Susie and I had our first Tilly-free night last weekend. We left Tilly with Susie’s parents for twenty-four hours (count’em!). The intoxicating sense of freedom was incredible! I really couldn’t believe how good it was to spend just one day living essentially exactly the same way that I had been living for the forty years before I had a child.
George Bernard Shaw said that youth is wasted on the young, but on Saturday it occurred to me that the Joni Mitchell ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’ principle equally applies to adulthood without children. As I said to my friend G, as we sheltered under a tarpaulin-covered Hill’s Hoist at Pinky’s (not his real name) birthday bash on Sunday arvo, ‘Child-free-hood is wasted on the child-free.’
Now, I know all the child-free logicians out there are just gagging to accuse me of being the proverbial parental pot to the childless kettle here, and point out the obvious flipside of my argument: namely, that parenthood is clearly wasted on whiny, resentful parents like myself, and that before I remove the speck of taking-for-grantedness from my brother’s eye, I need to remove the child from my own (apologies to Jesus and Kate Bush). But you needn’t bother, my unencumbered friends, because Woody Allen got there first.
You see, part of our twenty four hours of R & R was spent watching Woody Allen’s latest, ‘Midnight in Paris’. Now if you haven’t seen ‘Midnight in Paris’, I don’t think it will spoil it if I say that the moral of this tale (a timely one for me) was: Don’t glorify the past. Allen’s protagonist, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), is magically transported at midnight back to the Paris of the 1920s; the Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali; and a time and place that he has always idealised. But as he returns night after night, this age starts to seem less and less ‘Golden’. Eventually he has the insight that (I’m paraphrasing here) if we are tempted to compare our own age unfavourably to some supposedly ‘Golden’ Age in the past, we need to remind ourselves that they didn’t have Penicillin and we do. Which is an excellent point – though a quick glance at a global population chart for the last ten thousand years would suggest that penicillin (without contraception) may be responsible for a brief Golden Age followed by a lengthy return to a very Dark one. I digress…
But before I get on with the process of reconciling myself to my life stage – making the best of it, looking on the bright side, and counting my blessings – let me have just one more little whine. You see, the thing that frustrates me is the enormous chasm that has formed in our culture between the life you live before children and the life you live after. It seems excessively wide, to be honest; and thus to lead almost inevitably to the kind of life stage envy that I am wrestling with.
I don’t want to idealise the greater level of integration that you see in village life or the multi-generational household. Integration like this can be hard – just look at how shortlived most experiments in communal living are in the West. It just seems that there must be a middle ground between extreme integration and the kind of extreme segregation that characterises the relationship between life stages in our culture. I know so many people who would love to have children, but are not in a position to, and grieve this deeply. I also know a lot of people who would enjoy their children so much more if they could only see them just that little bit less. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Here we have all these people with complementary needs staring at each other across a life stage chasm. Surely there is something we can do about it?
Perhaps there is a place here for reviving a revised version of Godparents (I’m not sure what the best term for a secular version of this would be – Sparents? iParents?). Parents could establish formal contracts/covenants with one or two of their friends who have no children of their own, and who would like to have a significant, long term relationship with a close friend’s child/children; a contract which formally invites friends to be a significant relationship in their child’s life. I know it might sound a bit naff, and I know that this already happens for many people in an informal, organic way, but I think the certainty created by formal covenants has the capacity to generate incredible energy and connection in relationship. That’s why I said yes, when Susie asked me to marry her (What can I say? I’m an old-fashioned kinda girl).
I have friends in Sydney who waited until their kids were older and then involved them in the process of deciding who their Godparents were. This is the best of the organic and inorganic really. You watch who your children connect with organically over the years, and then formalise this by inviting those adults to be iParents.
Eventually, global population growth, our depletion of the Earth’s resources, and Climate change will almost inevitably lead (either through adaption or decimation) to a return to a simpler, more integrated form of life, and I can stop my whinging (if I’m still alive), but until then let’s think positive, and get this iParenting thing happening. As yet, Tilly is iParent-free, but I can tell she’s feeling the pain of being an iOrphan, so if anyone is up for the ‘job’, make sure you let her know.