· illustration by Chris Lee
posted on mysoul.com: 20/08/07
Dear Unborn Child,
The other day, my yoga teacher was talking about reincarnation, and suddenly it occurred to me that you might be wondering why you haven’t been born yet — or, to be perfectly honest, why I’m not having you. I know it’s a little late to be telling you this, but if you’re half as brilliant as I always knew you’d be, you gave up on me many menstrual cycles ago. Still, I feel I owe you an explanation, especially since I’ve read that kids tend to blame themselves for their parents’ shortcomings. (See? It’s no picnic being a kid anyway.)
I want you to know that my decision not to have you is nothing personal (“It’s not you, it’s me”), but has to do with the fact that being a kid these days looks only slightly less depressing than being a parent. I blame it all on the word playdate. Like a screaming baby on an airplane, the word acts as an aural contraceptive for me. I remember the first time I heard it as clearly as I remember hearing about the cancellation of Arrested Development (now, that was a show worth reincarnating — and reincarnating for). Playdate has the ring of death to me — the death of hope, fun, freedom, and pretty much anything worth looking forward to. The greatest oxymoron since peace force, playdate exemplifies the BlackBerrying of childhood, and everything about modern parenting that has caused vasectomies and tubal ligation to feature prominently in my sexual fantasies.
It’s not as if there’s a grammatical rationale for playdate. It’s not easier to say “Tyler has a playdate at Zack’s house at five o’clock” than “Tyler’s going to play at Zack’s house at five o’clock.” The only reason for it, other than to infect children with parental misery, is to convey the concept of a playdate, which is every bit as un-fun, antiseptic, and counterintuitive as the word itself: a playdate is what happens when two “caregivers” (retch) make an appointment for their kids to play together (dry heave).
Why can’t kids make their own plans? Because kids can’t stand on their own front porches without a helmet anymore, let alone run (what if they fall? ) over to a friend’s house (which friend? is the house childproofed?) to play (with matches? guns? vibrators?) on a whim (a gateway instinct leading to full-blown independence). Letting a child go next door to hang out for a while? You might as well suggest they build a crystal meth lab in a pedophile’s attic and then sell what they don’t smoke to the Hells Angels. And if you, my unborn darling, aren’t already counting your lucky stars in whatever dimension you’re living in, get this: playdates aren’t just for children; for toddlers and “first playdates,” parents are expected to come along, too. (Now I understand the expression “I just threw up in my mouth.”)
Nobody believes me, but I walked to and from my downtown Toronto nursery school on my own when I was two and a half years old. I know it’s true, because when I asked my mom about it recently, she became very defensive. “We lived on a dead-end street!” she cried. “The school was just around the corner!” I also have a vivid memory of running home alone crying after peeing in my leotards. At three, I already had my own group of friends and — except for school and mealtimes — we ran around delightfully free and unsupervised. We not only learned the laws of the jungle; we made up a few ourselves.
Okay, so once my parents found me and a boy from up the street under the porch with our pants down. Who knows — maybe it was my idea? The occasional hard lesson is a small price to pay for freedom, and a very effective way to learn; I haven’t been found unclothed under a porch in years. And it sure beats the pants off a timed, fully supervised playdate, where bored parents with nothing in common beyond the belief in the natural supremacy of their own child scream, “Watch out!” “Use your inside voice!” and “Say thank you!” as they judge each other. (“Oh, thanks, but Amanda doesn’t eat ice cream. We’re trying to avoid diabetes.”)
Thanks to the current atmosfear surrounding children and childhood (a projection of the collective-unconscious guilt created by the financial infeasibility of stay-at-home parenting, which is the result of the prosperity gap — maybe we can talk about this another time? ), kids must be constantly supervised by adults, and (preferably) driven everywhere (preferably in a sturdy Land Rover). Babies are worse, of course. Giving birth is a yawn compared with the house of life-threatening horrors that is modern infancy. Every day, the media serves up another story to feed our paranoia — from the health risks of petting zoos (“Cute and cuddly — and loaded with E. coli!” ) to the selfish recklessness of sleeping with your baby (“Does Co-Sleeping Kill?”).
And in the unlikely event that you (let alone I) survive your childhood, you may then look forward to climate change, overpopulation, terrorism, pandemics, iPod people, religious fundamentalism, nuclear/religious Armageddon, human cloning, a more barbaric and increasingly patriarchal culture (extremely religious people are reproducing faster than anyone else), and, even worse, the music being played on mainstream radio. This is not to mention mommy blogs, thousand-dollar strollers, and pre-conception daycare registration.