My Knowing Child

“P___ says that frogs don’t eat flies. But they do eat flies,” Owen declares on the way home.

“Oh. Well, maybe P___ has some experience with frogs. Maybe not all frogs eat flies. Maybe some eat – I don’t know – mosquitoes.”

“No, they eat flies. If you went and looked at some frogs, you would see that they eat flies.”

“Oh, really?”

“I know,” my child proclaims.

“OK, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some frogs ate other things. I’m just saying – I don’t know that much about frogs… Did you know that there’s more that I don’t know than that I do know?”

He howls with laughter at my ignorance. “But I know everything.”

“OK, what’s 50 + 50?”

“I don’t know.”

“See? You don’t know everything.”

“I know everything except one thing!”

Try as I might, I could not convince him in the abstract that there were things he didn’t understand. In the end, he admitted that there were five things he didn’t know… but he knew everything else.

On Youthful Enthusiasm, and How I’ve Lost It

Ah, young love. Ah, young bodies. Ah, raging hormones, defying authority, boundless dreams. I taught Romeo and Juliet this week and something I said may have sounded inappropriate to my students (most are 18-20 years old). I said something about how beautiful and awkward teenagers are. I really meant it, too. I was discussing Romeo and Juliet as adolescents, hopeful and beautiful and brimming with faith that love will carry them through. Of course, the play has many moments of doubt, and Juliet especially worries that they are moving too lighting-quick. The play, while it glorifies the lovers, also kills them and their youthful enthusiasm. Still, I said it. I think it was inappropriate to say because, while these students are technically adults, many are adults who are still in their “teens,” and many of them are beautiful and awkward in this very way. Of course, the comment was too personal. What I meant was that, at their best, young people have beautiful skin, lovely hair, clear eyes, and a refreshing amount of optimism about their lives and their futures. They really believe that everything will find a way to work itself out. They have dreams and ambitions that they are just starting to launch into the world. And their tentativeness, their awkwardness, is so endearing. But sometimes I feel like I am looking at them through a long tunnel.

I’ve also been teaching Brave New World this week. Everyone in the World State looks young, and they all behave like the worst stereotype of adolescence. Youth serums and sex-hormone chewing gum make 30 look the same as 60 (and then, “crack, the end”). While my students have latched onto the soma/prozac/ritalin similarities and can see parallels in consumer habits (a motto of the World State is “ending is better than mending” – in other words – don’t fix it, throw it out), they see their lives as infinitely more free than the lives of the World State citizens. They are having trouble with the idea that their own lives are in any way circumscribed. We’ve talked about how similar they are to one another (same graduating class, same age, same educational level, similar socio-economic class), but the idea that they might be guided toward similar goals (partner, house, car, money, child) takes them longer to grasp. And I know they’re not all going exactly the same way, and I don’t want to be the one who crushes their dreams, but part of me wants them to move forward with their eyes open. If you’re going for it, own your desires. Strive because you want something, not because it’s expected of you.

Of course, the reason I keep coming back to this idea is that I have myself felt like a cliché so many times in the past few years. And this is not to say that I regret any aspect of my life, but sometimes I wish it didn’t seem so inevitable. I really wanted to get married and have children and buy a house. Now I have so much of what I want that I feel stuck.  House ownership, while I love the house, is still a bit terrifying. And somehow, the desire for a second child (my last “goal”?) has sucked all the other ambitions out of me. I have said no to possibilities that interest me at work, for example, because I keep expecting to get pregnant.  This seemed sensible for a while, but now I feel ridiculous: waiting for something that is never going to happen. Hope, though, keeps springing eternal, and frustrating me with my own (dashed) optimism.

I love being a mother. I revel in the hugs and kisses, the responsibility, the laughter. I don’t get too wrapped up in the annoyances. But I have definitely lost a part of myself somewhere along this journey, and I am not sure how to get it back. I feel like I need to take some time to do something that I like. The problem is that I don’t quite remember what I like to do. I know what other people like to do, but me? not sure. Is the desire for another child just a way for me to delay these questions about myself? On the other hand, how have I allowed myself to get so bored/self-involved that I can even ask these questions?

I have to do some work now… back to the embryo store and artificial youth in Brave New World.