My boy lost his first tooth last week. This event is another reminder to me of how strange parenthood is. Even though I recognize that losing a tooth is not in and of itself a huge deal, watching your kids achieve any milestone is, of course, exciting. It is partly a celebration of our success as parents in keeping the children alive long enough to experience the many stepping-stones of growing up. I also think one of the great benefits is to witness some sort of occasion that will never happen again, but that’s also why I’m so conflicted.
Because each step he takes (like attending his first Kindergarten class in two months) is another step towards adulthood and away from the helpless baby I once held in my arms. And Abby is no different – the joy Kerri and I take in seeing her grow up and learn something everyday is tempered by the sometimes overwhelming sadness that we won’t experience the same thing again.
I sometimes wonder if the pain of seeing them grow up is merely an echo of one’s own pain – the loss of childhood we all had to go through. Perhaps we are all in exile from that place. The wish for children is, as much as anything, an attempt to re-enter that enchanted garden – albeit by proxy.
…I am, as so often, comforted by the words of my favourite philosopher, Alan Watts. “Transience is the basic condition of life. Nothing can be possessed. We are all dissolving smoke. Life, despite its appearance of being solid, is immaterial. Going away, dissolving is the same thing as living. To dissolve is the heart of beauty and the heart of life.”
This is the truth about childhood and everything else. Change, and loss, cannot be escaped, and nor should we want to escape them – any more than we should want to make a flower plastic, or inject a serum into our children to keep them at the age we choose. Growth, as John Updike said, is loss. There is no other way. Tim Lott
I never realized how inextricably linked joy and sorrow could be until I had kids. But at least that sorrow means that the occasion isn’t lost on us. It really is paradoxical how the things that most excite us can simultaneously cause the most pain.