When I had my first child three years ago, I thought becoming a parent was the most optimistic thing I’d ever done. But now that I’m only a few weeks away from delivering my second, I have a whole new take on optimism.
As the mother of a preschooler, I don’t have much time to be afraid. But when I do there are plenty of apocalyptic choices, from nuclear war and domestic terrorism to crumbling democracy and ecosystem collapse. When I tell people I had to think hard about having kids at all, knowing what we do about climate change, their response is usually to reassure me that my two won’t tip the balance toward overpopulating the planet.
But I’d been thinking not of my duty to the planet – but of my duty as a parent, about the quality of my kids’ lives, and what Earth will be like in thirty years when they’re deciding if they’ll have children of their own. Then I remember that it’s only recently that choosing has even been an option - and that bringing kids into the world has always been a little terrifying.
I was born in the pit of a recession. The generation before mine grew up practicing Cold War drills in school. The generation before that grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during world war. And that’s just the twentieth century. Humans have known violence, disease, hunger, and struggle throughout history, and still do today. Yet, our species has always managed to find reasons to laugh.
For all the ways our culture has grown more fragmented, there are advantages in being born now. If my child is a daughter, she’ll find the world more ferociously feminist than ever before. If my children love someone of the same sex, or find their gender identity is different from their sex at birth, they’ll find some mainstream acceptance.
By any measure, my children will grow up with considerable privilege. And they’ll grow up aware of it. So in these final weeks, every kick I feel is like a message saying, “Don’t worry, Mama.”
Besides - it’s spring in Vermont. The ramps and rhubarb are growing, and I can hear dozens of different bird calls from my kitchen window. Being alive on this planet, in this time and place, is still the most miraculous gift I know.