A young Hannah Froese enjoys the moment.
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, November 19, 2022)
“Don’t have children. For God’s sake. Don’t.”
This is from the mother in Raymond Carver’s story “A Small Good Thing.” Her boy, hit by a car, is dying in the hospital. Who can blame her? Or anyone else? Years ago some friends of mine, not long married, said the same. “We’re not having children.” They’re not for everyone.
Having children, it seems, is like going to Antarctica. Consider this 1912 London Times ad taken out by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return is doubtful.”
It’s true. Children might step into one danger or another. They might disappoint you. Might leave you. Then there’s the cost of children. And the planet’s sustainability. Finally, to be honest, there’s our lifestyle. Some days it’s easier to just play with the cat, you know?
People in rich nations are especially having few children. Much of the world, where children can be your best social safety net, is different. Even so, today’s global birthrate of 2.4 children per woman is half what it was in 1970. When it’s below 2.1, (Canada is at 1.5), nations can’t sustain their workforce. So immigrants, often enjoying large families, are especially welcomed.
In either case, the children somehow keep coming. By the time you finish reading this, several hundred will have arrived into this world, suitcase in-hand, ready to travel through life. It’s a good time to consider it because tomorrow, Nov. 20, is World Children’s Day.
Attention is especially focused on children’s sense of belonging. My youngest, Hannah, who is Ugandan-born, would know something about it: being a child of the world, and belonging, and even adoption. What did she say one day some years ago after I’d asked her what she liked best from her Christmas gifts? “Mommy, daddy, brother, sister.”
And isn’t this the nub of it? The joke of creation? The grown-ups, invited to join creation as co-creators, need the world’s children just like the children need them. We need each other like we need air. How else, without a child’s example, would any grown-up learn to be less driven, and less cynical, so that they too might be adopted? Because nobody can ever earn adoption. And it’s the helpless children who are able to live with their hands open instead of closed tight.
In this it’s the children, the trusting ones with the dirty faces and uncontrollable laughter, the little ones who don’t worry about much of anything this side of heaven, who, according to Jesus, are the ones who will inherit that very kingdom. It’s a remarkable paradox.
But what about Antarctica? And the risk? Hundreds of people, in fact, responded to that old London newspaper ad. Imagine. And my friends who’d never have children? They had two boys who are now young men. Life, somehow, changes. Now those boys will change the world. Like my children will. Like yours will. What choice do they have? What choice does anyone have?
Recently I drove some distance to my old neighbourhood. I went past Ball Avenue where Rob Slingerland lived, past what we kids called The Wheelie Track, past the paper factory with the big, round clock, past the park where my red-brick school once stood, there, across the street from Paul’s house, where I often found myself as a boy.
Paul had three brothers and two sisters in a home that today doesn’t seem much larger than some rich family’s garage. Two adults plus six kids. Was their home that small? I never noticed. Not as much as I noticed the warmth of Paul’s mother, and her cookies. Returning there, it seems, is good for my inner child. So take time to care for that child of yours, too.
No, don’t take any child out there for granted. Don’t take having children for granted, either. Some people, sometimes in tears, would love nothing more.