Yesterday I turned down a half-time psychiatrist job in the city of my dreams that could have supported us there. I was tempted. I’ve wanted to live there for many years. I’ve even joked that this is the place where God lives.
Perhaps if I didn’t have my children watching me live my life, I’d be moving there next week and giving that impossible job a try. I learned from this opportunity just how important my children are in my life. They are my strength.
If my children weren’t watching me maybe I would have agreed to rent out my prescription pad and pen. Soon, I’d have been prescribing drugs on a too-fast assembly line to the helpless and impoverished, those imprisoned both inside and outside of government-sponsored concrete holding cells.
The fact that I felt tempted tells me that even my soul has a price. Of course. Darkness and light are conjoined twins.
Because of my children, who are here watching and listening and waiting to hear what I would choose, I learned something very important about myself. I learned that, even as a person who looks daily toward the light for guidance, I still carry the seeds of darkness in my purse. I hope to maintain the presence of mind not to water those seeds and to keep them out of the sunlight so they won’t sprout.
I learned this week that my children are a source of strength to me. Because my children’s eyes and ears and thoughts are on me every day, they are key players in my ongoing efforts to live a right life.
Children pay attention to the truth in ways that an adult may not. Children, especially the young, view the world from behind fewer veils than we adults wear in front of our eyes. I value the opinion of a child as more genuine than one from an adult. The older we get, the more conflicts of interest we have built into our thoughts and decisions. We adults are in charge of our livelihoods and pantries. This can and must impact our choices.
My children’s thoughts and feelings and reactions make an important compass for my life. While I have been shepherding them, they have in turn shepherded me. I am surprised by the amount of gratitude I feel for their guidance in many aspects of my life.
Perhaps if I didn’t have my children watching me live my life, I’d swear more. Maybe if they weren’t listening to what I say and watching what I do it would be easier to let stinking language pop out of me like mouth farts.
Maybe I’d smoke pot. So many people do this openly now. “It’s ubiquitous,” a friendly woman in the grocery checkout line told me last week. We were strangers making chit-chat on Christmas Eve. She told me about her favorite place to get high on chocolate saturated with marijuana.
It could it be that I’d pour a second or a third or fourth glass of wine in the evening before dinner, pick up a grease-scented sack from a drive-through and trance out in front of sit-coms, if my children weren’t here to be taught how to live.
Would I walk to the produce market or read poetry if they’d never been born? Would I get up in the pre-morning dark to write if they weren’t here, demanding my attention and talking to me during the day? Would I simmer pots of vegetable soup or knead bread dough or fry potatoes with onions and garlic without them here to sit at the table and eat with me?
Perhaps if I’d sent my children to school, they would have been trained to watch the teacher at the front of the class rather than me. They would have been socialized away from family and thrown into the arms of their peers. I would feel less compelled by their scrutiny. Their scrutiny would likely have been long gone by now.
Maybe if I’d left the television turned on, given them electronic games and phones of their own and set them free to roam the internet, I would be free of their eyes and ears and thoughts. I could have lost them to drugs and guns, cars and the unending-material-wants.
If they’d grown unhappy or restless with these, I could have drugged them into compliance. Then I would be free of them, free to make my own choices. Alone.
A Jesuit once said “Give me a child till he’s six years old and I’ll have him the rest of his life.”
But this Jesuit didn’t have to go head-to-head with a lifetime of unceasing pressure toward greed, personal isolation and mindless violence. He didn’t compete with hand-held first-person shooter “games” or the spirit-killing trap of endless years of classroom indoctrination.
This Jesuit wasn’t up against the unstoppable pounding Gatling guns of marketing. The constant hurricane of advertising kindles and fans our monster desires, kills free will and deafens our intellect.
This Jesuit had no idea of the strength and tenacity of these effects on the human soul. Only deep in the forest, far out to sea, under the cover of night or hugged tight inside a close-knit family are there corners that can be made free of this overwhelming and insidious brain-washing.
How is it that any parent can be made willing to hand over an infant to strangers from the age of six weeks until the age of mandatory public education, for these Jesuit-critical first six years? Where does the pressure come from for us to engage our babies’ developing minds and hearts with electronic media and characters devised by Wall Street? How is it that we allow the agendas of others to occupy our childrens’ minds? Is it possible that a stranger can know our child better than we do? Is there anything a baby needs to learn that can’t be taught by being held in a parent’s arms?
As I write in the predawn darkness, I have tears of gratitude in my eyes when I realize how much I depend upon my childrens’ presence with me. I count on their eyes and ears and thoughts to shore me up during times of temptation. They always lead me home.
Thanks for reading, thinking and writing.
Alice Keys MD