There are lots of reasons to have kids. For most, these reasons have something to do with getting older. I used to work with someone who had a pretty grim outlook on having kids, of which he had two. He said that you have them when you know your time has run out, when for instance, you know you’re not going to be a famous musician or run your own company or be a tenured professor at a Division I school. For some, he said, this realization comes at sixteen and for others, at forty-one. But, I don’t think the biological clock is saying time is up; I think it is saying that if you do what it says, you’ll discover there is no clock. I’ve found that having Clara didn’t complete me; even better, she started me over.
Like so many things, having a child is best explained in geometric terms. There’s nothing scarier than linearity—the notion that life is a flat, straight vector with nothing to offer but length, or the weighty distance we feel as we get further from our point of origin. Having a child is like discovering that life is round, robust, and circular. And not totally unlike a set of Apollonian circles that share a radical axis:
Before Clara, there were five-year and ten-year and thirty-five year plans. There were college reunions that measured the distance between points OA and OB on the life vector, assuming, of course, that OA = 23 yrs old and OB = 29 yrs old and the magnitude between each point = a graduate degree, a house with a deck, a taste for imported beer, a mastered fear of social networking, and a renewed zest for classical literature.
With Clara, it is impossible to think one is marching forward if one is impersonating Elmo and stacking blocks on one’s head. This may certainly be what the average adult 31-year-old with toddler is doing after dinner around 7:00 p.m., but it feels neither average nor adult. It feels wonderful, like I’m floating in a soft bubble of imagination with my baby somewhere on an axis but far enough away to forget at what point.
Clara’s new favorite place is in her imagination. She likes to pull me around by my index finger into different rooms and park me like a car. I’ll stay put until she reignites the engine with a yank on my finger and we move to the next room.
She also likes to spin herself in circles until she collapses into a fit of dizzy giggles. She climbs into the rocking chair now, sometimes with frogs, baby dolls, and books and rocks them and herself to sleep.
She enjoys feeling cozy in a space just her size.
The primary difference between children and adults is that children believe in magic, and believing in magic is believing in possibility. My coming of age came in the personage of a boy named Steve. I wrote love letters to Steve in my diary starting in first grade and loved him all the way until fourth grade. There’s a blackboard in my parent’s garage somewhere that says, “I love Steve!!!” because when you’re a kid, you write exclamations of love on everything. He never liked me back, never even said my name out loud, and eventually, he became the boyfriend of a girl named Tara who wore lipstick in elementary school. I knew there was nothing I could do to make him like me—absolutely nothing—and the impossibility of love will grow anyone up.
But being a parent is better than being an adult. Being a parent is like being the magician. You don’t necessarily believe that everything is possible, but you believe everything is possible for your child. You do everything you can to give them possibility, give them magic. In return, they believe in that magic and give you the sweet forgetfulness of play—of sliding into a puddle or building a rock fortress or crawling around the house in an involved game of peek-a-boo where everyone is at once the peeker and the booer.
I realized the vector we were on had taken a turn up and back and back again to make a playful, bouncy circle when Aaron and I confided a mutual fantasy. We both agreed it would give us rapturous delight to share a bottle of wine one night after Clara was asleep and build massive 3000 square foot Lincoln log cabins. The set we inherited from Aaron’s school comes with roof material, which will make our mansion-cabins seem very lifelike. The vector took another loop when we received Clara’s first book from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Foundation, The Little Engine That Could. We got to the motivational speech part and in typical fashion, Aaron and I were reading at a nominally high volume to keep Clara’s attention. I found that it felt so good to think of something that was hard for me and chant to myself, “I think I can, I think I can.” The inspiration from this phrase was incredibly real. I resent the day that a sense of irony stole from me the belief in the power of positive thinking, but I think that’s also what the biological clock is advising. Put aside the occasional sensation of lift off of life’s linear equation afforded to you by irony, cleverness, and ambition and, instead, find a way to believe again in magic.