I’ve been instructed to have opinions.
But I’ve got a note from my mum which says I’m not a proper grown-up and am therefore excused any difficult adult conversations that might challenge my illusions that real life is still something I can put off indefinitely. Look, here, it’s in totally-not-forged handwriting, and it says this is all too much for me and I’m allowed to just go and have a sit down and watch cartoons.
*tries to shuffle away but is shoved forcefully back onto the sportsfield (of LIFE (it’s a metaphor))*
Oh, bum. Okay then.
Hello, by the way. I hope you all had a good thing over the festive thing. Happy new thing, and all that. Now, back to work, 2013’ll be half gone before you know it.
I’m nearly thirty years old. I graduated university six and a half years ago, and have lived independently and supported myself financially for nearly as long. I’ve been in my full-time job for six months, and actually have what seems like a career for the first time in my life. I’m cohabiting in a house with a mortgage. I’m getting married this year. I’m getting double glazing and a new bathroom fitted. I have a cat. I have a beard.
By my stage in life, Einstein had long since published his “Annus Mirabilis” papers, several of the most ground-breaking works in the history of science. Ramanujan had filled countless notebooks of ground-breaking mathematics, some of which are still only just being understood today, and was almost ready to die of TB. Galois had been killed in a duel nearly a decade ago, after inventing a new branch of mathematics that I struggled to get my head around in the final year of my Master’s course. Kurt Cobain and the rest of The 27 Club had moved on from composing to decomposing over a year ago. Orson Welles had had plenty of time to get over his follow-up film to Citizen Kane being a financial failure.
You get the picture. Other people have achieved a lot of stuff by my age. Even when you don’t just focus unhealthily on the outliers, a lot of people have been comfortably getting on with the grown-up parts of their lives for quite a while by this point. I’m a grown-up.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m nearly thirty. Of course I’m old. What the hell did I think was going on ever since I stopped being a teenager?
And I don’t even mind. The job and house and fiancée and cat are all good things. They’re great. This isn’t just about facing up to the horrifying realisation that I’m not a child any more. I don’t miss all the Nintendo games, and I get to stroke a kitten whenever I want and listen to Radio 4 as I commute to my nice job where I earn money to buy lots of fancy cheeses. You can’t make any of that less awesome by slapping a label on it that says “grown-up” and expecting me to be terrified.
And yet some things feel like they mark a Significant Change from the life I’m familiar with. Some things don’t seem to be compatible with me, without requiring me to drastically change who I am and how I define myself. Some things I can’t even persuade my brain to really understand and contemplate how they could possibly be reconciled with my own future. Some things still seem like things that other people do; other people with more of a grown-up handle on life than me.
Yes, babies, I’m talking about you.
My nearly-wife has a very different perspective on these things. She’s about to start training as a midwife, for a start, so she’s been studying the manual. But she’s also, I have noticed, a woman. As she’s pointed out:
For a woman having a baby, pregnancy and childbirth are massively disrupting in a way that they just aren’t for the partner in the equation, whatever flavour the non-pregnant individual comes in. You’re the one with a tenant for roughly 9 months, the one who gets kicked from the inside and stretched into odd shapes. You’re the one who has to get the smaller person inside you, outside of you through a not massively accommodating exit. You’re the one who naturally produces sustaining foodstuff from your frontal funbags (yeah, funbags) and who is basically sloshing about in all kinds of hormonal soup for months and months.
When Kirsty thinks about babies, the first stage is all the physical stuff where there’s a thing growing into a person inside of her; long, gruelling, gradual, and with the birth itself as a gloriously rewarding end-point. I sort of get to skip all that first bit, so to me “having babies” means there’s suddenly this small person around who I’ve never met before, who’s not great conversation, and who depends on us entirely for everything for the rest of the foreseeable future. Which just doesn’t fit into the model of reality I’ve spent nearly thirty years building for myself. It’s a sudden, massive, Significant Change, profoundly and qualitatively different from anything else I’ve ever experienced.
Which is why it’s quite scary and difficult to think about, and my darling love has to gently coax me into giving serious consideration to something increasingly important to her.
Except… is it really that different and scary?
The cat’s a tiny life who depends on us, more or less. We love her and watch her grow and try to keep her out of trouble. Kirsty assures me that babies are basically the same, and she’s read a book so she must know what she’s talking about. And I’ve been around actual human infants for brief periods of time in the past, and nobody’s exploded. We’re clearly not wholly incompatible.
Maybe it’s all just a big mental block I’ve got. Maybe this Significant Change is actually no more of an unbearable, unimaginable, impossible impasse than any of the other standard grown-up indicators that I’ve breezed through these past few years. Maybe I just shouldn’t have believed the hype.
Because when it comes to children, hoo boy is there ever hype. Just about every source of art or entertainment or media output that ever touches upon the subject of children is mandated to emphasise how they’re the most important, world-changing, heart-wrenching, meaning-imbuing thing in their parents’ lives. Or if they aren’t, they should be, you monster.
Having kids is about the biggest deal any TV or movie character can go through. And I’ve been a passively avid consumer all my life. My expectations have been warped by Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry. I can’t separate out what’s been drummed into me repeatedly from supposedly authoritative sources, from what I actually think.
My mind is no longer my own. My consciousness has been broken down and assimilated. I do not know who I am. Thanks a lot, babies.
I don’t know how to draw any of this together into a coherent conclusion. I don’t feel like I have any sort of insight into the conceivable possibility of forthcoming parenthood, either as a man or just in general. I just know it still feels like a distant, alien thing to give any thought to. It’s not something I know how to have opinions on.
But maybe I’ll get better at it if my girlfriend/wife keeps talking to me about what she’s been up to at work, delivering other people’s babies, over the coming months and years. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was her plan all along.