I’ve always wanted kids and for the first time, I finally think I’m ready to have them (I’m in a stable relationship and I’m financially secure). Only now I find myself watching the news a lot and thinking: Can I really bring kids into this mess?
The nightclub shooting in Orlando sort of feels like the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back. I keep thinking: What if my kid is gay? How would I explain something like this to them?
I guess my question is just how can anyone bring kids into this world when it’s filled with so much violence and hate?
Dear Too Scared,
Before I had kids, I had hamsters. In the early 2000s I had a particularly adorable hamster named Puppy that I litter box trained so he could nap in my bed with me. When the towers came down on 9/11, I remember holding him in my hands, feeling the softness of his fur, his tiny beating heart. You know what the best thing is about hamsters? You don’t have to explain things like 9/11 to them.
From a purely moral perspective, I go back and forth a lot about whether or not it was such a spectacular idea to have children. For starters, life itself is hard work. There’s all this breathing and blinking, heartbeats, digestion. There’s blood to produce, neural pathways to wire, fingernails to grow, wounds to heal. All these cells to divide and divide and divide again. Plus there’s illness and heartbreak and that icky feeling you get in your gut when you lie to your mother. Sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to find my car keys. The human heart is a tender thing and people can be unspeakably cruel.
On a more personal level, I’ve got a couple of blips in my DNA (my father has MS, I have Graves’ disease, plus there’s the usual extended family mix of cancers and mood disorders, etc., etc.). Who knows what wrinkles I’ve carbon-copied into their tiny little bodies. And they’re also inheriting a planet in a state of rapid change. My news feed is filled with articles assuring me that the globe is on the brink of total climatological, sociological, and agricultural collapse.
As if all that accidental damage isn’t bad enough, there are these terrible things we do to each other on purpose. The hate-fueled massacre in Orlando is only the most recent example; there are too depressingly many to list here. You know what I’m talking about.
When I tuck my children into their beds at night, I know about all these things and my kids do not. I knew about these things when I chose, along with my husband, to reach into the ether and yank them into existence, without them having any say in it at all. This is my terrible secret: that the world isn’t all libraries and science museums and superhero coloring books. That there are hurts out there worse than split lips and shin bruises and time-outs.
This is my secret and I can see it hanging over their heads like a weighted guillotine blade that someday I will have to release. They have their own secrets, too, ones they aren’t even aware of yet. Who knows what little hiccups are hiding in their genes? Which rogue clusters of cells are waiting to wreak havoc in which defenseless organs?
And who among us doesn’t harbor in ourselves spaces for bullies to breed their hatred? There are so many flavors of hate in the world. As you suggest, my kids could be gay or trans or, god help them, LARPers. When I was young we used to sing a song on the playground, a kind of anti-bullying magic spell: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” It doesn’t quite have the same poetic ring to it when you replace “sticks and stones” with “semi-automatic gunfire from an AR-15.”
You are not wrong in thinking that these are especially troubling times. I took my older son to the movies over the weekend and before we sat down I made of note of where all the exits were and thought about whether I could fit underneath the row of seats in the event that some maniac decided to open fire on the crowd of excited 3-year-olds settling in for Finding Dory.
Even worse than that fear is the knowledge that someday my kid will have that fear, too. He won’t be able to walk into a tall building or a classroom or a movie theater or a nightclub without some small part of him wondering if he will come back out.
But the fear isn’t the only thing he’ll have. He’ll get all the rest, too, all the good stuff: love, joy, peace, laughter, gratitude. All these rich emotions that are the reason I wanted to graduate from hamsters to kids in the first place. I want to raise people, not pets. And perhaps the most powerful emotion we have in our arsenal, the one most capable of affecting change in our world is one of the simplest and most automatic: hope.
Choosing to have kids is always a gesture of blind optimism in ways both big and small. You, Too Scared, are betting on the fact that your stable relationship won’t crumble apart under the weight of the new responsibilities. You’re betting that your job will keep existing, remain fulfilling, go on sending you those paychecks second Friday after after second Friday.
It’s our hopeful spirit that caused our species to do amazing things in the first place: Get out of the water, cover the globe, make a farm, make a wheel, make a car. We wiped out polio. We figured out how to replace dying organs with living ones. We reached the clouds. We reached the moon.
Sometimes I think about situations even bleaker than ours and I meditate on the amazing hope those young couples must have felt when they reached for each other in the dark. Hope that by the time they had to tell their children their terrible secrets, the secrets themselves wouldn’t be quite so terrible.
They were right, I think, to have that hope. You are, too, if you can shore it up. We’ve gotten ourselves out of worse messes than this one. And what better motivation could we possibly have to make our world a better, healthier, more peaceful and loving place than our children, calmly sleeping in the room next door, to hold us accountable for all they inherit?
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch