If I Had a Child…

written by Tania Kuehn

It’s been a year of babies, here in my little world. A couple weeks ago, a friend called and we chatted briefly, as we do a few times a year. When a baby started to fuss in the background, she told me that — surprise! — she’d had a baby recently. After my momentary disbelief (“No, you’re babysitting! Are you? Or..? Really?!”), she laughingly insisted it was her baby and sent a couple photos of a Batman-costume-clad little baby boy. On Canada Day, another friend had her first baby. Friends’ younger siblings are becoming moms and dads. Older friends are having grand-babies. Increasingly, my age group at work is going on maternity leave and putting baby photos onto the bulletin board.

For as long as I can remember, I never planned to have a child of my own. I’ve thought, here and there, that maybe someday I’ll foster or adopt a child, but that “someday” is generally distant and vague. Of course, I do still, occasionally, have thoughts like many other people do: “If that were my kid, I’d make sure that ____.” “I would ____, just like my parents did.”  “Unlike this person or that person, I’d _____.”

If I found out that I was “with child,” I hope that I’d keep my mind open. I hope that I wouldn’t be terrified of what might happen to my little one in this big world…and I hope that I wouldn’t be overly full of wild dreams and plans. I hope that I’d try my absolute best to be a good parent…and I hope that I wouldn’t base all my happiness on what my kid does or doesn’t do. I hope that I’d keep an open mind about what that little embryo will be like as a five-year-old or a 15-year-old. I hope that I would allow room for movement, for individuality, for someone who’s not like me.

If I had a toddler, I hope I’d remember to become like a kid, too, for a while — that I’d be a bit more carefree, that I’d put away the grown-up books and chores for a while, that I’d be silly and also remember that sometimes, it’s so good to have a long cry. I’d set that important “screen time” limit and stick to it – for my kid and for myself – remembering that it’s real life that really matters.

I hope that I’d inspire my child to be kind, to be curious about the world and how it works, to be interested in other people.

If I had a kid, I hope that in many ways, I’d be the example that my parents were to my siblings and me. I’d want them to know you don’t have to be the “most popular” kid — it’s enough to have a good friend or two. I’d want them to know that you don’t have to wear cool clothes — just wear whatever you like! I’d want them to know that it’s important to try your best at school, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re not perfect at everything. I’d want my kids to know that it’s possible to survive without tons of toys or a big house, and that joy can be found in simplicity.

When my hypothetical kid becomes a teenager, I’d encourage her to think carefully about which groups and activities she wants to join. I’d encourage paying attention to emotions and reasoning. I’d remind her that friends and interests come and go — so, don’t feel you have to stick with something for forever, just because it made sense to you at one point. I’d tell my teenager that it’s okay to question the words and actions of your peers and the people who are in positions of authority.

When that big day of high school graduation arrives for my imaginary child, I might give a little pep talk before all the celebrations. I’d remind my child that just because you made Plan A for “Life After High School,” that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it if you find out that it doesn’t suit you anymore. It doesn’t matter if you get a doctorate degree or finish a certificate program or withdraw. Do what makes you happy and do it well. Follow the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.'” I might laugh a bit after sharing that quote with my high school graduate, but I’d also say, “That’s good advice, though, isn’t it?”

If my child quit his job or post-secondary education or his marriage, I hope I’d stay calm, cool, and collected, and say, “Oh? Tell me more.” I hope I’d resist the impulse to worry about his pension, his skills, or his inability to get along with every single human for his entire life. I hope I’d have a bit of faith in his decisions as a grown-up, even if I don’t understand them 100%. I hope I’d always leave the door open, and if a visit doesn’t go well, we’d end with, “Well, we’ll talk again soon, okay?”

Oh, there are so many things to share with my imaginary kid!

I’d remind him or her just how important it is to be true to oneself — to let the inside match the outside. I’d remind my child that there is only one person who will always be with you — yourself — so make your peace with that and try to like that person! Listen to others’ opinions and consider them, but also give weight to your own.

I’d encourage her to keep up, somewhat, with modern technologies and such things as social media and the goings-on of the world… but also to be careful about not getting too wrapped in that. (Look up at the skyscrapers and the clouds… flip through that June 2014 magazine in the doctor’s office waiting room…. make small talk with the barista or the taxi driver… “forget” the phone at home when going for a run or hanging out at the mall…).

I’d remind my kid that sometimes the things we least expect to lose (a friendship, a pet, a favourite toy) do disappear. In the same way that I try to come to grips with that in my own life, I hope I could teach my child about holding on, and letting go…about cherishing the happy moments, and realizing that grief means we had something wonderful going on at some point…about not keeping our memories stronger than our dreams.

If I had a child, I’d gently — and at the appropriate time — bring up the topics of dying and death. (Forget the fear of hell and the threats of damnation, though!) Perhaps we’d sit together and read “Lifetimes: a beautiful way to explain death to children” and “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney.” I’d encourage my kid to delve into the tough, uncomfortable questions about death, to not shy away from the awkwardness of such things. We’d talk about how to live our lives so that, when it’s time for that unavoidable chapter, we have peace of mind and not too many regrets about how we spent our time here on Earth.

I plan to head out to Richmond in a couple months, and there I will meet my friend’s little baby boy. I don’t know what I will say to him or what he’ll say to me, besides maybe something tearful and then something giggly. In a couple years, I’ll be super-cool to him. And then in a few more years, I will no longer be super-cool to him. And then… and then, who knows? Who knows how things will develop in his life, in my friend’s life, in any of our lives. As always, I’m curious about the journey.