One day, hopefully my children will have children.
The ozone layer will have closed up, the oil and gas establishment shut down, careers transitioned into sustainable resources, plastic will be phased out nearly everywhere, rooftop permaculture gardens will abound and the mobs will have come for the billionaires.
Women will have as many children as they care to have, able to enjoy simpler lives if they please because we’ll live communally, helping each other and taking joy in sharing, rather than competing with each other. Women won’t be forced to reduce their children to a socially and financially acceptable number, to limit their time away from the workforce. Love will decide these things. Men will take time out of their careers too and child care will be subsidized by a government in recognition that quality child care, balanced partnerships, and skilled women kept in the loop benefits everyone.
Life will lap calmly at the shores of time, lovely, sustainable, stable, and so undeniably preferable to generations past, that older conservative folks will apologize for how truly punchable they were at times—
“We were just afraid, you know? Afraid of the devil we didn’t know,” they’ll say.
Progressives will smile, roll their eyes up, eyebrows raised, and will sigh a sigh that means, Yes, you always are, and will apologize in turn for being the smuggest of fuckers.
Their mutual sins will almost cancel each other out because we made it after all, didn’t we? Let’s keep looking forward, we’ll decide.
Into this utopia my grandchildren will be born.
My son and his husband will adopt or he will have a baby with a lesbian couple and they will be a foursome raising a very lucky child or three, surrounded by a privileged bouquet of love, attention, protection, wooden toys, and Netflix-worthy food made creatively by my son because four unsuspecting ingredients happened to be at arm’s reach. Parenting won’t be much of a revelation for him, because he can practically remember being a baby himself, remembering the songs I played the month he learned to say “Ba” for ball. I hope he will have at least one prodigy himself so he can know the joy of seventeen hundred conversations about a certain variety of beetle, or a brand of fountain pen that was popular in the 1880s.
My third daughter, in linen dresses and sun-bleached wheat curls, will have numerous babies. Numerous fathers? I don’t know. Numerous love ‘ers, certainly, because everyone will love her. Women will question their sexuality around her, old men will dote upon her with homegrown vegetables and repairs on her appliances, and, at worst, older women will follow her with their eyes, sad for the lives they never lived without the currency they needed that my daughter doesn’t need in this Land of Plenty but has in heaving bundles anyway— her long, strong, elegant body bearing children as easily as a seedy dandelion causes the wind to show itself.
My second daughter might be so many people by the time the ozone layer stitches itself up. She will either be the most doting aunt and free spirit or she will step into parenthood trepidatiously, for the love of her partner— male, female or neither. She will have a baby, then feel almost trapped by the fierce love filling her, bursting at the boundaries between her skin and the world. She will careen between bliss and fear, though outsiders won’t always be able to tell, as she sits at the beach, reading a book or listening to music. She will recall moments when I seemed checked out and she’ll know— this is the only refuge for those of us who love too piercingly and who decide not to numb ourselves through artificial means. Too much hangs in the balance when one loves this much.
My first daughter. She will be most surprised. Years after her first child, she will birth herself into a painful knowing of how much she was loved. Her own tiny daughter will be born wearing a wig of dark hair. She will be able to scoop her doll-daughter up with nearly a pinky finger, easily with the crook of an arm, until she is four. This granddaughter will be so easy to protect then. My doctor-daughter will learn that no heaven assuages the fear of loss of one’s child. In mourning with those who mourn, and comforting those who stand in need of comfort, she will hold her own more closely. She will wonder how a mother can even survive years without talking to her child, without hearing about first kisses, first boyfriends, first periods, and she’ll wonder if she could survive an unspoken separation. No, she could not. Only severe abuse, neglect, and trauma prepares and barely inures a person to withstand such a thing, and she was too loved, too soft—tucked into bed with a belly full of salad and risotto, into home-sewn designer bedding with storybook readings every night. Her heart will break, understanding that those who can most withstand heartbreak are the same folks who least deserve it, pasts storied already.
Perhaps the trauma we wreak upon each other all stems eventually from some primal need to both show love (and protection) for our children and to be loved by our children. We yearn to leave legacies of might and power so our children, grandchildren, and great-grand children, will lend us sentiment we confuse for love. And when some people don’t either have or invest in children, perhaps some of them try to flood the world with reasons to admire them; they require millions of admirers to equal the devotion, love, and gratitude of one child.
All I know is that morality is straight-forward until one has a child. Place between me and my child the bodies and lives of a hundred people lined up plaintive-faced and worthy as anyone of breath; give me substances to muffle the wiser, Trolly Problem-solver part of me; and the animal heart of me would slay one hundred people to reach my child. I don’t believe one truly knows what it is to love until one is prepared to kill. Only sobriety, laws, philosophy, higher reasoning, daylight and mercy protect us from clearing the path to our children at all costs.
I forgive every parent. Every parent who bribed a college, every parent who berated a teacher, every parent who did every morally evil thing to protect their child, and even every broken parent who neglected their children to parent themselves. We are programmed by nature to love our children more than we love the earth or sky or heavens—no matter what our gods command. Sometimes those children are ourselves, the children of ourselves who did not get our needs met.
I don’t know much of anything anymore. I might pipe up about an idea with my voice a little louder and sturdier than usual, but it doesn’t mean I’m not up to hear your views and willing to change my own. I used to believe that one should never-ever-no-matter-what lie, that I would always be vegan, that abortion was a tragedy, and that sacrificing cookies to be a size four was always worth it. I changed my mind.
But one thing I know for sure, my one last-page-of-O-magazine sure thing I know is this:
Every parent who raises a child loves that child more than the parent can withstand to feel.
People who thought they would love each other as friends forever, if nothing else, will smother that caring in order to fight for what they think is best for their children. Parents who didn’t get their needs met as children will continue to try to meet their own needs, so they can catch up on development and be enough for their children. Parents rambling incessant narcissistic drivel want to be seen and admired by their children. Parents who drown their children in a bathtub, even— most are likely trying to protect their precious, perfect, innocent children from the world or from themselves. In countless broken, fucked up ways, so many stories can be traced back to love, even if just a sliver of it, the only sliver that parent ever received.
Not every child gets their needs met. But every child who was birthed, every child who was held even a moment by a passing stranger, is loved somewhere in the body of someone, forever, protectively, until… who knows… a black hole swallows all of our consciousnesses in a moment of unfathomable chaos? I studied humanities, not physics; I don’t know these things.
We are animals who bear a long history—of flinging ourselves out of the ocean, crawling for air, craving fire, inventing agriculture, bestowing wealth, inventing governments, building fences, reading Dr. Spock, breastfeeding our kids until age two—in our genes. Maybe that animal just wants to survive itself, make an imprint on the world, spurt its guts out in a chain that never ends. Maybe embedded deep within us is merely existential panic. But I don’t think so.
Because I remember the smell of my babies. I remember how they clung to me, crying, their bodies sore and confused and so sick at 3am. How they ran to me at preschool pickup and I excitedly absorbed them back into my body, my breath on their necks and kisses on their faces. The children of them still live in them now, but they’re bigger than me and I can’t tuck them in between my chin and my legs anymore, in bed, against my belly. I do it in my dreams.
Every 40-year-old, every 76-year-old, is a baby in someone else’s memory, in someone else’s body, in their heart, in the memory of the universe, in something, held there precious and loved, imperfectly but so deep down into a history of trees, bones, oceans, and stars.
And every parent longs for grandchildren in part so that their children will just know how much they were loved: into pain, numbness, distraction for a breather, and oblivion. Forever and ever. More than everything.