My younger son is crying and I have to decide whether this is the time to go and retrieve him, or to let him cry it out. It’s a tough feeling, one where you confront your mothering and ask, am I doing what’s right for him or for me? Does he actually need to sleep, or am I using his sleep as an excuse to get a break from him, because there’s something awful about infants.
I take that back. There’s not something awful, which would imply there is one thing about infants that is unpleasant. What is wrong with infants is legion.
And no, I don’t mean their diapers. I don’t mean their puking. I don’t mean all the things that tend to get lampooned on sitcoms and movies. What makes infants awful is the brutality that must be confronted.
One aspect is time: infants absorb time. Your sleep is eroded, your confidence and mental acuity wanes, your body breaks because there is thing, this weak and sniveling thing that by the sound it emits wrecks your time, your peace, your mind.
But even this, people have discussed. Usually in laughing voices, lovingly, because the fiction we are so keen to return to is that it is not so bad, so hard. Or if it is, it’s all worthwhile in the end because family and children and infants are intrinsically meaningful. Wholesome.
Forgive me, then, for saying that’s shit.
The brutality of infants is seeing in them the limitations of man. Helpless body. If you remove the cuteness, if you step away from your adherence to the model of motherly devotion, what you are left with is a body and a belief: the body, ridiculous. The body, weak. The body, needy. The body, without a personality. The body, without a soul.
We have to keep reminding ourselves that we believe this will be a person, this body will grow, this body will get a personality, this body for which there is as of yet not indication of a soul, does in fact have one or maybe one day it will—
you hope. Or rather, you believe. To have an infant is to bind yourself to the faith in the future, your faith that he will not die tomorrow or next week. Your faith that life has meaning and that the scrabbling, shrieking being in front of you is not better left outside in winter or fed to dogs or, hell, fed to dinner guests.
The affront of infants is to know that someone did this for you. You can hate your mother, your father, your grandparents–I seem to recall that Sartre’s memoir was given over to a critical examination of his mom or grandfather–if you can read this, someone believed. They didn’t believe in the go-to-church-entertain-me-pastor, they didn’t believe in the checking-your-iphone-in-synagogue. They didn’t sit in a circle and lay hands on prayer and talk about healing–
They believed in something other than themselves, they believed in you, they believed you were not a meaningless clump of matter, but something invisible, which would one day be seen. And they believed this the doctors-without-borders-why-the-fuck-am-I-doing this kind of belief.
Someone wanted to cry because you kept them up all night. Someone wanted to throw you out a window because their arms were so tired. ANd maybe, like my older brother, you can argue that you were left to cry down the hall. Perhaps. But you didn’t starve.
Yet we reduce this believe to something vague and warm. We reduce the commitment and suffering to women’s issues, women’s interest. There is a silent exhaustion going down the length of the human race, but these stories are not written down, the philosophy being exercised here, the will is not examined. We have our dialog, and that is bad women abandon babies, bad mothers stay but do never do right, good mothers are never quite as good as they could be, anyway, these people don’t history, they don’t write books, these stories are lost and we turn our heads to the dialog as defined by men-doing-things. Hence ontology began about some concept in the sky and not where, if at all, man begins.