I’m writing this a couple of days after Christmas. My parent’s living room is quiet without my nieces busily stomping and twirling about its surfaces. The toys are gone, though I’m sure one or two might appear under a chair or between some cushions. My parents might discover one, put it away, and then be overwhelmed by emotion. Fussing over their grandchildren tires them, but they only get to fuss over them a few times a year. Then, you know, their house is quiet like it is now, its arrangements clean and orderly. Life resumes a more peaceful pace. Mornings occur a bit later, coffee is more of a comfort than a necessity, fewer dirty dishes wait by the sink and all that. These small things aren’t taken for granted once they present themselves again, but my mom cried this afternoon when we had a moment alone, so neither were the constant chatter and tears of my nieces. One gets used to the warmth of their bodies on her lap, the intensity of their interests, and then she’s supposed to hug them goodbye, kiss their cheeks, and seconds later get used to the old way of things. So the quiet is welcome and unwelcome.
Mimi, the youngest of my clan, was up at one in the morning screaming for attention, and I could hear the murmur of Lindsay’s voice cooing her back to sleep. Meanwhile, I was shifting my position on the inflatable mattress in pursuit of a particular arrangement of limb and torso that sleep might find most attractive. I had no responsibility in the moment and I was grateful for that. But I guess I wasn’t thinking of how it might feel to look into Mimi’s eyes until they closed. To listen to her breath slow. Several times this past week I had the pleasure of seeing her toddle towards me with her arms outstretched and a desire to be held. So I held her, and whatever purpose the moment required was met. That’s not a scene I encounter often, if at all, with adults. Maybe we’re depriving ourselves of something in that regard. I digress. If Mimi were mine to feed, to teach, and to nurture, maybe touch might become mundane in its frequency, and maybe in its mundanity my responsibility for her might transcend the bounds of convenience. Stirring from my bed in the late hours of the night might be a small annoyance compared to the deeper pleasure of being her reliable comfort. This isn’t true for all parents; the toll paid in one’s health, privacy, personal interests, and so on have proven too much to bear for many people to sometimes devastating consequence: postpartum depression, abuse, neglect. Yet, it remains true that there is no comparable experience to a parent’s witness. Here from the womb, now in this present moment, the dawning of a human who will, we dearly hope, come to experience all the peculiarities of consciousness. Mimi. Of course, it must still help in her raising that she is dimpled, fat, and sweet.
Singleness has its benefits, but enough has been written on that account this decade. Sometimes I feel that my generation and I applied that messaging further than its due, especially regarding children. For instance, take this article in Psychology Today, which claims after laying out its “six great reasons” to not have children that there is only one valid reason to have one: if you think you could do it well and joyfully. Good grief, I can’t imagine anyone who is qualified to have kids by this standard. Supposedly there is no noble virtue worth a passing mention in attending to the continuation of our species. My position as an uncle in the lives of my five—soon to be six—nieces and nephews has allowed me to experience a powerful adoration almost alien to my senses. This, just from two or three visits a year with enough time to enjoy how they’ve changed before we part. We play and giggle. We snuggle and kiss. Their perceptions of the world are so immediate! Grudges of all shapes and sizes pass quickly, as do sadness, pain, and dismay. Well, my presence in their life is just as immediate and quick to pass. That statement may be a little exaggerated. I’m just trying to say that given what little is truly required of uncles, it follows that the bond between parent and child, when pursued in good faith, has no parallel. I have a feeling that something beyond the expression of words hides in that bond, not unlike how dark matter hides in space, though augmented as everything else is by our singular witness. Parental witness. Lindsay cooing in the dark.
Parental love, in its most idyllic form, is an admirable standard for all members of humanity to aspire to. Here, I’m only referring to a describable practice, not to parenthood itself. Childrearing is to be understood as but one of its appearances, though top of mind because the presence of my siblings and their children always captures me. It requires those ancient virtues that would be a balm to our culture’s present cynicism: faith, hope, and charity. It’s surprising how many discover these practices in the face of their children’s demands, which may never have received a passing glance prior. Children deserve faith in their inherent potential, hope that they will discover it, and charity in the hearts of those helping them along the way no matter the personal cost. Apply these virtues to our fellow humans in all walks of life and what would occur? More surprises, probably. After all, we were all children once, each of us growing up according to the nature and nurture granted to us by fate. I think of Mimi and all the unknowns of her future, the greatest of these being the person she becomes. Who knows? Say our value, so to speak, were to somehow diminish in our maturity once certain ideas and behaviors took hold that society at large found distasteful. Who is to say this value is absolute? Certainly not the parent, no matter how late the hour. Not even the uncle, I like to think.
Will Montei (’13) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in philosophy. He currently lives in Seattle, taking full advantage of the abundant local coffee and surrounding mountain hikes. He is an avid daydreamer, an old soul, and a creative potty mouth.