Monday, December 28, 2009

Future Shock

"When I grow up, I'm going to be just like my Dad," Bub told me yesterday. "Except ... I'm going to cook a lot quicker. That way I don't have to wait for my food."

Bub has been thinking a lot about the future lately. He's worried that when he's a grown-up he'll have to eat grown-up food instead of his current diet of breakfast cereal, baloney sandwiches, peach yogourt, and peas. Totally uncomforted by my assurance that food tastes different when you grow up, he finally relaxed when I pointed out that grown-ups don't have anybody to make them eat stuff they don't want to. (This, I find, is one of the major perks.) He plans to name his first son Ben, though he had to alter his ideas somewhat when we informed him that the baby wouldn't be coming out of his tummy.

Pie, too, has become increasingly aware of the decades stretching out ahead of her. We watched Up yesterday and after witnessing the montage of Carl and Ellie's marriage she looked at my tear-streaked face and said quietly, "They were doing so well! And then ... they weren't."

For her, the long years ahead are doubly poignant because she will have to live them without the help of her dearly departed soothers. On Christmas Day, we packed them all up into a Ziploc bag and handed them off to her newborn cousin. We've been talking about this day for months and though she seemed ready, I wasn't. Pie is four and a half. She is approximately twice as old as most children the day their parents decide they're old enough to give up their pacifier habit. But Pie's addiction has been kept in check: she uses them only in her bed - so, at night or during the day when she is troubled enough to curl up with her dolls and comfort herself with a few drags on her soother. She has an overbite and a lisp - both slight, but evident - which may or may not have been caused by her extended oral fixation, but in the end I've been reluctant to require her to give up something which creates so much comfort and so little harm. What is there in my life that offers the same kind of payoff with so few calories?

Christmas Day, Pie stoically handed over her bag of soothers with little sign of distress - until bedtime. Then the tears came. Not a tantrum, no anger or sulkiness - just deep, heart-wrenching sobs. She has made it through the night without a soother before, on occasions where we've forgotten to pack them, but this night was different - this time, it was forever.

I wonder how many of our griefs are like that, the payback for our knowledge of time. If we lived in three dimensions we would still suffer from momentary pains and discomforts, but how much true suffering is contingent on our awareness of the future? As I sobbed my way through Up yesterday I reflected that the melancholy in that film is attached almost entirely to the passage of time. Time is simultaneously the most mundane and the most startling aspect of life. C.S. Lewis argued that the jolt we feel at the passage of time suggests that we were created for some other condition. None of us have ever known a static existence. Mutability is the most omnipresent, unavoidable aspect of our lives and yet we never quite get over the shock of it.

14 comments:

slouchy said...

oh, god, that scene in Up is utterly heartbreaking.

and your pie. sigh. poor little one.

12 and 8 want to live down the street from us when they grow up. they will bring their laundry home. that's the plan, anyway.

8 says that he will sleep every night at home when he's in college. i tell him that he may not want to -- that it's in fact very likely he will NOT want to. his eyes widen. he can't imagine a time when he wouldn't want to sleep in his bed at home.

but i can, and so his words make my heart squeeze a little.

as usual, you make me think.

Allysha said...

I think we never grow out of being susceptible to Future Shock. It's kind of a bummer.

Sue said...

I love this thought from CS Lewis - can you point me to the book it came from?

Swistle said...

That montage KILLED ME DEAD. Then it got worse because the kids missed huge chunks of meaning and I had to EXPLAIN it. "See, that means they're deciding to have lots of babies, and that means *CHOKE pause CHOKE pause* they can't. And Ellie falls to show us that *CHOKE CHOKE pause CHOKE pause* something is wrong. And then the balloon is from her..........*CHOKE* FUNERAL *CHOKE*.....which means she, um, she, uh, *clears throat* died."

Bea said...

Slouchy - I still like sleeping in my bed at home sometimes.

Sue - I thought it was Mere Christianity, but now I can't find it. It's one of those things I read decades ago and still have filed under the "C.S. Lewis" category in my head.

Swistle - Ellie's miscarriage makes me cry just thinking about it. A lot of that scene went over Pie's head. When they were seeing babies in the sky I said, "They want a baby," and when they were setting up the crib Pie said, "They HAVE one!" and she didn't ask what happened in the next few scenes when it became evident that they didn't.

Mouse said...

Scooter says that when he grows up, he'll sit in the front seat of the car, but still let me drive. He also wants to work with me.

One of my biggest joys of being a grown-up is never making/eating brussel sprouts or lima beans.

We saw Up when I was waiting for blood results on this pregnancy and still very tentative about it. That was a hard scene!

Kyla said...

I haven't seen Up and and now I'm a little scared to. ;)

Kathie said...

I remember the heart-wrenching sobs when my son realized that his "gully" was gone forever... We did the same thing, working up for at least a month to the big day when "bigs boys turn three and throw their gullys away". He dropped it into the trash that morning without a thought. Then came bedtime that night, when he asked for it and then realized that it was GONE FOREVER! Oh, it still makes me want to cry when I think of his little face at that moment...and he's 13 now! Thanks for the lovely writing and the bittersweet memory!

Anonymous said...

"I'll never (sob) see Timmy (bigger sob) AGAIN (sniff, sniff)". My youngest at age 5 upon the death of his beloved goldfish.
"When I grow up I will eat like this EVERY Day", said after eating beloved fast food at age 13.
Love this post and the post about "not EVERY day!".

Happy New Year to you and your family.
Linda (formerly (your) Anon)

Bon said...

i haven't seen Up. but it sounds very much like it was made for the kind of kid i was, the one who started grieving the passage of time very young and is only just getting out of the habit in my late thirties.

or wait...i'm getting out of it for ME. i spend that energy on my kids now.

happy 2010.

Beck said...

Up completely broke my heart. My son thought it was so HILARIOUS and yet kept turning around, mystified, to watch me sob through the whole damn thing.

Okay, the talking dogs did not make me cry. But everything else. Stupid Pixar.

My older 2 kids had soothers until they were 2 and then did not have them anymore with very little drama. I had braced myself for it and it did not come. It was waiting for other, unexpected, occasions.

Lady M said...

Somehow my reader didn't show this post until today, along with the sledding story, so it feels like ages since I read anything from you and now I get a double whammy of your beautiful and poignant writing. Sigh. Love your words and thoughts. My boys are growing so quickly too. Sniff.

kittenpie said...

Haven't seen Up (yet), but I agree - I am quite regularly shocked to find myself (gasp!) as old as I am, and that I am so many years removed now from some time or event that seems so recent, or looms so large on the landscape of my past.

julie green said...

i so remember moments like that from my childhood. i still keenly feel that same sense of loss i felt each time i rearranged my room (change) or gave an outgrown toy to my little sister (growing up).

(btw - for my money the best line in this post is this: What is there in my life that offers the same kind of payoff with so few calories? what indeed...)