Just Love that Baby

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Since we still don’t have wifi, and I still have no friends here, I’ve had some time to have Grand Thoughts. Mostly, it turns out, on the subject of parenting, since that’s what I’ve been doing by myself for about 12 hours a day. Yes, life is exhilarating right now. Why do you ask?

I know it’s not the Done Thing for people who a) are under 30, b) have only one child who isn’t even two yet, and c) have no track record of reliability for their Grand Thoughts to hold forth on the subject of parenting, and yet, since I have a blog and am feeling the compunction to post since who else am I to talk to about anything serious in my 12-hours-a-day conversation of “Please don’t scream!” and “No! You can’t pull your dirty diapers out of the trashcan!” and “Would you like to play with your cars?”, I am writing about the subject of parenting anyway. Besides, Done Things are overrated.

Some days (ok, most days), I want nothing more than a set of prescriptions to follow which will make my kid behave perfectly and ensure that nothing I do will wreck him for life. At this moment, I think being the parent of a one-year-old is an exercise in futility, as it takes the millionth time of saying “no” for it to finally sink in—and for most things, we haven’t reached that millionth time! But while I may not have attained to much wisdom yet in the few years I’ve been on earth, I have learned this much—there are no set rules of how to deal with people. Ever.

In fact, there might be only one rule, and it’s one my parents repeated often: you can only change yourself. Your attitude, your behavior, your reactions.

But even though this lesson was drilled into me so often, I still assumed there was a right way to parent, a way that would at least almost ensure that a kid would turn out and have good behavior. Just do these things, show off your mad ninja skills when your lovey numbkins is having a tantrum at the supermarket, and everyone will be in awe of your wonderful parenting.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t having a kid that shifted my paradigm on parenting (I mean, I half raised 3 or 4 by the time I was 20, so of course I thought I had it all down), but simply growing up and reading different viewpoints in the process. If you’re strongly attached to an idea, the least you can do is read the other side’s arguments to see if you’re missing out on something crucial.

The first was an article somewhere or other (probably posted on Facebook) about how “parent-ing” is a new concept. We don’t talk about “wifeing” or “husbanding” or “daughtering” (which looks kinda like “slaughtering”) or “sonning”—it’s only this one relationship, between parent and child, which is talked of in this way, like something to do instead of a way to live. (We do have kidding, though, for what it’s worth.)

Thinking about the relationship between parent and child as any other job, like “housekeeping” or “dishwashing” not only begins to make children into things, but also puts more stress on parents to be the perfect parents. If it’s a job like any other, surely it can be done right, like any other job can. There must be a right way to soothe your child’s tantrums and definitely a way to prevent those embarrassing things from ever occurring, most especially in public where we need to exhibit the fact that we have it all together.

The second was an article published in The Atlantic, which, despite its rather misleading headline which seems to guarantee that with this new info from a child psychologist no child will ever again misbehave (sardonic laugh), still puts the focus where it ought to be—on parents’ behavior. It’s not a power struggle or a fight to the death for mastery, although some days it certainly feels like it. Instead, let’s treat this relationship the same way we treat all our other relationships: as a way for us to become better people, to be sanctified.

This is not the easy way out. Yelling comes to me much more easily than calming down and taking time to evaluate my own behavior. As parents, we have to die to ourselves nearly every minute. Babies are so needy, and they never. ever. shut. up, and they’re awfully fond of feeding me half-chewed oranges. My natural response is not one of warm fuzzies.

I can change my response to JQ, but I can’t change his response to me. I need to look at myself first and make sure my attitude is a good attitude, since what I’m modeling is even more important than what I say. (I’m still fairly certain, however, that he’s never had pulling diapers out of the trashcan modeled to him. That came out of his own little head.) I think we lose sight of this in the struggle to do everything right with our children and make their behavior what we want. Unfortunately, yelling at a kid for screaming is like eating a whole chocolate cake when you’ve just finished reading about the dangers of sugar. It feels so good, but you know it’s wrong—and won’t even get you the results you want!

These are things I want to remind myself of later, when JQ is more than a baby who toddles around drunkenly and giggles at being naughty, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want only to control behavior. Parenthood is a relationship, not a job: our children are more than objects whose behavior we can control. They’re people who we need to love and teach.

My goal for myself, in 2017 and beyond, is to treat JQ with the respect he deserves as a child of God, and to make sure my attitude and behavior are right instead of yelling at him.

So go ahead, eat that half-chewed orange, giggle at that ridiculous thing he’s doing, keep telling him “no” for the millionth time. These are relationships we’re building, with people who are growing up to be men and women. Soon he’ll be all grown up—and then, I’ll finally be an expert on parenting. Too bad you’re reading this now.

Gattaca, Sex, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warning: somewhat complicated and/or tedious post may follow. I’m no theologian or movie reviewer. Just a crazy blogger.

A few nights ago, since Jared was sick, we watched the movie Gattaca. Made in the 1990s, it’s a sci-fi thriller that starts with the premise that in a few years, DNA will be the promise of the future. Parents will be able to choose what they want their children to look like, whether they will have any heritable diseases, their IQ—pretty much everything about a person can be decided before they’ve even implanted in their mother’s womb (or perhaps they don’t even implant? The movie wasn’t clear).   These people, the ones who are “GMO” people, are “Valid.” Everyone else is “In-Valid.”

The stage is set for some pretty massive and unstoppable discrimination. Everyone has to undergo DNA testing practically every five minutes. People are identified by their DNA instead of their faces, so companies won’t hire you unless you’re a “valid” person. Dating (or courting, if you insist), is reduced to looking at people’s DNA to make sure they were who they said they were. Nothing about personality, character, or even looks—any of the things we value about ourselves and that make us human—is important anymore. Although these “valid” people had longer, healthier lives, they had become less human. They became valued for a collection of traits, not for who they were. Being a person was no longer enough.

Parents had children not because children were a natural outpouring of the union of marriage, a concrete physical expression of their love for each other, but because they wanted a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who would never get heart disease and would live the life they wished they could have had. People became commodities that you could choose to have, or not, as you wished. And if you chose to have your child the natural way, you could count on him or her being one of the lowest members of society.

What the movie really showed well, though, was the effect this had on the individuals who made up society. They felt undervalued and worthless—even when they were the most highly prized members. All anyone else cared about was what was in their blood. Their hearts and souls—even their intelligence—were suddenly second-rate.

Gattaca may be an extreme example of what happens when sex and children are no longer connected, but the devaluing of human life does happen, even today. We may not see it as that, argue that it isn’t, but it’s still possible to take something good—like marriage or children, and make it suit our own ends.

What happens when we make people into things? This haunting article makes the point clear: when we deny the humanity of others, whether newly-conceived child or fully-grown adult, we deny our own humanity. If they’re not created in the image of God, neither are we.  And suddenly, if a child who isn’t wanted can be killed, can’t we exercise that same right to “choose” the life of a grown person who annoys us or gets in the way of our life?

Just as we can’t choose to remove people when they stand in our way, we can’t add people when we want them there. Human life—all human life—is sacred.  People have dignity. And this sacredness, this dignity, invades all aspects of our lives, even the seemingly pointless ones. It makes sex not simply about pleasure. It makes marriage not simply about two people. It makes childbearing not simply about the mother, and child-rearing not simply about the child. We can’t deny it, and we can’t get rid of it (though some certainly have tried!).

We can’t reduce people to what they can do for us. It would be folly to choose a husband or wife based on the deliciousness of their chocolate chip cookies, and it’s still folly to choose on the basis of how you feel around them. It’s folly to stay away from marriage because you fear it, but it’s folly to get married because you fear being single. We shouldn’t have children because they can do what we failed to do, or because they can fill a hole in our aching hearts. Children—or any blessings, really—are not ours to command. Just as I don’t believe it’s a “woman’s right” to be able to kill a child whom she has conceived, I don’t believe it’s her right to demand a child when she wants one. Yahweh gives, and Yahweh takes away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.

Obviously I’m not qualified to tell you how to live your life and what specific things you should or shouldn’t do.  So I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from the immortal Shakespeare (did I tell you I’ve watched Much Ado About Nothing five times in the last week? I could practically quote it by heart now). Keep in mind that the middle bit is particularly important: “Serve God, love me, and mend [your ways].”

Have you watched the movie Gattaca? What are your thoughts on GMO people? Are humans inherently dignified, or is that merely a cultural construct that needs to go away?