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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Boys and Girls, Men and Women

This year I will become an aunt. Any day now my sister-in-law is supposed to give birth. A few days ago I received news from Romania that my best friend's sister has just had a baby girl. My neighbor is pregnant. And another friend who lives in Oregon is due to have a baby in October. I know that every day hundreds of babies are born. But there have never been so many that I was aware of, or connected to. It gives me the feeling some women get when they watch all their best friends get married without getting married themselves. You watch a certain kind of life pass by you, and though you've made a conscious choice not to live it, you feel a little bit of sadness, a slight sense of loss. I don't want to have children. Husband and I made this decision together, rationally. And yet the biological instinct is so deep and so powerful that there are times when I want to chuck rationality out the window and just hold a baby, my own baby, in my arms.

I wouldn't make a good mother. I would be too emotional, I would worry too much about trivial things, I would have a very hard time giving my child enough space to grow, the freedom to make his own mistakes. And I'm still so confused about so many things, there are still so many questions about the world that I can't figure out the answers to, that I don't feel qualified to be responsible for another person, to guide him through the first part of his life. What scares me the most about having children is not the dirty diapers and the sleepless nights, but how to teach another human being what's right and wrong, how to watch another human being figure out how to be happy and live a meaningful life and fall down and hurt himself in the process. What if I have a child who happens not to like books and readings? Or who doesn't want to go to college? How will I be able to love him without stifling him -- generously enough to support him whatever choices he makes?

I worry a little bit about the baby my Oregon friend is going to have in October. I can't imagine her being a mother, a good mother. She's not easy to get along with. She's a free spirit but moody, self-centered, stubborn. Or used to be like that. She may have changed. But if she hasn't, it troubles me that she's having a baby; I doubt that she's prepared for it. I was relieved when I heard that the baby is a boy. I caught myself thinking that a boy can withstand a not-so-good mother much better than a girl. (I remember reading an article that argued that boys who begin their sexual lives too early are not as traumatized by it as girls are, and being horrified that the writer had made such a sexist distinction.) I wonder sometimes how my parents' children would have turned out if they had been boys instead of being me and my sister.

I stare at babies in car seats and strollers, I watch young children splashing around at the pool and chasing each other in the park with beaming earnest pink faces. Their joy and freshness is irresistible. I try to remind myself that all of them grow up in the end and become adults who have to figure out that impossible question about the meaning of life. And I can't help being sad for them.


Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

I've just come back from my high school reunion. There, in contrast to my own childlessness, I saw many, many happy parents, all of whom had nascent versions of your own confusions and mixups when I last knew them twenty years ago. The birth of their children has made most of them, if not all of them, rise to the occasion. I could see them teaching their children about right and wrong, about kindness and cruelty, about good behavior and bad. Perhaps I idealized what I saw, but if it's not possible to be a perfect parent, I'd say it's possible to be a "good enough" parent.

Of course, as a precaution, when a child is born, you should set aside 2% of your earnings towards a fund for his or her future psychotherapy. :-)

June 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is not so much a reaction on this blog, sorry, but an earlier one about book clubs.
I just discovered the book club on wordswithoutborders and thought you might be interested, too:

Although it all works via Internet and not personally, they are going to read a number of very interesting books, I find.
kameleon at

June 15, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

Thank you for the book club suggestion. I like its name: words without borders.

Jonathan -- the 2% for therapy made me smile -- as if setting aside money for college expenses weren't enough!

As for rising to the occasion when you become a parent, I'm sure my mom and dad think they have, and by comparison to what their parents did for them, they did an astoundingly good job of raising us. Nevertheless, our relationship is fraught with problems and that's something I cannot renconcile myself to. Come to think of it, I can't reconcile myself to being "good enough" at anything and I'm pretty sure that's unhealthy too.

June 15, 2006  

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