I recently heard a soldier say, “Ugh, I never want to have kids. Babies are SO GROSS! All they do is drool and poop all over everything.”
I have heard other (female) soldiers say that they never want kids because “when you get pregnant your legs swell up and you feel like a whale.”
One male soldier told me, “I would make a terrible dad, but I make a great uncle. Being an uncle is the best, you enjoy the cuteness and the fun and then give them right back to the parents.”
I cannot deny the facts of these accusations (with some careful caveats about the uncle comments). Indeed, I would go farther and say that they grossly (hee hee! see what I did there?) understate the case. For instance, just a day after that adorable picture (above) of the newborn sleeping Ellie was taken, this picture of the two-year-old nauseous Evie was taken…
Immediately after this picture she puked on Kathleen and Ellie, right as Ellie was starting to breastfeed. The interlocuter mentioned above had understated his case because as Kathleen pointed out, “He totally forgot about vomit. Until you’ve flown across the country with a toddler with the two-bucket disease…”
Drool? Meh. That’s nothing. Just good clean saliva and wonderfully exfoliative, especially in the teething phase. Poop? Usually pretty well contained, and exclusively breastfed poop even has a delightfully earthy scent to it, never, alas, to be equaled by the poops of subsequent diets. It’s the snot that gets you, especially when the baby likes to wipe it off with her hand, and then wipe her hand off on you. The snotty faceplant is another favorite.
But vomit is king, when it comes to bodily fluids. It is sudden, it is copious, it is uncontained. It bursts forth with a magnificent freedom, untrammeled by social norms or constraining receptacles. It inspires imitation by the weak-of-stomach (we call them “sympathetic pukers”).
The pregnancy issues are even graver, and definitely understated. While it is a sociological fact that 90% of people think pregnant ladies are cute with a pregnancy-specific form of cuteness (a.k.a. “the glow”)…
It is equally a sociological fact that 99.99% of pregnant ladies do not think that they specifically are cute. Leg swelling, tiredness, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, hemorrhoids, weight gain… all of these are potentially real accoutrements of pregnancy. Nor should we stop there. It is a disservice not to mention the actual serious potential outcomes, e.g. pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, previa, abruptio, breech, C-section, hemorrhage, miscarriage, nuchal cord, post-natal depression, to name a few. Nor do the problems stop with child birth, as anyone who has struggled with milk supply and failure to thrive can tell you. Everything from the stomach bug to seizures to teenage rebellion is on the cards for you if you decide to have kids, or if you have kids as an unintended result of your decisions (which is not the same thing).
As for the uncle thing, I can’t deny it is true, but I do deny it is manly. I won’t get into that discussion right now, but I’ll let Jim Wendler sum it up.
The truth is that, yes, kids are gross. The truth is that kids are also adorable.
You might say that the purpose of children’s cuteness is to help their parents get past the grossness. It is also true that the purpose of children’s grossness is to help parents get past the cuteness.
The truth is that, yes, having kids hurts. It takes the spring out of your step, the shape out of your waist, the clean out of your house, the hours out of your day, and the money out of your bank. The truth is also that having kids heals you, if you let it. It puts wonder into the world, purpose into your pudge, life into your deadness, meaning into your time, and rescues your money from useless places like savings accounts and stock options.
Family is an invitation to enter a love that can kill your prejudice. I am using the term “prejudice” in a slightly broader sense than its narrow, modern, intersectional political sense, to mean simply any personal preference that I hold onto. (I am also distinguishing a preference from a conviction, for obvious reasons). There is nothing wrong with having a preference, for without it we would have no desire or drive. But there is everything wrong with holding a preference, because then it becomes a prejudice and limits us, even if it is for something as relatively trivial as rice over potatoes. The kind of person who insists upon rice rather than allowing for potatoes remains a person who limits himself to one kind of starch. Worse, he runs the risk of becoming the kind of person who demands that the entire world bend to his prejudice and take away its damn potatoes and give him rice! (Change that to mac-and-cheese or crusts cut off the sandwich and you have pretty much every toddler ever.)
You may be the kind of person who insists upon not getting puked on. Kids are your gateway to broadening your horizons.
Kids will kill your prejudice, if you have any capacity whatsoever for letting go of it. I am not talking about putting on a wry face and simply putting up with not getting your way. I am talking about loving another human being so much that you no longer even really have a way. There is an ecstasy of love (I use the word “ecstasy” in its strictest possible definition, i.e. “to stand outside oneself”) that comes once in a while when you truly love someone else so much that you forget yourself. I do not meant that you sacrifice yourself, I mean that you simply no longer exist in your own mind. That little part of you that is always keeping an eye on your thoughts, your options, your feelings, your reactions, your wants… it just stops. You don’t even realize it has stopped until later, because you aren’t looking at yourself anymore. The very fact of noticing that it has stopped means, by definition, that it has started back up again. You may not even have realized that in that moment of total absorption in someone else’s need or pain or pleasure, that you yourself were more deliriously and wholly alive than you have ever been before, even in war. It is the fullest moment of your life not simply despite the fact that you were not aware of it, but specifically because you were not aware of it.
It is the closest experience I have ever had to heaven on earth.
One of the best examples of this I have ever seen was Kathleen when Evie was in the hospital with seizures. Kathleen is ordinarily the kind of person who has a prejudice for 10-12 hours of sleep uninterrupted sleep per night. It is important to her, but has often been denied by the realities of family life, never more so than when Evie was admitted to Mary-Bridge. Kathleen did not sleep for two days. She did not valiantly struggle to keep herself awake. She just didn’t sleep. Her entire being was focused on Evie and her needs and the thought of sleeping through this never occurred to her. She didn’t even realize she hadn’t slept until the next day.
This is the kind of self-forgetfulness that only comes from love. When you love in a family, the opportunity for it comes a hundred times a day. Hardly once or twice in a year, outside the honeymoon phase, will you experience that ecstasy of utter absorption in the other. It is useless and self-defeating to try to experience it. It must come as an unsought gift, or not at all, and anyway, this isn’t about using your wife and kids to manufacture some kind of transcendent experience. It is about living for your wife and kids in every mundane experience. That is how you can practice it every day, a hundred times a day, without ever knowing you are doing so.
The refusal to have kids because they are gross, or bothersome, or expensive, is pusillanimous. It is the same as refusing to get married because you don’t want to share your bathroom sink (is it possible to be any more small-souled than that?!) It is like saying, “No thanks, I don’t want to hike up to the top of a mountain, and experience fresh-air and healthful activity and human interaction. Netflix sounds like a lot less trouble.”
The only thing in the world worth living for is love. I pity those who are not willing to sell everything they think they own to purchase it.