Had a first visit here at Three Bunny Farm from my eldest, her husband, and her 11-month-old boy. We’d been thinking about this day for many months, and it was everything we could have hoped. Eleven months is pretty young to form lasting impressions, though, even of baby lambs and crowing roos and flooffy bunnehs, so we hope for many more visits in the future, and the development of a new family history like the ones my kids had with their grandparents and that I had with my grandparents — histories that imbue our lives with certain values, smells, loved books and activities, associations with weather and climate, a sense of light, a glimpse of water, an exact turn in the road — Grandpa’s house! We’re almost there!
But I want to talk about family. Specifically, young family.
Life is hard. If life isn’t hard for you, it just means you’ve worked hard enough, or are privileged enough (or both, in some combination) to be provided a cushion from that reality.
I don’t mean “hard,” particularly, as “hard times.” Goodness knows, living in or on the edge of true poverty, with no family network, no resources, and especially no education or other “tools” with which to raise oneself up is a whole other class of “hardness.” But I’m referring to everyday living by the vast number of everyday folks — people like me, people like my daughter and son-in-law.
Nor is this a political-economic treatise on the decline of the middle class or any such thing.
I’m talking about the day-to-day. And it is, to my mind, an inherently difficult, complicated thing to do what rightly needs to be done, to survive, to prosper, to progress, to raise offspring, to be happy, to maintain a marriage, to maintain family and friends, to manage finances, and to figure out — and act on — what it means to be GOOD in achieving all that. Oh, also; getting through the tough spots, the accidents, the surprises, the failures, the frights.
If you were already of an age and had to do it all again, you’d have, perhaps, some stores of wisdom to aid you. Some practice at winnowing away irrelevancies and solving problems with least effort and maximal effect. But those of us 60+ are not offered that chance. The ones who have to do it are the 20- and 30-somethings, and just like we did, they face so many problems anew; and that’s not even counting the problems that are new because time has marched on — new technologies, new social trends and sects, global dynamics, new awareness. I was worried about male privilege when I was 30, because women’s lib was a thing and I was alert and aware — but my awareness of racial privilege, class privilege, hetero-privilege, cisgender-privilege, etc., lagged. And our grandchildren and great grandchildren will make their way in a further changed world.
But I watch our children and I think: it’s HARD. I want to celebrate how hard it is. To make a living. To find work that pays the bills AND is fulfilling AND doesn’t perpetuate patriarchy (or carbon footprint, or name-your-demon). To balance time. Time and space and energy to even consider, say, values. All those moving parts, as you pay down student loans, try to resist building credit card debt, insist on “the very best” for your precious baby — but how? You’re no millionaire. And one overriding value: standing on your own two feet! So you achieve within careers, within meta-careers — and it’s important to be able to say, “I did that.” That it wasn’t favoritism, nepotism, a gift from dear old dad.
You’re grateful for gifts, of course. You acknowledge the advantages life has handed you. But you still have to go back to the check register, the angry neighbor, the constraints that hem in your choices as you plot a path. And it’s not only important to be able to say “I did that.” It’s important to be able to say what’s important in the first place.
Yes — that’s the thing. Is that “values”? I guess so. Values we’re constantly evaluating. Should I smoke? Should I eat “healthier”? If so, how? Should I go for the promotion? Should I make more time for my spouse? Should I read more? Watch TV less? Keep in better touch with so-and-so? And so on and so on. For every such puzzle, a ripple effect on other questions: If I make more money, I can do X. If I take a longer commute, I can do less of Y.
And for every such puzzle, a meta-puzzle: on what grounds am I making that decision? Mere necessity? What I can afford? Something altruistic? A religious principle?
It’s HARD. I salute all working people, and especially my cherished children (and step-children).