This morning as I backed out of the driveway to go to work I caught sight of my almost-Kindergartener Samuel with his face pressed against the window waving goodbye. I was instantly struck by a bout of "mono no aware" and transported back to my own pre-adolescent childhood and memories tinged with sadness and regret. Mono no what? This recycled post from January 2011 explains it. . .
Becoming a parent has produced a sudden awareness of my mortality. I'm also beginning to realize that I have less control than I thought I had -- or like to think I have -- over Samuel and Benjamin's future. So much is out of my hands! But there is something. A happy childhood is no guarantee of a happy life (and as a Christian I have higher aspirations for my children than mere happiness) but giving them a happy childhood is something I do have a great deal of control over right now.
I was moved by these lines from author Alison Gopnik (The Philosophical Baby):
Parents often feel a kind of existential anxiety as they watch their children grow up—as we say, it goes by so fast. We watch that infinitely flexible, contingent, malleable future swiftly harden into the irretrievable, unchangeable past. Japanese poets have a phrase, mono no aware, for the bittersweetness inherent in ephemeral beauty—a falling blossom or a leaf in the wind. Children are a great source of mono no aware.
But there is another side to the ephemerality of childhood. There is a kind of immunity about a happy childhood, not an immunity from the disasters and catastrophes that may, that almost certainly do, lie ahead, but an intrinsic immunity. Change and transience are at the heart of the human condition. But as parents we can at least give our children a happy childhood, a gift that is as certain, as unchanging, as rock solid, as any human good.
Gopnik writes from a naturalistic worldview, so, naturally, there were things I disagreed with in her book, but overall I found it to be an illuminating glimpse into the minds of baby humans. I enjoyed the movie references sprinkled throughout (the author must be a film buff). At one point she suggests that the unself-conscious consciousness of infants is like that of an adult watching an absorbing Hitchcock film. "For a baby, watching a Mickey Mouse mobile may be like being utterly, blissfully, selflessly captivated by a good movie."
Sounds like a great life!
Quotes from p. 121 & 202: The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life (Picador, 2009)
Photo of our two sons taken 1/12/11