tabulated. Every account is weighed – every account of sleep-deprivation, diminished sex life, a promotion passed over, and social events missed. The Petrified Forest sits like a jury, considering the facts, making their calculations, collecting more evidence. In our society today, parenthood is on trial.”

I certainly put parenthood on trial. I kept my own personal list of Pro’s & Con’s. The decision weighed on me heavily.

I had some significant Cons on my list.
1. As the child of divorce, I was all-too-aware of how hard it can be on a child if the marriage doesn’t work out.
2. The financial responsibility terrified me, since my writing income fluctuated wildly year to year.

When I did the math, the Pros never quite seemed to surmount the Cons.

My life was going pretty good, and I just didn’t want to risk screwing it up.

One day I recognized that being so logical and smart about this decision was perhaps inappropriate, and not the way to make this decision at all. I was only willing to “move ahead” if I could be sure that the Cons weren’t going to ruin it. That was an impossible test. I was trying to control the outcome. With a child, you can no more control the outcome than you can use a logical proof to demonstrate the existence of a God.

The real question was, “Am I willing to cede control, and let nature take its course?”

Part 4 – Psychological Factors

My exaggerated fears of divorce and financial crisis came directly from the financial crises my parents had after their divorce.

For a long time, I proudly embraced those fears. They had made me wiser. I considered them part of my basic nature. I wasn’t going to deny my nature.

But then, I got this notion that there had once been a little boy version of me. Did he not have a nature, before his parents split up and had such money problems? If so, what was his nature?

By the time I had this thought, I was almost 35 years old. My parents were long past their money problems. They had stopped fighting each other years ago. Why was I letting that one period of my past (years 11-18) determine the entire outcome of my life?

Part 5 – Observations

Most people who say “I’m too selfish” are actually demonstrating the exact kind of cognitive self-awareness it takes to raise a child. The people who are really too selfish to be good parents never look at themselves so clearly. In other words, the mere act of saying “I’m too selfish” proves you aren’t.

If this ever departs the world of abstraction, and you are presented with a real live child, then I fully suspect you'll go with your gut and hope it works out.

Everyone assured me that if I ever had children, I was going to love my kids dearly. Nobody mentioned how freely my kids would love me back.

The choice to have a child is deeply personal, and nobody should intrude or proscribe.


Anonymous tirzah harper said...

I want to make some sort of response because this touched me so deeply, but I have...nothing to say.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Po Bronson comment made me think. Perhaps I missed this part in the original post.

Does the decision to have kids also have a lot to do with who you marry?

Although I often have said that I do want to have kids, I am very particular about who I want to have kids with.

One of my girlfriends and I had a funny conversation. I was talking about whether or not this guy we knew would be a good father. She said "how about going to a movie first and see if you like him?

She is absolutely right! So I focus on the present.

12:41 PM  

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