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Real and Abstract Infants, Tantrums, and The Virgen of Guadalupe

I like having a child. I like the abstract experience of having a child. I am challenged and stimulated by it. The actual human being I adore with a mammally passion that never stops surprising me, but that’s something separate. Right now I am kinda fed up with hearing my generation whine about how much having a child sucks sometimes or acting surprised that it doesn’t make us happy. Conversations about happiness make me particularly uncomfortable first because real, existing children are discussed as abstract objects or events. You can do that before you have kids and it makes good sense, but afterward it’s something different.

A real human being is no longer an abstraction or an object. He is a person. In his position as child he owes me very little. He didn’t ask to be brought into existence. It’s my responsibility as a parent to establish the framework for the relationship that will define us as a family. Someday we will owe one another everything that people who have a long and loving relationship owe one another. (I guess that’s a reasonable definition of family in our culture.) But the idea that my child should be, by his existence, responsible for my happiness is just a new age-y iteration of the idea that he owes me respect or money or unquestioning obedience by virtue of the fact I spawned him.

Anyone who knows me and my particular sainted infant will understand that I do not speak from the sort of dumb luck that causes the parents of fat placid babies who slept through the night from two weeks on and grew up into coy obedient toddlers, to bridle in horror when other people’s kids shriek and writhe on the subway. (No one could describe my child as obedient, a thing I concede with some ambivalence. Also, sorry about the shrieking and writhing. Really. I spend a lot of time feeling truly awful about it.) I am often tired. I have not slept through the night since well before he was born. I get enraged with the tantrums that inevitably take place when I keep him safe and sometimes end up stomping and flailing a bit myself.

But considering all this in terms of happiness? Huh? I could lodge almost the same set of complaints about starting a business. (Though there the tantrums are mine alone and have mostly to do with printers and Adobe products.) Who are these magazine people whose choices in life are determined by what might or might not make them happy? What the hell does happy even mean? I am more likely to choose to undertake something because it promises to stimulate and challenge me, to change me. Having a child is one of those things. I had almost a year of enforced self-reflection, right smack in the middle of my thirties, when we’re all supposed to be too busy to think. I am more comfortable in a position of authority than ever before; more adept at achieving consensus and avoiding ultimatums. I am powerfully aware of the passage of time. In fact, I am changed.

Said Specific Human Child is playing Virgen de Guadalupe now (Soy la mama María!), pretending to breastfeed his exalted babydoll, whom he refers to as El Niño Oso, a mishearing of El Niño Dios, which I hesitate to correct.