I recently came across a poem titled “You Should Avoid Young Children” by Claire Keyes, which is sort of ironic as my wife Gillian and I just welcomed our first child into our little apartment home.
At 6 pounds, 1 ounce, our son Simon came screaming into the world. His voice filled up the room as my eyes filled with the expected waterfall of tears. Healthy, happy (once he was given to his mom), and full of life, he really is bringing a windfall of change to our lives. I am sure many of our readers can relate to these statements. A new baby is everything wonderful with the world, yet it is also the most exhausting thing one ever experiences.
I do not know much about the author of this poem, other than she apparently has keen insight into the impact little children have on our lives. We are almost three weeks in and the only thing that seems clear enough to conclude is that, for the foreseeable future, my life will assume a pattern of sleep, diaper change, and eat ad infinitum. Which is certainly a radical departure from my life before baby!
Eating a meal is no longer a fork in one hand, knife in the other exercise. In fact, someone should write a book called the “baby-holding diet” that highlights recipes you can both prepare and eat with one hand.
Going anywhere requires checking and rechecking a bag full of baby things. And now my wife insists I use the turn signal on the car because “I am a parent now so I should learn to abide by traffic laws.” And Gillian, I appreciate your constant efforts to keep me alive – I do appreciate it and I love you.
There are probably some parents out there either agreeing with me or rolling their eyes, saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet, boy.” Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree. I haven’t really seen anything yet and that is both an exciting and troubling prospect.
And that truth is what brings me to the lesson of this written-on-three-hours-of-sleep blog post. We really should avoid young children, unless, of course, we actually want our lives to be changed.
Parenthood has many parallels to monastic life. But this is where I think it most closely aligns. When men join the monastery, they commit themselves to learning a life that is completely different from the way they were living before. The change uproots every single habitual exercise in their lives so that their day becomes focused on building up the kingdom of God in their school of the Lord’s service.
I firmly believe parenthood does the same. Things awaken in you that you never knew existed. Your days become realigned and focused on a much greater mission. As generations and generations of parents I am sure can attest, it probably does not feel like that most of the time. But it is true nonetheless. Parenthood uproots you in the best of ways and so do small children.
So, avoid them if you want and approach them cautiously if you dare. They are miraculous little nuggets of the most immense joy and they have the uncanny ability to change your life forever.
You Should Avoid Young Children
By Claire Keyes
Because they fill their diapers
with reliable ease, sitting on your lap
or spread out on your best mattress.
Guilt is as foreign to them as vichyssoise.
Because they spread sticky fingers
over the piano keys, looking for you
to hoist them onto your lap. They slam
the ivories for the racket they can make.
Re-think your nap.
Because they are blank slates
on which so much waits to be written,
their eyes opened wide to take everything in,
including the lines around your eyes,
the pouches under your chin.
Because they manipulate the controls
on the TV, finger the holes in the electric socket,
stomp the cat’s switching tail only to smile
and gaze at you as if you held the keys to joy.
Because you can embrace them, but
you can’t bind them. Because they have nothing
to give you-and everything. Because
something loosens when they come around.
Something opens you didn’t know was shut.
This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on June 17, 2016