“You like children,” he inferred, gesturing at the baby.
“Well, we do have five of them,” I said.
“Five?! Whoa, you love kids! You’re crazy about kids!” He exclaimed, shaking his head in disbelief.
I think it’s accurate to say that I love my kids. Sometimes I am crazy about them. I am not, however, naturally crazy about kids in general. I am not a “kid-person.” Kid-people gravitate towards children; they are naturally interested in what kids say; they want to give gifts; they find candy, frosting, and balloons desirable; they want to watch kid’s movies with or without children; they enjoy babysitting and are natural smilers.
I am very grateful for kid-people–they make the world a welcoming and bright place, and they make my job as a mother easier, but I am not, myself, a kid-person.
About five years ago a friend told me she wasn’t having kids because she isn’t a kid-person. At the time this seemed a strange rationale. If someone said, “I’m not a people person” and decided not to have anything to do with people we would say she has a social disfunction. If you picked any other people group and said you don’t want that demographic in your life we would see this as a major human failing, if not bigotry. With children (the hope of our future), however, exclusion is okay.
Hope of our future or not, I am fully willing to to admit that I have never had the “yipeee” thrill of discovering that, finally, we will be having a baby. Each time I have learned of a pregnancy it has been a different type of difficult, but it usually involves the thoughts that: I’m not ready for this complication–I’m not organized enough, don’t have enough energy, enough time, enough patience, enough money, enough space in my life to accommodate another person with so many needs. Plus, I have my own stuff: What about Europe and doing art and getting in shape and finally getting on top of my life?
There is a way in which I’ve never had what family planning advocates desire: “every child a wanted child.” But somewhere in the line of long days leading up to birth I’ve had the grace to do what might be the most important human action possible: I’ve had the grace and strength to bring my desires into line with reality. I’ve become able to say yes to what is being asked of me.
Sometimes we feel we must want ahead of time everything that happens or else we are being victimized by our own lives. In fact, our need to choose each event and its outcome might make us a nation of control freaks. From obsessions with choice (46 types of nut butter?) to obsessions with control (weight control, birth control, mind control, bladder control, remote controls, pain management), we are increasingly only happy within our small realms of power.
Children have taught me how little control I have. My life changes dramatically based on stomach viruses and teeth coming. Children have showed me that being alive means the embarrassment and frustration of falling. They have showed me the pain and humiliation of trying, trying, and still not being good at what you do–but to smile with heart-brightening radiance in the midst of it. My children have taught me patience through furious tears over shoelaces, horrible potty situations, and all kinds of disobedience.
More than anything else, though, my children have taught me to get outside of myself–to transcend the tyranny of my own wants.
I have learned that if I only get what I already want there is no room for my desires to become what they should be. It is a poverty for me to accept only what I already want. It is contentment with small-heartedness. We are naturally attached to and satisfied by a small vision for our lives. But the life we can control is always going to have a puniness to it–no matter how ambitious we are. After all, we have only a few decades to work with, a severely limited view to understand them, and the guidance of motivations warped by selfishness. How can this render a true masterpice?
The relinquishment of that small, dear vision, however, is a death. And the acceptance of the new plan feels like death too. Often our lives look like death followed by death, but in these Novembers followed by Decembers and Januaries and disheartening Februaries and disappointing Marches we cling to hope that does not disappoint.
And so now we, the not-kid-people, after telling you of death and disappointment, potty accidents and radiant smiles, can tell you of promise and hope, future potty accidents and future radiant smiles. We are expecting our next little joy in October and the children want to name him Gandalf.