When I was 17 years old my high school sweetheart told me why he wanted to have children: “To give life to someone whose mind I can influence for good and whose life I can mould to change the world.”
I thought it was extremely romantic because:
1. He said he wanted those children to come from me
2. He had a deep throaty voice and a worldly air
3. I was high on lust and rebellion and stupidity
4. I was 17 years old
This weekend I had the pleasure of taking my nephews, Jo and Jeff, on their first camping trip. My reasons were as selfish as they were kind. I needed to run away from the city and I thought I’d share with them the passion for the wild outdoors that I inherited from my father.
I planned the trip meticulously. Sure, I forgot to pack underwear, towels, insecticide, tent pegs and food, but I remembered everything else. I had maps to show them where we were and books to explain zoology, astronomy, topography and theology. I was going to teach them how to light a fire, how to catch a fish, how to eat wild berries and how to swim in the Nile.
The fact that I can’t light a fire without matches and a can of paraffin didn’t stand in my way. I stifled the gag reflex that overwhelms me when I smell fresh fish and I ate all the wild berries to ensure that I, not they, died first if I ate anything poisonous. It was great!
Our tent collapsed on each of the three nights of camping. The camping center manager barred us from lighting a fire for ‘safety reason’. Swimming in the Nile against a strong tide was harder than it seemed.
It didn’t help that Jo and Jeff were bored to distraction everytime I had to leaf through my Encyclopedia of Ignorance to answer their questions on why crocodiles and snails, why I’m not married and the feeding habits of fire ants.
The boys had a blast. I got bitten by ticks; they caught a fish on their own. I had diarrhea from eating raw mushrooms; they learned how to paddle a canoe. A late-night ‘comfort call’ and a subsequent rash on my nether regions taught them how to identify Poison Ivy. I learned how beautiful and strong they are and they now know I’m a blithering idiot.
That’s the problem with children. That’s the problem with children and expectations and dreams.
My high school sweetheart lives in South Africa these days. He’s married to a beautiful woman who bore him two lovely children. I’m tempted to write to him to ask him if parenting has turned out to be as fulfilling as he said it would. Has he influenced those lives? Has he moulded those minds? Probably. He was always a determined and focused little thing.
But probably not. Children will learn from you, but most of the time they will think you are out of date, out of touch and frankly, a bit of a pain. You will love them, but you can’t guarantee they will love you back. You will sacrifice for them and they will question why you didn’t try harder. You will call them yours, but they will look for another.
We’re going camping again, me and the boys.Next time, I won’t try to teach them the wonders and mysteries of the world. I’ll just sleep and eat and scratch myself. They’ll still think I’m a blithering idiot, but that’s okay. Because I am.