Tag Archives: Loss

Monuments Explained

In my previous post I put up a poem that I wrote when I was a younger punk than I am now. When I wrote the poem my intent was to point out that, generally, people have a tendency to avoid dealing with the larger problems of the world. Children have quite a few unique characteristics, two of which are a remarkable clarity of thought and the inability to edit their thoughts. While this sometimes leads to public declarations like “Papa has a penis” or “Papa toots” it can also lead to fairly profound observations about the world. The final line “Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist” was meant to point out how children often seem to be able to ask very penetrating questions which reveal our lack of understanding and resolve to address such problems.  Therefore, with the clarity of thought that their fresh perspective affords them, children are like pint sized monuments to our ignorance.

What Have I Done for the World Lately

In any fundamental way, am I any less ignorant than my parents, or theirs? Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’d like to say that I am, but the reality of the situation is that I’m not. On an individual level, I have done nothing substantial or significant to end poverty, war, pollution et cetera. My poem wasn’t really supposed to be an indictment of individuals for lacking the moral fortitude to “save the world”. It was really just an interesting observation that children can see through a lot of the crappy excuses that we use to ignore some major issues that exist in the world.

Since children do seem to have this ability to ask very revealing questions, my new role as a father leaves me wondering what approach I should take when these questions are asked of me. I have a plan for how I’d like to address the more often thought of “drugs” and “sex” related questions, but I’m realizing that I have no plan for how I’m going to respond when I am asked why person X from country Y has no food when we have plenty or why it’s okay for people from one country to kill people in another country when it is a “war”, but normally that is murder. I need a plan for this.

The Plan

vietnam-war
How would you explain this photo to your child?

What I would most like to avoid is becoming my own self-fulfilling prophecy by having my children become the monuments to my ignorance. The simple realization that there are no good answers to questions like those above is going to have to be my starting point. I think it is very important for me to not shy away from those questions, even when there are no good answers. Come to think of it, I think the way to go is to become a child again myself. Explore their enquiries with them and ask penetrating questions back. This way you wouldn’t be avoiding the issues, and you would avoid coming off as arrogant. Well, this is where my idea has taken me this time, what are your thoughts on the issue?

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On Death and Birth

VennThat’s right, I’m going there, in my blog which is about parenting and children, and by inference birth and life. On a few occasions, while watching my kids play around, it has occurred to me that they have absolutely no idea that, at some point, they are going to die. Of course I don’t think this really matters since they are only two years old, but it has made me think back to my introduction to the harsh reality that is death and how my understanding of death, and now birth, has grown and changed over the years.

Death

In my life, there have been a number times when I have had to say a final good-bye to a person very close to me, and every time it has been a deeply saddening experience. Just before the twins came along, there was quite a drama unfolding within our family, as two close and beloved family members passed away as a result of unrelated health problems. This certainly cast a pall over the lead up to our children’s birth, but my experience of these two deaths was significantly different to the death of anyone else who had ever been close to me, and it was, in part, because of the imminent birth of my children.

In every instance that I have had to deal with death in the past, there has always been this incredibly simple, yet baffling thought that has occurred to me. There is a person who exists one minute, and then a moment later, all that made that person what they are, is absolutely gone. Every part of their body still seems to exist in front of you, but they are no longer there. What a feeling of loss and emptiness this gives.

Birth

With the arrival of my children, there were a number of thoughts on my mind that seemed somehow familiar. They were familiar because they were similar in form to the thoughts that I’d had when someone close to me dies, but these thoughts were different in content because they gave me feelings exactly opposite to those that surround a person’s death. In this case, first there was no one, and moments later there were two new people that formerly didn’t exist. In the same way that I had always found it hard to comprehend that after someone dies, even though the body remains, they no longer exist, I found it equally perplexing that out of nothing, there was now something.

I have always found it difficult to get used to the reality that a person has died. Seeing something that makes you chuckle, for instance, might make you think “I should give X a call and tell them about this because they’d love it” and shortly after having this type of thought, you’d have to make the realization that there will be no more phone calls to share the details of your day with that person any more. It’s a sad and hard reality to come to grips with after the death of a loved one. With the birth of my twins, however, I was making the realization over and over again that now there were two new people with which I could share the details of my day (once they learned English, that is).

With the death of these two family members, there seemed to be a poetic balance about the situation. Two lives lost and two lives gained. Of course, in a literal sense, my children could not possibly replace the lives of the family that we lost, but they were a reminder that each death is the result of a birth, and we were witnessing the whole process of renewal within a very short time. I remember it being an emotion packed experience, and in this instance there was both intense sadness and joy all within a very short period of time, and a lot of reflection upon the whole event.

Who’s Really Pregnant, She or We?

She-or-We
Photo credit: Melissa Baker

Adjusting to life with a pregnant wife was a big change for me, and it really didn’t come easy. One of the most significant changes to my life was that when we were out socializing with friends, I found that I had to drink my beverages a lot quicker than the pre-pregnancy days because the designated driver got tired a lot earlier in the evening while pregnant. In a roundabout way, this brings me to the topic of this post. Of course being pregnant is going to impact the biological host’s life, but how does this impact the partner of said host? More specifically, when one person in a relationship is pregnant, are both of you pregnant?

At a certain point in the pregnancy I noticed that Jenn, perhaps inadvertently, started occasionally talking about our pregnancy instead of her pregnancy. I’m not a very good biologist, but I am quite a good literalist (at times) and I was dead sure that I wasn’t pregnant. I’m also no idiot, and I knew it was a way of including and sharing the experience of pregnancy with me and also a way for Jenn to feel part of a team. Even though I fully understood where Jenn was coming from with the new terminology, I have to admit that I was never really fully comfortable with the language, and these are my reasons three.

The Biological Component

Since (literally) I wasn’t pregnant, there were things that I just didn’t understand. The actual biological changes that were happening to my wife were noticeably lacking within my body, and because of this I think that, although intellectually I wanted to share the experience, I wasn’t faced with the reality of the situation to the same extent that Jenn was. My body was still my body, I didn’t have a rotation of novel cravings or aversions and my hormones weren’t on the same roller coaster ride that Jenn’s were on. There were a lot of physical and emotional realities that I did not and could not share and, therefore, only partially understood.

This lack of understanding left me in a situation where mentally I was not at the same level of preparedness for the impending parenthood as my wife was. Ironically the new terminology that Jenn was using was intended, at least in part, to help me get my head to that point, but I think it ended up making me a little defiant towards the situation rather than understanding of the situation. Essentially I think I was probably having some of the same feelings that Jenn was likely having about losing my “self” and my former life. The difference was that for Jenn, with all of the changes happening to her body, this realization was an ever increasing blatant reality, but without those physical changes happening to me, this was still more of an abstract concept for me. So, like a defiant child, I resisted the new terminology to try to retain my “self” and my former life.

“Self” and My Former Life

So what was so great about my “self” and my former life? Well, they both had no kids! I had a lot more freedom and much less responsibility. On the freedom front, I was able to pursue my personal and professional interests without having to consider the impact that it would have on my children. With respect to the responsibility side of the equation, being out until 3:00 am is never quite the same when you realize that your kids will give a wake-up call around 6:30 am and expect you to be “on” for the rest of the day no matter how you feel. Pregnancy is the nine month reminder that all of these things are around the corner for you and your partner.

Macho Macho Man: The Social Component

The macho macho man factor can be described in the following way. Your friends offer a sense of comfort and familiarity for a few reasons, but partly because they are a reminder of your “self” and your former life. When your pregnant partner mentions that “we” (you and her) are pregnant in front of your friends, then you are immediately thrust into that role that threatens your “self” and your former life. In an attempt to maintain the social status quo in front of your friends, you have the urge to resist the new terminology that is the symbol of your changing life.

So I’m an Idiot, Okay

Earlier in this very post I made a statement that I’m going to quote:

I’m also no idiot, and I knew it was a way of including and sharing the experience of pregnancy with me and also a way for Jenn to feel part of a team.

To be clear, throughout the entire pregnancy I was on board with being supportive and part of a parenting team. Even though intellectually I understood Jenn’s reasons for implementing the “team pregnancy” terminology, there were some parts of me that just were determined to go out of the pre-parenthood world fighting to prevent (or at least postpone) my loss of “self”. The dramatic conclusion to this post is that I understood the purpose behind the turn of phrase, and am no idiot in that way. In another way, however, by not being fully comfortable with the change of terminology I tested the team spirit of my relationship, and if not idiotic, that was at least a challenge. There were plenty of difficulties during our pregnancy, and the loss of “self” is a difficult thing for both parents to experience, but in hindsight, I think the change in terminology was good because it helped me to get my head in the parenthood game earlier than later.