Monday, August 30, 2010

Why have children?

Before Chloe was born (and, I admit, when she had colic) I often asked myself this question. Was I choosing to have children simply because it was the next stage in life, or looking for some sort of greater meaning to life, so far elusive? I certainly didn't think that there was any ethical need to continue to populate the planet. In fact, I was convinced, and still am, that having children or not having children is a question of purely personal preference, with no particular relevance to the advancement of the human race. No matter what I were to have decided, for example, there would have been lots of people quite willing to continue populating the world for all sorts of reasons, including out of some crazy sense of divine duty.

Now that I have children, I'm startled, exhilarated, and frightened by how the experience has changed me already. Having children has brought me in touch with some of my core human emotions. When I look at Chloe and her innocent curiosity, her endless love of discovery, and her incredible sensitivity and empathy - "ca va Maman?" - I want to share in it, feel young again myself. I want to do well by her, raise her to be a good citizen, a contributor to the advancement of all that is worth advancing. But more than anything, I want her to be happy and whole. And I would protect this potential at all cost.

I have become acutely aware of just how fragile our social fabric really is and how important it is to the success of my girls as they grow and reach for their dreams. I've come to realize that we have been living in a special time and place, where girls and women can become whoever they wish to be, where tolerance, rights, and acceptance have been core beliefs of our society.

We have come a long way, and of course we have much further to go, but we could also slide back. There have always been people and movements with authoritarian and totalitarian impulses who would like to turn back the clock on all that we have achieved. And there are many others who, out of blindness and ignorance, would willingly follow. Do I sound a touch paranoid? I recognize that, but if you look at the history of our species, we are very much in a unique age, when reason, individual freedom and human rights are held up as ideals. It's been a short window so far (to think, Status Indians in Canada were given the right to vote only in 1960, and married women have been tolerated in the workplace for less than 50 years).

We are now seeing a resurgence in religious muscle, both here and abroad, and for the most part religion spells danger, especially for girls and for women. Where reason has slowly broken down all arguments for the natural dominance of the few over the many, for men over women, the monotheisms provide doctrine to justify inequality and suppression. I hope the time never comes when I have to fight for what we now take for granted, but if that time comes, I'll be there, for my children and their children.

When I look at my girls, I see what matters - a quiet tentativeness, an energetic curiosity, a sensitivity to others. Children don't come with ideologies and revelations. The don't come confident in their own certainties. They come with a natural faith in their own parents, and a natural desire to interact with each other - completely oblivious to artificially imposed differences. Why have children? Because they humble you. They fill you with awe and wonder. You realize that you don't know everything, and in fact don't know much at all. Neither do they, so you learn together - what an antidote to the certainty with which most people speak everyday. Socrates was supposed to have said, during his trial for heresy, something to the effect that a man is educated once he understands how truly little he actually knows. My daughters have helped me already in my education.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the park

The picture I've just added (top right, in case you missed it) was taken this afternoon at a little park in Aylmer.  Chloe was thrilled to be able to play in the splash pad. She was afraid to go in at first, but when Daddy finally relented and went in fully clothed, she was all for it! My wallet is drying out surprisingly well.

So... the other story to which I alluded yesterday. Well, I should preface it by explaining just what a dire situation two first-time parents were in at the time. Chloe was about 2 months old and in the height of terrible colic. She was sleeping for no more that 20-40 minutes at one time, all day and all night. So, to put some perspective on this, if Julie and I got her to bed at 7:00 pm, she would normally be awake by 7:30. It would then take nearly an hour to get her back to sleep. I think you can put the rest of the night together. Oh, and I should add, when she was awake, she screamed non-stop the whole time, like something out of a Hitchcock movie. To calm the screaming, all we could do was stand, rock her back and forth, while jiggling her the whole time. We had tried everything, every book, every piece of advise. This is the best we had.

To get any sleep at all, we had to work in shifts, with one of us often sleeping in the basement for half of the night so the screaming wasn't too loud. In the morning, I had to go to work, and Julie kept on having to deal with the screaming. I truly believe that as exhausted and demoralized as I was, Julie had it worse. At least I could get away from the screaming.

So here I was on a Saturday afternoon standing in the park rocking a screaming baby back and forth to try to settle her, when along came this woman with a look of incredible pity on her face - as though she had stumbled upon a lost puppy dog. At this point I'll have to translate approximately, because she was speaking French. She reached over to us, holding her hands out above us in a Mother Teresa style prayer/embrace, and said, "Oh, rub her tummy. That will make her feel better." I didn't answer. I have to admit that at that point I was afraid I would say something uncharitable, so I turned away from her and hoped she'd go away. But anyone rude enough to approach us in the first place wouldn't, would she? Nope, of course not. She actually reached over to Chloe, inside the carrier I had her in, and started rubbing her tummy! Again, I said nothing, but simply stepped aside and glared at her. But she still didn't stop. She actually asked me to hand her my child so that she could rub her tummy and stop the crying - a complete stranger!  The arrogance and presumption was beyond comprehension - beyond anything I could have imagined, and I realized right there just what Julie had been dealing with in terms of other mothers and their advice. It seems that when it comes to parenting, there are no boundaries, no rules. Decorum that applies in any other situation just doesn't here. I breathed deeply, realizing that if I didn't get out of the situation, things might get pretty ugly.  A word to the wise: You never know just who you're approaching in the middle of the park - even if he is holding a sweet child - and if the baby's screaming but isn't being tortured, I would advise staying far away.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Be wary of mothers who travel in groups

Well, Uncle Kevin came to visit last night and left again later this morning. He was travelling through the area and wanted to stop in briefly to meet Emily.

We decided we would take Chloe to the park in order to give Julie some time to nap. When we got to the swings (Chloe's favourite), there was a mother pushing her daughter, and several other mothers with children of their own sitting in the grass nearby. Now, I find that there are a couple of reactions I sometimes get from mothers and mothers groups when I'm out doing activities with Chloe. Either they're overly sweet and empathetic because they think I'm the equivalent of a latte-sipping metrosexual on a backwoods camping trip, or they're downright hostile because somehow I'm trampling on their sacred territory. 

Well, this time it felt like the latter. Kevin and I were having fun pushing Chloe back and forth on the swing, him at the front and me at the back. Chloe was having a blast laughing and going nice and high, and I could tell that this was somewhat disconcerting for at least some of the mothers (boy would you look at that father, not taking his job seriously enough). At any rate, Kevin went to get some change for the bus, and I was happily pushing Chloe when out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the children heading right for the swing. I didn't know whether to try to stop her or the swing and before I could do either, she'd been clocked right in the forehead with the full force of Chloe and the swing. It turns out that she was alright, but pretty upset. Mom came right away then and took her daughter with quite a scowl on her face (the mother, I mean). I felt absolutely awful and apologized for not being able to stop the swing in time (I said, "I'm so sorry, I didn't see her in time"). She mumbled something to the effect that "it's o.k.," but it wasn't very sincere, and she certainly didn't apologize for not keeping track of her kid (who appeared to be about three years old).

Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't help but think that had I been another mother,we both would have been apologizing profusely.  But in this case, it was just me apologizing, while she and the other mothers were quiet and noticeably annoyed. The mother of that child should have apologized, because Chloe sure felt awful, and I had to spend several minute assuring her that it wasn't her fault that the other little girl had been hurt. Maybe a mother would have seen the girl sooner, I don't know. But I can say one thing - if I had let my little girl run right in front of a swing and she'd gotten hit - I would have been blaming myself, and apologizing for the upset I'd caused everyone. Tomorrow I'll provide an example of the sweet and presumptuous.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For my daughters

I need to write more often. This blog is meant to serve both as a record of my daughters' experiences (or at least a record of what and how I saw) - a year in the life, so to speak, and as a space to explore my own thoughts on parenting, parental leave, and what it means to be a father. Therefore, I apologize in advance to anyone who finds that it seems more than a little self-absorbed. But I do hope that as this page evolves, parts of it will be of interest not only to family and friends, who take a natural interest in our family, but for other parents... especially men, who are suddenly thrown into the exciting but frightening role of caregiver, role model, husband (all over again), and superhero.

Chloe is loving having a little sister. It's an adjusment, but she's adjusting so well.  It helps that she's been excited about meeting her little sister now for months. Every morning, the first thing she says when i get her out of bed is, "Where's Emily?" or, "Emily Sleeping?" She gives her gentle and not so gentle kisses, and often tries to hug her in the same manner as she hugs Oliver (our Portuguese Water Dog) - which is to say, far to hard. But she is also aware and wary of Emily's new role in the family. Julie has missed having her around, and Chloe has become my biggest fan. I am flattered despite my knowledge that the source of this new interest is her insecurity in Mommy's more restricted availability. Yesterday, Chloe said to me, "You're my daddy." I said, "of course I am sweetheard, but I'm Emily's daddy too." "No," she said, "you're my daddy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcoming Emily Frances Marion Sutton

Emily arrived at 12:02 this afternoon after less than 6 hours of labour. She weighs 6 lbs 9 oz, and is about 20 inches in length. A very healthy, very pink girl. Everyone, including Mom, is doing fine. Chloe is very excited. So am I. Can't wait to share more tomorrow.