HERE THEY COME!
Why do we have children anyway? The answer seems to be that we can’t help it. The most interesting subject for adults by far is sex which has only one aim, subvert it how we will. The most pressing problem in the world today is overpopulation, and while quite a little is being done about it, the children keep coming. We talk quite a bit about having control over our bodies, but the children keep coming. It is possible for a woman to have as many as twenty children, a horror to be avoided, but nature rather likes it. Eternal vigilance is required.
There is also social pressure to have children. We are told that it is our tie with the future, that we can pass on our inheritance, whatever that is. We are not told of the financial burden involved, or anything else discouraging. Even our parents tell us what a pleasure we were to them, and of course we believe that implicitly. Our friends have babies and look blissfully happy. Those with teenagers look rather worried, but we don’t think that far in advance. Senior citizens tell us endlessly about their wonderful grand-children. We are talked into it.
Children interfere with our lifestyle-in fact, they change it drastically. You have to hire a babysitter if you want a moment of freedom from them. Day care centers proliferate so that women as well as men can be relieved of the drudgery of diapers and bottles. Adults believe that in the office rather than in the home one can realize one’s potential. Some parents even desert their families because they feel too tied down. Family vacations are promoted with separate facilities for the children so that adults can spend time on the golf course or the tennis court. Along with this there is attachment. New people as important to us as our parents have come into our lives. They are there for good, there is no sending them back.
Yet the children continue to be born, and not only by accident. Adults want them. They look forward longingly to the day when the children will be old enough to be good company. In the meantime they love them dearly, the cute little things!
It is generally conceded that adults are in control of the world and responsible to pass on family values to the next generation. We work hard to do this, and actually believe that it is possible until we are surprised out of our minds. Our 16-year old comes home from school one day and tells us that he or she has decided to study the language of Uzbekestan, or something else we would never in the world consider. In whose hands is the future anyway?
If we can polarize humanity, children are one pole, adults the other, equally important. Adults feel they are the useful ones, the productive ones, the keepers of the secret. Children make no attempt at being productive or creative, their sole purpose is to make the future adult, to be ready to assume control twenty years hence, in a world no one today can know with any certainty. Therefore, complete obedience to parents and teachers is unrealistic for them.
Parents accept frightening responsibilities. They must keep the children from all sin, they must prepare them to earn a living, they must assure them of social competence, self-assuredness, good health, respect for authority.
Adults are made by children, not the other way around. Children use the adults of today to make the adults of tomorrow. They get everything they can out of their parents, then go on to size up all the other adults they see. It takes a lot of time, a lot of work. Without the work of children all adult knowledge would be lost in a few years, as in fact much of it has been.
Adults do not like being exploited by children. They fight back for their very sanity. They have exploited their own parents until exploitation has become a habit. They panic when they are not in control. With reason they resent the inroads of these immigrants from who knows where. It is a generation war with predictable strategies on both sides.
Children cannot help doing what they do. They come with an inexorable timetable, a time to walk, a time to talk, a time to get teeth, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Their greatest pleasures are in following the timetable to the letter. There is absolutely nothing any child or adult can do about this.
Let us picture a young couple, recently married and wanting to have children. They know instinctively that it is part of their destiny and that it is one of life’s greatest joys. So they begin to think about it, sometimes sharing their thoughts, often not. They have no idea what they are in for.
These young people are already in the hands of the children they have not yet conceived. Biology tells them that sex is interesting as well as delightful. Relationships with one partner of the opposite six seem important, as exciting as variety actually is. They gloss over the fact that Mother Nature blinds the eyes of otherwise rational adults until they do all sorts of things in obedience. It suddenly seems a good idea to have a house with several bedrooms and a yard.
The young couple have built their lives well. They are usually financially independent, but not always. They have ideals toward which they strive, a vision of life well lived. They know what they want in the way of recreation, careers, living environment. They have probably set up a home. They have sorted out their parents, chosen those parts of their early homes to emulate, those parts to avoid. The new home is never exactly like the homes of either of their parents It is the expression of ex-children, their final triumph, their last.
Usually we know what we want in the way of children, a boy who likes to go fishing, a girl who doesn’t play with dolls, a fine athlete, a good student, a loving person who thinks of himself or herself last. We will see that this happens because we sill strive to be a good influence, and we will protect our child from all bad influences. We never expect the children to be born with brains.
Much thought is given as to how to be a good influence. Consideration is given as to the good influences of their own parents, the times when their advice was taken, without thinking of the majority of times when it was not taken. Always when one thinks of parents one thinks of love, that life force that holds people together while they are struggling, that cement that binds with bonds that seem to have no reason at all. Young adults usually blame their parents for most of their faults, that is, those that they are ashamed of. They give them credit for those virtues that they are proud of. There is usually much discussion of all this to which their parents are not invited to participate.
Prospective parents always plan to be a good influence on their children, but they also plan to be in control. They carefully plan their strategies based on the memories of the children who made them. An important aspect of this is the type of punishment to be used. They usually remember the punishments of their own childhood more than the rewards which were probably given more often. The justice of these punishments seem more important than their severity, though that also comes in for criticism at this time. The young people think they are now out from under the thumb of tyranny, and that authority now rests with them. How wrong can anyone be?
Now the home is made and the first baby is on the way. Everyone is happy, baby showers are given, all sorts of preparations are made. Let us look at a few of them:
The baby is to have a room of its own if possible. In many societies children sleep with their parents until the age of five or six, but not ours. We want our children to be close to us, but not too close. We value our privacy, so we think the child will value his. Ideally we want to have a separate room for each child so that no one will fear encroachment, the greatest fear of new parents. They feel that the child should partake of their lifestyle, but certainly should not disrupt it.
One major purchase is a crib. This is a sturdy bed with bars like a cage. It is high so that parents can reach in easily and baby cannot get out. It has a rubber sheet so that the baby cannot soil anything, so that washing can be kept to a minimum, floors protected. Sometimes it has wheels to make it movable, but even so it is not designed to go easily from one room to another.
Another purchase is a car seat. This only shows how dangerous is our society that our children must be strapped in at all times. We also are strapped in, but it does not really get through to us that every time we get into a car we are headed toward danger. We do not want to frighten our children, so we give some sort of lame excuse. We want to keep them safe, but have no intention of keeping them out of cars.
We still buy playpens, another sort of cage, properly to be used by adults to keep their treasures so that children cannot destroy them. We buy walkers which are also restrictive. A high chair is considered important. This is a restraining device, but also intended to give the child a place at the table.
We buy lots of beautiful clothes which do little more than please the eye of the adults and hamper the movements of children. In some societies they use swaddling clothes which, of course, are even worse. We have washing machines today, whereas in the old days the washing of all these lovely things took valuable time which could have been spent giving attention to the baby.
We sometimes plan ahead for the children to get into some sort of prestigious school, even though we ourselves hated school. Most of all, we pray that the children will not be handicapped in any way. That would be too much of a disgrace as well as an expense. We want our children to be unique, but not too different. It would be best if the child would be just like us, which rarely or never happens.
Many mothers, especially working mothers, do not plan to nurse the baby, so load up on bottles and sterilizers. They have heard that nursing is healthier, but it would tie them down too much. In earlier times wet-nurses were employed. From Nature’s point of view each baby has an innate right to its mother’s milk.
Pregnancy is uncomfortable, and everyone is anxious for the new little one to arrive. We count the days, examine each little symptom. Bags are packed, plans are in order for the lying-in. Hopefully the plan is to have natural childbirth.
When the baby arrives the parents, particularly the mother with the new hormones, go into the Baby Daze. From perfectly rational human beings they become parents. The suddenness of this is astounding, especially to outsiders. The mother can think of nothing else but the baby. If you mention another topic her eyes glaze until you pause for breath and she can come back to the only thing worth thinking about. No other facts come anywhere near her consciousness. This Baby Daze will wear off when the baby is about 18 months old, unless she has another in the meantime.
The new mother claims that the baby keeps her busy from morning to night, in spite of the fact that she has a washing machine, a microwave oven, vacuum cleaner, and much more. The baby has her in its grip and will not soon let her go.
There is tremendous affinity between the new mother and the baby. The least cry can wake the mother, even though she has been a sound sleeper all her life. Continual crying tears the heart out of her. There is a tribe in Africa where the mother carries the child without using diapers and “knows” when action is required. Many instances of this affinity can be shown. It is obviously due to hormones which Mother Nature, under the baby’s direction, has inserted. Nursing is one example. The mother begins to have milk in about four or five days, then the amount and richness of her milk keeps pace with the baby’s growth. The milk is produced specifically at the baby’s request, and if the baby does not nurse the milk will disappear.
The baby does not care a fig whether it is born into poverty or luxury. It does not approve or disapprove of any environment, only delights in it. Here is where it will always belong. It has come into the world with a specific program, a specific timetable for growth, and a determination to adhere to it. Part of this is to adapt to the present environment until is actually becomes “second nature.”
Medical science is only beginning to realize all this. In these days mothers can have the baby rooming in at the hospital and nursing is encouraged as well as natural childbirth. Even so, after the first few days or weeks many mothers send the child to a daycare center from choice or necessity. When this happens the hormones continue uninterrupted. The Baby Daze abates not. Mothers at work sense when their babies are unhappy and their minds are halfway in the daycare center. No matter how young is the child, no matter how many hours are spent away from the parents, the child knows with whom he or she belongs. The children of kings and queens who see their parents for a precious hour a day have no difficulty in identification.
The Baby Daze is a thing designed by Nature and deserves much more respect than it gets. If you would like to see it in action stop the mother of a new baby in the market and tell her the baby is beautiful! Who in one’s right mind would croon over a baby day and night, a baby who cannot talk and cannot even turn over in bed? Yet this sort of thing is exactly what the baby needs desperately and what no daycare center can provide. The eyes crave something besides the ceiling to look at, preferably a human face. Ears crave sounds, particularly the sound of the human voice. Every inch of skin craves contact with something, preferably someone else’s skin. Hurrah for the Baby Daze!
The Baby Daze affects fathers also, and adoptive parents. The needs of the baby are demanding and transcend simple custodial care. Fathers take part in it, but they also privately wonder what happened to the delightful wife they used to have and wonder whether she will ever return. He is completely unprepared for this, so jealousy sometimes rears its ugly head. If someone had only told him he would understand, he would pay a lot of attention to the child, encourage the dazed mother. He would be richly rewarded, the bonds of love would weave ever more tightly. In any case he has lost all hope of a carefree life, if he ever had it.
For a few months everything is fine. The baby is shown off to everyone, doted upon by grandparents. The baby lifts its head, grasps the rattles, even sits up, but then it starts to move on its own. The experience is ecstatic for the small one who has been examining everything in sight in preparation for this day, but soon brings strange emotions to the young parents. Nothing is safe, not even the expensive things! Cupboards are raided, drawers are emptied, everything goes into the mouth. The conflict has begun.
No matter what you have been told it is unexpected and disconcerting.
When the children go to school society takes an interest. Before that the government insists only on custodial care. There are few requirements for these care-givers, and they are ordinarily poorly paid. Most schools are funded by the governments, so follow the purposes of governments which are to have a stable society with people who can earn a living and participate peacefully. To that end children are organized into age groups, taught the skills needed to fit in. Every attempt is made to treat them fairly which usually results in an attempt to regiment them, at least in their eyes. It is hoped that they will learn social skills in this way.
However, before any child goes to any school he or she has had a definite effect on our culture. Our child has learned the language of the family and the neighborhood so well that it is ingrained. If the babies did not learn a language the language would die. Efforts have been made to stamp out a despised language by isolating the children and forbidding them to speak it. This has worked, but not often. Latin is a dead language even though up until this century most educated people knew it and the Catholic church used it in services. It was learned in school – much too late to revive it. The only language to be truly revived is Hebrew because there was a concerted effort to teach it to the babies.
Love seems to be strongly connected to children. When a child smiles the most jaded adult will smile back and leave even the smallest encounter refreshed. Parents are no longer rational human beings when their children are under discussion. Their eyes shine with glory. Everyone wants to protect these beauties. During wartime it is considered far worse to kill a child than to kill an equally innocent man.
When children are born homes come into existence. The home is the capsule of any culture. When you visit a new country you need to see a home before you can know it truly. Children spend most of their lives at home taking it all in, ready to repeat every detail when they are grown up. They remember the smallest events, the exact way that Father held his knife when cutting the turkey. The traditions, the ceremonies of our culture are kept alive only when the children participate. Where would Christmas be without them?
Writing was invented by merchants, scholars refused to use it. They said that if men learned to read and write their memories would atrophy and they would have the appearance of knowledge without knowledge itself. It is indeed true that illiterates have better memories than the rest of us, they have retained their childhood abilities. We have not as much oral literature as illiterate countries, but we have some. Folk tales and fairy stories have come down to us intact from the Old Stone Age because they are told to the children. If we think about it, the story of Cinderella is probably more widely and more accurately known than even the story of Hamlet or Othello.
Jokes that are told to children are never lost. Jumping rope rhymes stay with us for generations.
Geographically speaking, children keep a society in place. They imbibe an eternal love for the place where they live in the first years. Even though they may have wanderlust later on there will always be a craving for home base. They will think glowingly of the wide open spaces of the prairie where you can see forever, of the majesty of the mountains reaching to the heavens, of the clear air of the desert, the call of the seacoast. It keeps most of us put, enough of us to keep our society pretty stable.
Traditions would not last so long if it were not for the children. They are especially persistent when accompanied by special foods, special music, ritual actions, and, of course, the smells. Christmas is for children, Hannukah is for children. Parents remember how it was for them and truly want to show the children how beautiful it was. Midsummer day is a pagan holiday which no new religion could squelch. Every culture has these days with special cakes, special dances, special times to remember. Many of these rituals go back for hundreds of years unchanged. Without child participation they would never last.
by Marietta Rawson