Children: Little Angels or Little Assholes?
Before my son Declan was born, my primary experience with children came from my own childhood. I learned all of the wrong lessons about children during a childhood that can charitably called “Darwinian.” I learned that children could be unconscionably cruel and that for some reason adults implicitly sanction and forgive that cruelty when it happens to children when there would be profound criminal consequences if they were adults. I got the holy living shit beaten out of me in fifth grade, and the worst that happened to the pint-sized sadists who abused me was a stern talking-to from my stepmother.
Because I had no experience with happy children or happy childhood I developed an implicit hostility towards pop culture or media of any form that depicted childhood as a dewy paradise of guileless innocence. To the younger, more cynical and despairing me, children weren’t little angels put on earth as evidence of God’s unending benevolence. No, to me they were little assholes and the whole cult of childhood innocence struck me as a toxic and poisonous lie concocted out of sticky, unearned sentimentality. It was a ruse that helped sell stuff and convince otherwise sane, reasonable adults to embark upon the phenomenally expensive, arduous and time and labor-intensive process of being a parent, an obligation so profound and all-consuming that not even death can alleviate it.
When I was a single man I lived for myself but until my dying breath I will live for my wife and my son, and the all-consuming sense of responsibility I feel towards them will not end with my own death. I will live on as a memory, as an idea, as a complicated legacy it’ll take some time to figure out.
That all changed when my son was born. My fuzzy, distant memories of my traumatic childhood began to fade into insignificance as my old ideas about the infinite shittiness of childhood was replaced by a genuine belief in childhood innocence, in childhood wonder, in childhood imagination.
My traumatic memories of childhood have been progressively replaced by a vision of childhood as something special, something sacred, something that fills my day with happiness and joy and play. Through Declan I am finally able to know what a happy childhood is like and because I love Dex so much I’ve come to see all of childhood through a much different, and much rosier lens.
We treat Declan like the sun revolves around him, as do all of his adoring relatives, and little man has the confidence bordering on cockiness that comes with being beautiful and smart and hilarious and only knowing love and approval and validation. He can be naughty and mischievous but there’s a core of sweetness and kindness and affection that’s present no matter how badly he’s misbehaving.
Because of Declan I believe that childhood can be wonderful, and pure and something sacred that must be preserved but he’s transformed my life beyond that as well. Thanks largely to Declan, I also believe that life can be wonderful and pure and sacred and something that must be preserved, even in Donald Trump’s America. Hell, especially in Donald Trump’s America, because God knows we’re all going to have to protect what’s most sacred to us from that hideous ghoul.