What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn’t always agreeable or attractive.
Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections
I read this book recently. It’s dark, nasty and sometimes worringly resonant. One section kept quoting chunks of Schopenhauer.
The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged on eating the other.
I did say it was dark.
I tend to focus on the negative a bit much. I’m not really sure why. This made it all the more pleasurable to discover that one of the first things we humans learn how to do is smile and laugh, or how much pleasure it was possible to take in touching the skin of your baby and delighting in its softness.
Which means the quote at the top of this post can also be taken another way. That your previous attitudes to certain things may have actually been disagreeable and unattractive. That having a child can improve parts of you (while, at the same time, reveal other less pleasant qualities). I can remember when I was about twenty sneering at the notion of having children, and making caustic remarks about people with young children. In hindsight this was a fairly immature and unpleasant thing to do. If people want to have kids let them have kids, and if they don’t they don’t.
The most recent surprise for me was the thrill I experienced when Cathy and I took Eleanor to Gubbs and kitted her out for her ballet lessons. Eleanor has been pining to take lessons for months, and when other little girls at creche came in and demonstrated their moves she was an enthralled spectator and then an enthusiastic participant. Finally she was able to go to the shop and live out one of her fantasies: to try on her very own ballet outfit. There were tights, and a leotard, a little cardigan and, of course, the true highlight, a tiny little pair of ballet slippers. I don’t think I can explain how happy I was to see Eleanor so happy.
If my former self had passed by the window of Gubbs at that moment I imagine he would have sneered at the little scene.
Later, at home, Eleanor wanted to try all the gear on again, and then asked, hopefully, if she could wear it to bed. Cathy and I encouraged her to try some ballet moves and she obliged by waving her arms about, holding her leg out and pointing her toe. The lessons when they begin will not, naturally, be ballet lessons, they will be dancing-around-to-music lessons, but it will be great fun, and I shall very much enjoy going along.