by Mark Oppenneer
published on February 12, 2009
This month's MythNow Blog piece is written by JCF Working Associate Mark Oppenneer with plenty of inspiration from his two boys...
We didn't know he would be the Trickster
refusing to appear
when it was time
The doctor would have to cut a door to coax him out
Sure knew how to make an entrance, though
(I am child, hear me roar!)
Stolen clocks, we would have no time
Stolen pillows, we would have no sleep
and dreams that would otherwise have had a home
soon swam in swirls of napping breast milk haze
And as he grew, we would see him
emerge slowly from the mist of infancy
like a coyote cautiously lurking, peeking, sniffing the air
And over time he would become bold
kinetic and unwieldy
He'd throw his food
(Oh, the armies we could feed
from dropped zwiebacks and peas!)
We would propitiate with Popsicles,
make offerings of Oreos,
and placate with playthings
hoping our divine bull wouldn't trample the city
But he did.
(And to think that
there was once a time
I did not want
to have a child)
* * *
He was laughing at me.
"You're laughing at me," I said.
"Oh, yes," he said, "Yes, I am."
this is it. This is the big revenge: you raise a child, experience all
the trials and challenges and pain and heartache of their growing,
watch them go off into the world and get married – and then you laugh
at them when they have children of their own. The circle is complete.
"Dad, I don't suppose you could help me here," I said, "I've got poop on my arm and I can't reach the wet wipes."
"You're doing a fine job all by yourself," he chortled.
think he thought he was being funny. But he hadn't ever changed a
diaper before, so what gave him the right to be so smug? And then I
thought about all the heartache and grief my dad and my mom had endured
during my tenure in their household. All the panic and stress. Okay,
so maybe he had some right.
As I changed my newborn son's diaper, I remembered my initial
uncertainty about having kids. I hadn't been able to understand why
anyone would want to spawn. Our bodies are obviously engineered for
the mechanics of it. Just insert tab "A" into slot "B" and from there,
nature takes over. But just because the body is capable of doing
something doesn't mean that it is desirable or necessary to do it. I
wanted to believe that there is a reason to procreate other than tax
breaks and the continuation of the species.
Before my wife became pregnant with our son, Ty, I asked her why
she wanted to have a child. She didn't have to answer, of course. It
was clear: she wanted to have a baby because that was what her body is
made for. I believe she used the phrase "biological imperative."
Before I could imagine all the things I could get away with using those
same words, she turned the question on me: Why do you want to have a
I didn't have a ready answer and I knew that my momentary
hesitation would not sit well with her. It was a loaded question
anyway. I think I said something innocuous like, "Because I want to
have a family with you." One of those statements intended to pacify
but not commit. I needed more time to think. Did I want one at all?
Babies are messy, unpredictable, loud, fragile, dependent and high
maintenance – all the things that have driven me away from past
Once I had asked my dad why he and Mom wanted to have kids. But
something must be wrong with the part of my brain that deals with the
answers to this question, because I can't remember what he said. Any
of the following statements could have been his response: Because I
wanted to have a family with your mother. Because that is what our
bodies are made for. You'll have to ask your mother, son – it was so
long ago… As I remembered thinking that there might be no meaningful
answer to the question, I caught a stream of warm pee across my cheek.
"Oh, good god! Quick, get me a towel!"
More chortling from Dad as my wife came into the room.
"What happened?" she asked. And then she started laughing hysterically.
"Funny." I said. "Very funny."
"Oh, just you wait." My dad said with a wink. Somewhere in the hidden
genetic pipeline of my brain, I saw a future vision of me saying the
same thing to my son.
time went on, I had refused to lose the trail of my elusive prey. I
continued to ask friends, colleagues, neighbors, relatives. Why did
they want to have kids? I collected lists of equally nebulous
responses. To have someone to take of us when we're older. We've just
always wanted kids. Because babies are just so cute. I began to feel
like I was in the Twilight Zone. No one could give a real answer.
One thing was clear: the kid, in and of itself, was never the
reason. No one said, I want a child for the sake of the child – or I
would like a kid because I want to create a unique consciousness that
will become aware of its own existence and through self-reflection and
meditation contribute to the betterment of life for all human beings.
I was quite sure that the children themselves were the last reason
people wanted to have kids.
Sex is a different thing. There is at least a return on the
investment, a tangible moment of gratification. To me sex had always
been the end, not a means. One had sex to have sex, not make babies.
Yes, that is what our bodies are made for.
In my darkest hours, I could see children as nothing more than
tools, things to bring about a desired state. At best, they can
temporarily prevent some broken relationships from breaking
completely. They can get you more food stamps. They can get you
sympathy. I suppose they can even give you a few hours of amusement
here and there. But they also give you an eternity of inconsolable,
drooling, late night cry-a-thons. Then there are the tantrums. And
then they become teenagers and that makes all the other stuff look like
the Golden Age.
I felt stuck. I was young and foolish and frankly just wanted sex,
not babies. I wasn't ruling babies out, but before I created another
human being, I wanted to be damned sure that there was a reason. A
However, my wife didn't just have a biological clock. She had a
time bomb with only seconds remaining. The pressure was on. I had
dreams of her screaming, I want a kid right now! while feverishly tying
my arms to the bed posts. After she told me that she was going off the
pill, I knew the gig was up. I had to speak or forever hold my peace.
What feeble words could I eek out that would be argument enough against
the logic of her biological imperative? I was screwed. Both
metaphorically and physically.
It wasn't until Ty was born that the veil was lifted. I finally
understood. The third time the doctor had come in to check on my wife,
he called the shot to prep her for a C-section. I was given scrubs and
ushered into the operating room as she was wheeled in on a gurney. I
watched as the doctor cut into her stomach, and pulled out our son.
Like Michaelangelo carving David from marble, he produced a thing of
wonder where only raw materials had once gathered.
We had made a baby and I finally knew why. It wasn't just because
that is what our bodies are made for – it was because that is what our
spirits are made for. We are not gods. We cannot create the heavens
and earth. But we can create life, perhaps the only true miracle
within our reach. Making babies is our way of connecting with the
mysteries of the cosmos.
And there was more. I had new eyes through which to see my wife.
She was no longer the girl I had met back in the days of my youth. She
was now glowing, now complete – a chrysalis transformed. And I too had
changed. Not only had our son been born, but in inexplicable ways, we
all had. And no matter how unpredictable, cluttered, or frenetic our
life has become – no matter how many diaper mishaps, tantrums, and
other misadventures we've had thus far – the baptism of birth has left
its indelible mark on us.
I had once thought that a child was the problem lacking a solution,
but in a sudden quantum movement forward, I discovered that my child is
the answer to questions I had not known how to ask. My child completes
me, provides gravity and giggles in equal measure, teaches me who I am
capable of becoming. Like a catalyst, some mythic Trickster, he enters
the scene, turns everything upside down and without malice, creates new
understanding where there was once a void.
So now, nine years later, I have two sons. And even as I write
these words, the boys are roaring for me to come downstairs and play with
them. For now, I immerse myself in the steady flow of joyful moments
that courses through our time together. But I suspect that some day I
will chortle at my boys when they become fathers, as my father did to
me. And I suspect that I too will have some right to do so.
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