Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Thing I Miss Most

I was chatting with a friend a while back. Not what you'd call deep stuff. But - we've made different life choices, she and I. And we were kinda comparing notes a little, and thinking, and she allowed as just maybe, you know, the family-and-kids thing has something going for it.

And she's right, yep. But that doesn't mean the choices she's made don't work. And I'm never really going to know, am I? Because I made my choice and here I am, and I'd be five kinds of an idiot if I bothered to regret it, or wish for something else. Life is what it is. One finds a way to live it, and appreciate the living of it.

But as a result of that particular conversation, I did do a little thinking, and honestly - yeah. There's some shit I miss from the no-kids side of the equation. I could make a few quips about money, and sleeping late, and being able to find my books and tools wherever I leave them, but they've all been done a thousand times before. And besides, they all actually relate to one common thread.


What I miss: I miss being able to make simple, tiny choices without the possibility of weighing down somebody else's life, maybe for good.

I'm going to have to explain this by example, because if you aren't a parent, then I truly don't believe you can really wrap your head around what I'm saying. Because it's just not intuitive. It's too big. It's too pervasive. Ten years now, I've been a parent, and I'm still just beginning to understand.

Let's consider something simple. You're cooking a hardboiled egg. The phone rings. Do you duck over and pick it up?

Of course you do. Unless you have a small kid. Because if you have a small kid, the first thing you do is turn the handle of the pot to the back of the stove, and turn off the heat. (You were already using the burner at the back. You use those burners for pretty much everything, even though the big one at the front delivers more heat.)

And once you've secured that pot of boiling water you take a look around and assure yourself of the kid's whereabouts. Then you grab the phone. And because you're a parent, it's a walkaround phone, so you can go back into the kitchen to keep an eye on that dangerous pot of water while you talk to whomever.

What time do you get up in the morning? Any morning? Every morning? When do you go to bed? How much do you choose to drink, in terms of alcohol? Or even soda - because what their parents do is, for small children, the very literal definition of true and right and proper.

Driving. How many of you curse at the fucknuckles on the road who brake and turn without indicating, pass on blind corners, swerve gormlessly around at 60kph on roads designated for almost twice that speed?

Yeah, the kids are listening. What I do these days: I point out the vehicle in question, and I show my older kids the reason why what they're seeing is dangerous as hell, and stupid. (Like the tailgater on Thursday afternoon who followed me out of Launceston all the way to Nunamara so close behind I couldn't read her license plate in the rear view.) But I don't curse, and I don't run down the drivers of those vehicles: I just point out that their driving is dangerous and stupid, and that hopefully, when the kids grow up they'll remember not to do that.

What do you read? What do you watch? Do you get your exercise in? Do you clean up after yourself? Your speech -- is it articulate and thoughtful, or do you toss poor English after half-considered slang?

Everything you are, everything you do is up for evaluation. Your kids -- they want to be proud of you. They want to have reasons to believe in you. Do something clever, or accomplished, and they think it's wonderful. Problem is, do something half-assed or stupid or foolish and they'll find excuses for you, and they'll take away the lesson that half-assed and stupid and foolish are okay.

It's a bitch. Stone-cold. If you've ever worked in a job where the boss was watching you every second, you've almost got a hint of it. Except you get to go home from a job. And you can quit. And fuck it, no matter what else, it's just a goddam job. It's not you. But there's almost no time-out from the parent gig. And home is where it happens. And if you quit, you're not done: you've just become a bad parent, a fuckup - and chances are, your kids will love you anyway and take it all on board, maybe even blame themselves.

It's not a job. You even try thinking of it that way, and you're lost.

I'm sure the day will come when I'm not carrying this any more. I'm sure of this because somewhere along the line, I figured out that both my parents were adult human beings whose choices were entirely theirs, and didn't necessarily have to have any effect on mine. My mother's dead now, but I think she finally got used to the idea, in the last few years of her life. And I know my father has worked it out now, even though he still occasionally lapses into trying to set an example for me... but that's cool, because he does it for 'most everyone he believes might be smart enough to learn from him.

I'm not sure how I will feel about it when that day comes. The unrelenting, ubiquitous nature of this responsibility is such that it can very easily feel like it's your reason for living. You can become a parent first and foremost, and forget the other parts of your life. People who do that - you see them once the kids leave, and they look around like they can't quite figure out what the hell just happened, or where they should be, or what they should be doing.

I don't want to be that way. I need to keep hold of the other stuff. Writing. Martial arts. Drinking good wine. Languages, art, travel. Making music purely because I enjoy it.

But oh, hell, it's hard.