If you are between the ages of 25 and 40, then you are either having a child or you know someone who is. Not wanting to fall out of step with current fashion, my wife and I decided to invite an infant to visit us for several decades. It is scheduled to arrive shortly.
It is sometimes said that every time a baby is born, the human race gets a new chance. It's as though the slate is wiped clean and we are presented with a human soul in its natural state, uncorrupted by society. A sort of "homme sauvage," in effect (and in reality). The past seems to evaporate; here, in the form of a newborn, history starts over.
Certainly this is how that wily race of babies seems to see the matter. The first words of a baby, which it utters in strange language unintelligible to anyone over the age of one, are always: "Here I am! Okay, world it's time to get going! For my sojourn on your planet, I'll require the following: at least three meals a day for 70 years or so, clothes, shelter and education. Moreover, I expect to initially consume eight meals a day until I become accustomed to your earthling diet. You have 10 seconds in which to start providing all this. Be a good parent and see to it immediately, won't you?"
To make sure you're paying attention to this pronouncement, most babies preface it with a good yell upon emerging from their long hibernation, though some secretly view yelling as an ignoble act. After all, if the world fails to take notice of your arrival, is the world worth getting attention from? But then, if the world is an unappreciative place, why did you bother visiting it? What is the meaning of my having been dropped into this world?
As is shown conclusively in a recent study by the Institute for the Advancement of Intellectuals (a subdivison of the Brookings-Hoover Policy Center for Kennedy's Ethics in Georgetown) babies who raise these questions about the Initial Yell inevitably become either philosophy professors or rabbis.
Junior will think he (or she) knows me, but in fact this won't be so--he'll know nothing for the first 32 years of my life. He won't realize that his mother is not just a mother; and that mom and dad have a love for each other that antedates by a long time their love for him; and that, in fact, being parents is new for us and doesn't fully define who we are.
He won't know (I hope) that we have no idea how to raise a child. Until he becomes a parent, he won't know what we're feeling about becoming parents. I guess this is the sort of thing adults are thinking of when they talk about a child's "innocence."
But then, though I understand my parents better as time goes by and grow to appreciate them even more as my experiences begin to match theirs, I'll never catch up. I've not yet raised children and launched them into the world, as they have. I've not yet come to close quarters with the struggles of "hard old age," with the prospect of losing my strength in the shrinking years of my life, or with the awesome event of my own death. My second childhood still awaits me. I'm still innocent of that. One is ready to understand life fully, it seems, only when it's over.
The thrill of hearing the heartbeat from inside that enormous round belly which now acompanies my wife everywhere she goes keeps my musings on the right track. By Aphrodite, I used to ask, why are we having this child?! How will I ever pay for it? Will I have enough time to do my work? Will my wife and I ever agree on a name? Should I teach it ancient Greek right away so it becomes a "super-baby"? Will it be irresponsible of me to continue to ride my moped to work? To send it to day care or not to sent it to day care?
My child's heartbeat has an answer: listen to me, it says, and not to questions about hows and wherefores; I am the rhythm of life itself, I am the most wondrous of all things.
I know that when my kid is born, it's yell will be one of joy (you see, I believe in "Primal Chuckle," not "Primal Scream," psychology). I think I'll just yell back.