lundi 18 août 2008

Eli's coming; hide your heart, girl....


Eli's coming, hide your heart girl. But this is not Eli, who was born on August 6, 2008, making Walt a grandfather. No, this is Hanna Marie Eyres and her parents.

She was born at least three weeks before Eli, but when I saw her on my last night in Paris, she weighed in at 3.6 kilos (about 7.92 pounds). Eli, on the other hand, weighed 8.8 or 8.9 pounds at birth, and when I met him last Friday (ten days later) he had already gained a pound. Hanna seems to eat as much and as often as young Eli, but she spits a lot of it up. She apparently cried non-stop for some time, which worried her parents silly, but when I saw her she just slept, well, like a baby, and only got in a foul mood towards the end. We were waiting for Lara to come back from the doctor's office and feed the poor thing. None of us was equipped to do so. So we had cocktails.
I have to admit that, while I am as intrigued as the next person by the miracle of life and all that, I don't find newborns particularly.... interesting. They don't do much, for one thing. While they are awake, their actions can be summed up in the three e's: emote (cry), eat, emit (poop, farts, burps). And the rest of the time they sleep. I realize that their parents find them fascinating, and can tell you (and do tell you) much more about the minute details contained in what I have dismissed in three little words. But that is as nature wishes it to be, for otherwise newborns would be ejected and then forgotten. For some deep and biologically apt reason, parents are programmed to find the little creatures fascinating. And they do; they aren't just pretending.

I can't fathom this mystery, not having become a parent myself. The closest I have come is owning a dog. I hope you parents out there are not shocked to read that I am likening dog care with child care, but too bad if you are. I am doing just that. Of course, Neko is like a baby who will never acquire speech or learn to walk on two legs (although she can stand on her hind legs for several seconds). This means she'll never sass me. Nor will she ever go to school or move out of the house. She'll never make me buy her the latest fashions. Thanks to Walt, she'll never even wear clothes. He thinks it is silly to dress a dog up in clothes and I agree with him. Have you ever noticed how much dogs hate to be dressed in clothing? They loathe you for it. They also feel shame because they know how silly they look and don't understand why their master would do this to them.
But anyway, children. No, I never had any. And never will now. I am too old, even though I suppose it is anatomically still possible. I am not menopausal (to anyone who feels this is TMI, I apologize), after all. But if I had a child, I would be 62 when he or she turned 10. From a moral or ethical point of view, I don't see any problem with older people becoming parents. Other older people, that is. There is just no way that I, as a 62-year old woman, would want to be going to parent-teacher meetings and driving junior all over town to play soccer, baseball and water polo; learn to dance and play several musical instruments; study French, Chinese and Arab; etc.
Do I feel regret that I never had children? My friend Christelle, who just turned 39, asked me that one night when we were having dinner together in Paris. She is wondering if she will ever marry or have a family, and whether or not that is something she wants. It is a choice. That's what I told her. I have no regrets about the choices I have made. Had I opted to become a parent, I would certainly not regret that choice. Would my life have been different? Of course. But in what way? One cannot ever know. Would I have lived in China and France? Possibly, but probably not. Have I lived selfishly? Some parents fervently believe that not having children is selfish; some non-parents are equally convinced that the selfish ones are those who people the planet and expect the world to care for their offspring. It is a sterile debate. Parenthood brings its unique joys and largely unspoken frustrations and disappointments. Non parenthood also offers unique experiences, good and bad.
When I was 16, I told my mother I did not want to have children. She was shocked and hurt. She had produced six, after all. What I was telling her was that I did not want to follow her path, or so she thought. My mother told me once that everything in her life had been a disappointment, except having children. So that's where she was coming from.
When I was 26, I told another woman--the wife of one of my graduate school professors--that I was not planning to have children. She too was shocked, and also somewhat angry. She told me that I would be missing life's greatest moment, and that I would be missing out on all the things that only parenthood provides. Like what, I asked her. She had a hard time answering me, but then said her daughter was hosting an exchange student from Japan for the summer and without the daughter this experience would not have come about. I told her that the experience of going to Japan would be different from, but no less exciting than, hosting an exchange student. Shortly after that evening, I left for China and ended up in Paris. I learned to speak Chinese and then French. Do I regret this? No. Would this have happened if I had stayed at home and had children? Probably not. But many other things, both expected and unexpected, would have happened. In my case, with or without children, I would have been one of those people who doesn't have a life plan that requires passage through a defined set of milestones or events. This doesn't mean I have been rudderless or purposeless or utterly lost. It means that my life course has been traveled on a sailboat rather than a motorboat. I have changed tack and responded to the elements. I have tried to remain open to possibility. I have tried to stay focused on what is important and forget about the rest. And it isn't over.