In Defence of Children
IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN!
Cuz i don’t and i slept in until 11 and it was glorious and I just wanted to let you know
Luckily for me the author of this excellent public service announcement from Facebook wrote in all caps lock. This is basically how I judge whether something is an important comment. As a rule, if it’s written in all caps lock, it is not important. Complexity and depth do not coincide with written shouting. But, as we say in Norway, “those who shout in the forest shall be answered”. In the shouted statement I saw a little question concerning children and since I tend to search for the deepest answers to the simplest questions, here is my answer.
In my feed children have been getting a hard time during the apocalypse. Usually its not really attacks on the kids, but rather something along these lines:
“The only thing I love more than children
is doing what I want all the time.”
You know what’s sweeter than the sound of a child’s laughter?
The sound of silence from not having any f***ing kids.
What clever and funny ways of expressing the joys of egocentricity. How good to be able to drink during the day and binge-watch whole seasons of tv. How lovely it would be. But when I scroll further on my feed and read some of their other posts I’m not so sure they are so much happier than me who does have a kid.
The memes make me giggle, most are funny jokes, yet from my experience they spring from a kind of misapprehension. It seems they think the only thing a child does is to steal your time, yet like in any good transaction, it’s really more of an exchange. You get something more valuable in return.
There’s an experiential dimension to kids that most childless people might not appreciate. In the stress of daily life even many parents forget this dimension. Like many of the most important things, this dimension is subtle, hence easy to overlook. Yet, once you get it, it is as obvious and life affirming as the difference between a set of directions to a place and Robert Frost’s poem the Road Not Taken.
I sit inside brooding, my blinds are drawn shut. I’m unemployed because of the Pandemic, and the feeling of uselessness lies just beneath the surface.
To feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the same time, is one of the great triumphs of human existence. I am a Showman and being a Showman is intricately connected to groups of strangers. I’d argue that you can’t understand what a Showman is except as part of a duality with Crowds. It is being watched by a Crowd which makes my Craft meaningful.
Crowds are integral to our Craft and simultaneously it is the very thing which will spread the Covid-19 virus. We performers, the Ones who Face the Other Way, are facing a very uncertain future. Possibly for the first time in history there are no crowds anywhere. We Showfolk are collectively lost. Not like wanderers lost in a wood, but like wanderers who have lost the woods.
The famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung said that the majority of those who came to see him weren’t dealing with clinical neuroses but with a lack of meaning in their lives. In fear of loosing our Way completely, we must reignite our search for meaning.
Here I am ahead of the game. I have a hidden bedrock, a deeper dimension of meaning… Let me tell you the tale. It all began seven years ago very soon after my daughter was born. I was carrying her in a baby wrap against my chest to help her nap at least three times a day for at least three years. Up until then my identity was Showman. It was simple. Making, performing, touring, and talking about Crowds, creation and shows was my relationship, and usefulness, to the world. During those long walks this was beginning to change. A metamorphosis occurred, I was still the same person, but I was also becoming something more.
My sleeping child was the seed for this growth. She sprouted invisible roots through my chest and straight into my heart. As we fused, becoming symbionts, my acts and my art lost ground as foundation for my identity. A new, deeper foundation became apparent to me. Like my relationship to Crowds had shaped me as a Showman, this new deeper relationship with my child, was reshaping me as a man. My responsibility grew deeper than entertaining Crowds.
The transformation was akin to when I grew from a boy into an adolescent, and then onwards to a young adult. Each time, I gained something new. More autonomy, better grasp of the world, a different relationship to my genitals, and with that a different relationship to the other sex. With each change I went through a kind of expansion, further into the world. A new dimension appeared. I didn’t know it at the same time, but with each development I also left something behind. As I left the kingdom of childhood, I left my sense of play behind. This loss is very apparent to me these days as I see my daughter completely absorbed in play with her toys. I used to play endlessly with my Star Wars figurines and this ability is now lost to me. In transformation something is gained and something is lost.
Becoming a father changed my relationship to my vocation in a good way. It greatly expanded the meaning and purpose of my old identity as a Showman. Caring for my child made me an expanded man. Still a Showman, but expanded. It connected me deeper into to world wide web of life.
My previous identity as a Showman only connected me to other human beings. Showmanship only makes sense to humans. You can use a cat in your act, but you can’t do your act for cats. Show a dog a card trick and you will see what I mean. On the other hand, being a parent is something a dog understands. Try kicking a Doberman’s puppies and see it react. Its reactions might even be as powerful as a human being seeing a card trick. Maybe even more powerful.
Becoming a father connected me to a part of reality shared, not just by people, but arguably with the entire animal kingdom. Connecting to my child, I connected to something very much greater than myself and my kind. This experience was not merely cognitive. It permeated me completely, my feelings and thoughts were in perfect agreement with my will. There was no doubt in my soul I would throw myself without hesitation at the monster in my daughter’s closet, even if it was the last thing I did. The feeling was strange and unbelievably powerful.
Deeper connections are the very core of what you want as a Showman. A deep connection with the audience is the very point of the Way of the Showman. The lessons learned and transformations catalysed by my daughter expanded my range of connection beyond the circus ring and out onto the world stage. A lot of meaning is discovered when you can connect to something greater than just yourself.
I sat inside brooding whilst wasting some time scrolling on my phone when my friend wrote me asking how I was. I wrote something like: “I am fine as long as I’m in the moment. BUT, when I think about the future I very easily come undone. My wife can attest to the fact that my mood swings, often for the worse, when I’m not performing. Everything is up in the air. When will shows open? Will they open at all? When can I again provide for my family? When will my ridiculous skills become useful and meaningful again? Most importantly, when will it be safe for elderly people to once again play the slot machines at our local petrol station?”
In short: the NOW is OK but the FUTURE is uncertain. Uncertainty, especially about the future, can be very distressing. I try to convince myself that the Way to the future is made up of a string of now moments.
The first moments of my day I drink tea. It’s a couple of days before Easter. Like most mornings I sit with my daughter on the couch and we read. Her half-hour Zoom school starts at nine. Until then we just hang out. Most mornings I read aloud. We’ve been reading Harry Potter since the quarantine started and we’ve almost finished the second book. I do the voices. It’s not easy. There are so many kids and teachers in those books. I’m not exactly the man of a thousand voices. I’m mostly a one voice kind of guy. Or I was until I had a kid who loves stories as much as me, so now I have a few voices down pretty good. At the end of a chapter she says:
“I wish it was Sunday.” I look at her and put my tea cup down. Easter Sunday has become a big thing for her. I am not exactly sure why, but in these troubled times we need all the excitement we can get, so to feed it I am planning a treasure hunt. We have invited her best friend and quarantine buddy Richard over to our house to join the treasure hunt. I have great things in store for them.
First they’ll discover a map dangling from a string on the balcony. They’ll spot it from the trampoline. They’ll have to study it. If they do, they’ll eventually discover an X which marks the spot for the next clue. There will be many clues, one frozen inside ice in the freezer, one at the bottom of the pool, one high up in the olive tree. The final clue involves them having to walk 22 steps north west and 17 steps due east. I gave her a compass a while ago, now she will get to use it to find a donkey shaped piñata filled with chocolate eggs and bunnies, and a squishy toy for each of them.
“Why are there bunnies and eggs for Easter?” she asks.
“It’s the mystery of life,” I say. “Winter has passed. New life is in the air. Easter is a festival of hope,” I’m quietly chuffed about my answer.
Hope is the fuel of my daughter’s treasure hunt excitement. The hope of chocolate and maybe a squishy toy rat makes her ecstatic with joy and anticipation. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but she is pretty sure its going to be good. She is facing the future playfully.
From my adult, grown-up point of view things are changing, the old world order is wobbly. There’s a pandemic and there’s also climate change, self driving cars, and AI. As the poet said, “the times they are a’changing.”
Things are changing for my daughter as well but her change is not from something she used to know to something new, since practically everything is new for her. The world is so vast, every day brings new things, a pandemic? She takes it in her stride. It’s no more strange and unexpected than the fact that we start doing jump rope for the outdoors part of our homeschool routine. Or that we one morning find our car has gotten a flat tire, which lead to a whole flurry of never-seen-before activities.
There is a petrol stain on the road. I’m happy to see it doesn’t come from my car. From the look of it it’s from my neighbour’s lawn mower. While I crouch by the flat tire, brooding over my broken future, my girl is chanting some verse from school whilst spinning her jumprope and splashing into the pool. Gargles and squeals and endless bell peals of a child’s laughter. It’s earlier than 11. The person who wrote that meme isn’t even up yet. I’ve been up for hours. She squeals with delighted laughter again. Part of me thinks: “How can you laugh at a time like this? The world is falling apart. My Way and means for making a living is evaporating like gasoline on hot tarmac?”
The petrol stain next to me is a thin film on the ground. The sun is creating a gorgeous display of colours. My girl comes over, dripping wet with her jumprope wrapped around herself. She follows my gaze to the stain.
“Look Pappa, it’s a dead rainbow,” she says pointing to the evaporated stain of my future. My heart flutters and my eyes well up. “Wanna jump in the pool with me?” She asks. I nod, afraid my voice will crack if I speak.
This virus has been terrible. With its destruction of lives and livelihoods. But, as morbid as it might be to admit it, it’s also a kind of exciting time. Who would have thought we would live through an apocalypse. The world is changing. The situation is new. I can’t predict or fix things the Way I used to. I need a new approach. I find this in the hidden dimension revealed by the children. They are my Easter, the hope, the new life and the Way forward. A reminder to not get overwhelmed by the future, and that I have to face it playfully. This is what I am doing before 11 in the morning, this is what having a kid adds to my existence, and I feel like I am a better man for it. Yet, I wouldn’t mind binge watching Unorthodox, about now.
I hope to see you all along the Way.