*For those wondering “where did the new post go?” the problem is that it was supposed to be at Mad Genius Club and earlier and… yeah… I messed up the cueing. So. If you want to read THAT go to Mad Genius Club.*
Yesterday before going to bed – always a bad idea reading annoying stuff before bed – I was reading an article by a very young columnist. I fear I was harsh to him in comments (stop with the “he deserves it” you who know who he is) because he’s young and stupid (the two conditions often go together) and full of the false gravity and despondence that go with it.
The cause of his horrendous, terrible, no good alarm was the machines intended as “sperm extractors” created in China recently. This made the young – did I mention young? – male columnist despondent about raising a boy in this dreadful world with this dreadful temptation.
I did mention he’s very young, right? After I made two very mean comments (to be honest I would have done the same to my own kids. It keeps the vapors of youth under control and gives them a hint older people are laughing at them. And also that we want them off our lawn.) I started feeling a little sorry for him.
Not because I – and another Baen author, heaven help us – was mean to him, but because he thinks he knows what he’s doing and he’s setting himself up for a world of regrets. You see, he’s also hesitating on having more kids because of the long war we’re involved in with Islamists and because “the world is such a mess.”
He’s young, but he’s older than my kids. Because he graduated college three years ago, depending on whether he took grad studies or not, he’s either 25 or 28. In any case, he’s not in his mid teens. He’s married, and his wife appears to be about his age. They’re intending to have kids “in ten or more likely fifteen years.” (Hits head against the wall. HARD.)
I feel sorry for him, because though the reason I only have two kids is not THAT even I didn’t realize how stupid that idea was till I hit forty.
For those who don’t know this, I went through six years of infertility before I managed to have one son, then got blessed with another, by surprise, four years later, when I was about to start another round of infertility. And yeah, raising them has been hard, and yeah, the world they’re going to inherit is a total mess.
But the world has always been a mess. Raising kids has always been hard. (Though the fact that we’re competing professional with people who never had them makes it seem worse.) And the rewards… Just trust me. It’s not just the kids themselves, but watching human beings grow, and understanding at last the full scope of human experience.
No, I’m not disparaging those of you who don’t have them. I understand some of you have very good reasons. But if you want them and have even the slightest inclination, you’re going to have to trust me: worth every sleepless night, every heart-tightening moment when you are afraid they’ll break their heads, or their hearts or their future.
Well, we didn’t try for the second and were – after four years – going to make a desultory effort when we got a surprise, for two reasons: a) we thought it was impossible. b) we were almost rock bottom broke until Robert was about four. (A job crisis, my having to abandon my translation client list when we moved, health issues and a move across country will do that.)
And then Marshall had childhood asthma and a heart defect (now grown-out-of) and we were moving, and then I got published… When we stopped to take a breath and realized we were (if only we’d known how briefly!) financially stable, I was well, and the career was running on tracks (if only we knew how briefly!) and, hey, we should start treatment and have a couple more kids.
At thirty nine I got old my chances were close to zero of conceiving again – and carrying to term – and they were in fact right. We could probably have managed it with in vitro or other truly aggressive techniques, but in case I did not mention it before, our financial stability was short lived. Not to the point of starving – and not as bad as it’s gotten this past couple of years – but bad enough that disposable income for that type of procedure was close to nil. We finally gave up a year ago.
There is no point crying over children who never existed, and there is no way of going back and changing it – and that’s why I say if you have the slightest inclination, if you like children, if you want to be a parent: have them now. Don’t wait for a nebulous future when things will be better.
The world is a mess. It’s always been a mess. It might have been an idyllic paradise before the first intra-tribal warfare, when there were only six humans in the world, but I doubt it. I think they were just getting stomped flat by mammoth and if they’d had a little more command of language would have said “Ah, Oog, who want to bring child into this messed up world?”
I read in Heinlein’s biography that he and his first wife put off having children, because the world was such a mess. And who could have blamed them with WWII coming on and black and red fascism getting ready to swallow the world.
In fact, if he’d had that child, he’d now be my dad’s age, and would have lived a mostly peaceful, prosperous life. And yes, that marriage was a mess, but kids have turned out notably well from marriages that are a mess. But it never happened, and there are no RAH descendants running around. (Except the ones he raised – we, the children of his mind. And I’m not disparaging that.)
And of course, you’re not financially stable. Oh, listen, I don’t think anyone younger than fifty has KNOWN what financially stable is. We’re lucky. Dan has been laid off exactly once in his career, which given how tech works, is near miraculous. (He had to quit twice, the second time because his company had stopped paying him, but he was laid off only once, for structural reasons having nothing to do with him.) And I’m a writer. It’s not only always feast and famine, but it’s always feast and famine and no promise of future work at all. Though like Dan I’ve only been “laid off” (told to walk) once. However, there are no guarantees. Not even now with indie and the space opera doing well. There is nothing but to keep moving and working, and hoping.
But we haven’t starved, and if we had more kids they wouldn’t have starved either. Yes, mostly we eat made-from-scratch at home and birthday party means a cake and maybe a few friends over, not renting a restaurant and having rides for the kids. No, we don’t take vacations abroad, save for occasionally visiting my parents and that’s not really vacation or abroad. No, they don’t get the fancy outfits and the cool brands, and we shop mostly at used clothing stores. But they don’t go naked, and they’ve never had a winter without a coat.
Waiting till you’re “financially well off” can very well turn into waiting forever, given the mess the economy is in. And you know what, your grandparents had kids in worse conditions and that’s why you’re here. (At least our kids never went barefoot, and never had days of “vegetable soup, that’s all there is.” — we had those days, but we always made sure they had a little meat or eggs or something.) Turns out kids don’t need fancy clothes, or expensive vacations, or even to see all the shows and have the gaming systems their friends do. At least our kids seem to be just fine.
But – you’ll say – why have kids when the Earth is overpopulated? Did you hear that? That was me rolling my eyes so hard it hurt.
What do you mean by overpopulated? Why do you say that? Are you sharing your room with three strangers, or did you only have a rationed handful of food for breakfast?
Most scarcity in the world is not the result of too many people, but of too much government. The Earth is nowhere near too crowded and Paul Ehrlich isn’t dead but his ideas are and always were. The man has never made a single accurate prediction in his life. (And why should he? No one calls him on the wrong ones.)
The “overpopulated” is the cry of alarmists who want to feel important and of misanthropes for whom another human is one too many. Or self haters, of course, one mustn’t forget them.
Even if the Earth were overpopulated, look… We’re a colonizing species. That’s what we do. And the universe seems to be full of that dirt stuff we like to walk around on, and it turns out that our solar system is full of water after all… and we’re a clever monkey. We can take those two and create habitats.
What we can’t do is create more humans where there are none – or not if we don’t have them when the time is right for them.
So… have one. Have two. Have three. Be DARING, have four.
Just like the only true expression of fandom is to buy the books, the true expression of hope in the future is to have children.
The future belongs to those who show up. Yes, maybe your kid will be a mass murderer (well, it’s something that must be contemplated – I mean, cats are safe because they don’t have opposable thumbs) but overall the chances are lower of that than that he’ll be the guy who invents FTL travel, or the woman who finally figures out the rejuv treatments that will allow you another forty years to make up for the time you spent raising them.
Have a kid. Have it now. The offer comes with an expiration date and no it won’t wait till you’re just in the perfect place.
And in the long run it won’t matter. Your kid, brought up without a pony and all, might be the one who creates robot-ponies. And then he or she will grow up and have another kid – and that means the future for our kind will go on and that hope of a better future will remain alive.
That’s the only kind of happy ending our kind is ever granted. And it is enough.