Friday, June 15, 2007

To Be a Parent

So I found another place where Kingsolver's dialogue is nearly unbelievable. Taylor is thinking about adopting this little girl, and Mattie offers her an astonishing insight:
"... I think you're asking the wrong question."

"How do you mean?"

"You're asking yourself, Can I give this kid the best possible upbringing and keep her out of harm's way her whole life long? The answer is no, you can't. But nobody else can either...."

"So what's the right thing to ask?"

"Do I want to try? Do I think it would be interesting, maybe even enjoyable in the long run, to share my life with this kid and give her my best effort and maybe, when all's said and done, end up with a good friend."
Kingsolver, The Bean Trees (1988)
Do you see what I mean? Who could come up with that just in conversation? Mattie talks like a book -- like literature, for gosh sakes!

But suspending my disbelief, I think this is a wonderful insight, and a great question for every parent to ask. Most parents never ask that question; parenthood happens to them in a sort of "existence before essence" kind of way -- they don't know what they're getting into until they're already in it.

But asking that question (not in the sense of "You mean I could opt out now? ") and choosing the answer Yes can, I think, put some of the little (and not-so-little) challenges in perspective.

It seems to me that's a helpful exercise, like asking yourself this one:
Knowing what I know now, would I ask him/her to marry me all over again?
and choosing "Yes." This isn't about believing three or twelve "impossible things before breakfast"; rather, it's about commiting my will, making a choice, orienting my body and putting one foot in front of the other.

But back to the original question. Do I want to try, and keep trying? Yes I do! And at this point I am thrilled to be able to say that our daughters are already good friends of ours.

By the way, I mentioned to Sheri that Kingsolver's dialogue seems to me unbelievably beautiful (which I meant literally, as "so beautiful that the dialogue itself is not believable"). She didn't find it unbelievable, but did agree about the beauty of her prose. "I found myself just reading it over again" to enjoy it.

What was it, I thought, that makes this dialogue so unbelievable, whereas Card's Ender and Bean novels (Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Speaker for the Dead, etc.) have astonishing insights offered up by absurdly young characters? I decided that by the time I was reading any 13-year-old spouting 50-year-old wisdom, my disbelief had already been so far suspended that this little bit more wasn't out of line.

And to be fair, perhaps it's not Kingsolver's characters that speak incredibly, but rather it's because of my prejudices that I find their remarks prima facie absurd.

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