(I was about to write a post that was pretty much this. And then I thought “I already wrote it.” And I had, and I found it.
I’m still broken. Sometimes scarily so — take my obsessing over my sales on Amazon when the sales dip — but I’m also still me. Would I be me if I weren’t broken? Doubtful. And sometimes, my best “luck” comes from how broken I am.)
If I had a dime for every time I’ve read that “every baby should be planned” and that “every puppy should be wanted” and that “everyone should have a fulfilling occupation” I’d have too many dimes to be contained in the universe. But the question is: would every dime be shiny?
What are you getting at Sarah?
What I am getting at is that many people seem to have completely lost track of the distinction between ideal and actual. Let me spell it out for you: ideal exists only as a perfect thing in your mind. Like the battle plan not surviving contact with the enemy, it will never survive contact with reality.
That perfectly planned child will suddenly become unplanned when it turns out to be a girl, rather than a boy, or a boy rather than a girl. Or when he/she turns out to have a personality completely different from what his parents’ expected. While IQ might be broadly inheritable, at least in components (mostly from the mother, interestingly enough) the way it’s expressed isn’t necessarily. So you’ll have the bookish parents with the mechanically gifted child, or vice-versa. Planned? Who told you you could plan a chaotic system? It’s sort of like planning your day tomorrow – you’d best have three layers of plans in case it rains, in case a wildfire comes through, in case it’s fine and beautiful. And even then, it will find a way to surprise you.
And the puppy who was so wanted? The family that adopted him will get sick and have to give him away. They’ll unexpectedly lose their jobs. The puppy will turn out to have a condition that’s not fatal but is a life-long drain and expense. Or something else will happen you can’t predict.
But, Sarah, you say, shouldn’t we PLAN for the ideal? Then we just adapt to less than ideal.
It depends on the plan. There is a type of positive planning, in which you leave the route open to the wonder of the broken (yes, I’ll explain) and the negative planning, where you won’t take anything less than absolute perfection. The negative planning is usually what you get when government bureucrats or do-gooding busybodies get involved.
It concentrates on NOT LETTING the less than ideal happen. These are the people who think you should be licensed to have children, after you pass classes that say you’re an ideal parent in THEIR WAY. The people who think every unplanned baby should be aborted or killed up to three months after birth (you only think I’m joking.) These are the people who post on craigslist screaming at people giving away puppies and kittens that they are terrible people and should have had their animal spayed.
Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that I think overpopulation is lies, damn lies and statistics and that in fact the current worldwide crisis is caused by population ALREADY falling. (I confess the evidence is circumstantial and thin, but there is some and – more importantly – the evidence on the other side is dubious and suffers from wrong-process.) That’s the subject for a whole post and one I don’t have the energy to write right now. Let’s leave aside the fact that I think our obsession with spaying and neutering in fact can act (is acting?) as a sort of reverse selective breeding, pushing cats and dogs back to non-domesticated (no? We keep the cutest/friendliest from reproducing.) And also that in some areas of the country – here – you either buy a breed dog, adopt a dog who turned out less than ideal for someone else, or … adopt a puppy imported from elsewhere. In Colorado puppies seem to come from Texas. But in some places they come from abroad. Cats are more abundant because… they’re cats and harder to catch and confine.
Let’s instead look at the other side of the coin, and why negative planning for the ideal and temper tantrums at people who don’t follow your version of ideal, are stupid: because broken plans and broken ideals often come as a blessing.
Sorry to use the religious term, but I don’t know how else to express it. Sometimes the crisis-unplanned turns out to be the best thing you ever got.
Right after our cat Pete died, we found ourselves adopting Euclid because otherwise he was going to be euthanized because he had an uti and our humane society euthanizes those, so it doesn’t spread throughout the pens. We had about twenty minutes in which to decide. We had – G-d knows – enough cats. But he would have died otherwise. We adopted him.
Yes, Euclid is broken in interesting ways. My son calls him a feline Woody Allen. Only Woody Allen isn’t into extreme body modification, while Euclid chews off his leg hair and gives himself a poodle cut. Also, some right b*stard trained Euclid to fabric before we got him, which is why we can’t have rugs on our floors, not till Euclid departs this vale of tears. (On the good side, Euclid doesn’t show any propensity to love on adopted daughters. Of course, he doesn’t have any. Um…)
But in the days after 9/11, when it seemed I could not stop crying, he was the cat who came and loved on me. He’s the one who sits on you when you’re sick or worried, and purrs and reassures you all is well in the world. And sometimes that purr is your only connection to happiness.
Or let’s look at how many not only unplanned but disastrously unplanned children go on and make the world a better place. Right now it’s early morning and only Leonardo DaVinci – unplanned, illegitimate, broken in interesting ways – comes to mind, but I know there are scores of others. (Yes, there’s also people like Hitler – but there is no indication that it was the fact they were unplanned that sent them spinning towards evil.)
A friend who had a terrible childhood once told me that she supported abortion unconditionally, because it would have been much better to be aborted than to be abused. What she was missing was that her parents would never have aborted her. She WAS planned and needed in the family: as a scape goat. The kids that get aborted in that type of calculus are the ones whose parents are afraid they can’t give them the very best – just like the animals who get spayed are those whose owners fear that they can’t find good enough homes for the litters – not those that are born to be mistreated.
Part of this, I think, is that our life has become so good compared to that of our ancestors that we think we can push it just a little further and make it ideal.
Every baby will be wanted! Every pet will be loved! And there shall be no more tears and suffering!
Never works. Ever. There will always be people who need a kid as a scape goat. And even if you certified parents there will be parents who are fine young, and then get some illness or some other problem and – there you have it. Less than ideal. And before you say “but then the kids can be taken away” think of strangers evaluating and deciding family life from the outside.
I was a disastrously unplanned child, born premature with all the problems that implies. I had the world’s sickliest childhood. Mom has health problems that make her less than an ideal parent. (She knows this. She never wanted children. She ended up with two of us by accident.) Were there rough patches? Oh, sure. Aren’t there in everyone’s life? But my family has a shared sense of humor, which helped. And I got to live and write, and marry and have kids of my own. Would it be better if I never existed because I wasn’t wanted? Or even because I would, of necessity, always be at least partly broken?
Some of the best pets I’ve had have been mutts or even feral babies whom I tamed. Right now we have Havey-cat whom we found on a mini-golf course, starved and covered in grease, and with a broken tail. He now presents and behaves as a Turkish van. Is he? At least partially, probably. But he’s not less loved because he came to us when we were maxed out on cats and definitely not in the market for one who is a fuzz machine (we’re all mildly allergic to cats.) And he is, again, one of those animals who can lift your mood, because he’s a born clown and still kitten-like after three years.
Oh, yeah, and through no fault of anyone, I never fit in Portugal. But my askew childhood and youth – difficult as they were in living them – resulted in my falling in love with a stranger from a strange land, and finding home that way.
Will some percentage of children you give up for adoption be abused? Inevitable. A controlling system can’t prevent that. No system can. What it can do is keep children trapped in foster care or convince people to abort rather than put the kids up for adoption. Will some percentage of kittens given away end up as snake food? Inevitable. No system can prevent that. I doubt it’s as many as we’ve been led to believe, though. Most cats throughout history have been pets and not snake food. Most humans are predisposed to at least not mistreat pets. Call it co-evolution.
Look at your lives: really look. Could you have planned everything that happened? Would your ideal life have been REALLY better?
Take my career: did I intend to have my first trilogy tank, trapping me in ten years of midlist hell? Well, no. But let’s imagine it had succeeded. I’d now be stuck in the “literary fantasy” niche, which btw pays lousily and where they expect only one book every two years. Worse, I found by my third book that while I can do it and even enjoy it to an extent, if I do nothing but that I become horribly depressed.
But the trilogy failed, and I was broke, and we were paying on two houses and I was fixing the “old” house for sale, and I couldn’t find a day job. Then Jim Baen offered me money. Then Berkley paid me to write Plain Jane. My heart was broken, I didn’t want to write anymore. The dream was gone.
But I needed money, and so I wrote, and even through the hell of six-books-a-year the dream came back. And now I’m facing the chance for a better career than I hoped for AND I have the skills of incredible amounts of practice under pressure.
Would I have chosen this route? No. Was it rough as heck at times? Yep. Would I wish it undone? No. I wouldn’t wish any of the books unwritten. I wouldn’t wish what I learned unlearned.
There is no perfect upbringing – for man or beast. There is no ideal situation that can’t be reversed. There isn’t any reason to believe that wanted – animals or humans – are better. There isn’t any reason to believe the most peaceful places or eras are better. Yes, the fourteenth century was a terrible time, but it gave us the renaissance and, eventually, the enlightenment.
Taking the broken and doing the best we can with it is all we can do.
And sometimes it’s much better than the ideal could have been.