Ellie — I first knew about you on Christmas Day, 2014. Your mother was nauseated most days and thought she should tell Opa, Uncle Nick, and me why.
We were thrilled, bursting with happiness. Truth is, we were bursting, period, since we couldn’t tell anybody else for almost two months (per your parents’ orders, which we tried to obey). For weeks, I went around with an enormous grin on my face that I couldn’t explain to anyone.
So, I have “known” you and you have been a presence in my life for more than a year. I’ve seen you in sonograms, then in photos and videos, and, best of all, in person. You’ve warmed and expanded my heart.
Through these months, I’ve often thought of other babies your age. Sometimes, I’ve seen them — watching other pregnant women when your mother was pregnant, seeing newborns, then seeing babies a few months old, as you are now. Other times, I’ve just imagined them — pregnant women and their emerging babies in the next block, the next state, across oceans and around the world.
The year of your birth, 2015, more than 130 million other babies were born. They were born under all kinds of circumstances — wanted, unwanted, healthy, malnourished, welcomed with great expectations, tolerated as a burden in a hard and dangerous world.
I’ve looked at you, the child of healthy, well-educated parents who live in a safe neighborhood in a stable, affluent country, and thought how fortunate you are, how fortunate our family is.
I don’t think it does any good for any of us to feel guilty about our great good fortune (what would that accomplish?). But I do think we have to always be aware of it. So much of your life is predicted by the circumstances of your birth.
If there’s anything I believe in this world, it’s that we have a responsibility to others.
STOP NOW. WAIT A MINUTE.
Fine, I can feel you thinking, getting impatient. I get that. I’m fortunate and, because of that, I have a greater responsibility to the world. But then what? How do I live my life? What can you tell me?
Oh, and didn’t you swear you wouldn’t get preachy, Coco? And aren’t you sounding a little preachy right now? I’m young and I’m sick and tired of adults preaching to me.
And, by the way, stop telling me what I’ll be feeling and thinking. You have no idea.
You have a point.
Maybe you’ll be thinking this in a few years, Ellie, and maybe you won’t. But if you are, you’re right: I am droning on, getting a little preachy when I swore I wouldn’t. If so, I’ll cut it out.
What I think I’m trying to deal with here is maybe my own deep problems with the world, my own guilt at being privileged in an unfair world. Maybe that’s what we always do with our children and grandchildren — try to work out our own inadequacies by telling them what they should do. Good grief, no wonder you all tune us out.
So, what’s the answer? Let me propose a few.
- I won’t back down about all the other babies in the world. They’re there and many of them need our help. Just try to stay aware of this, and hang on to a little humility. If there’s any human quality I can’t stand, it’s smugness: e.g., born on third base and think you hit a triple (a saying I wish I’d thought of first, but didn’t). I myself get a little smug from time to time, but usually get knocked on my butt minutes later. It hurts, but it’s good for me.
2. Question everything you hear from me or anybody else. Most of us have good intentions, but we’re deeply flawed human beings, flailing through life, still trying to make sense of it ourselves. Question us, question authority, but do it politely. Nobody likes kids with poor manners, especially me.
3. Here’s what I think is helpful in life: an open heart and a skeptical ear. Listen politely to your elders who have earned their wrinkles. Then make up your own mind.
4. What else? Something I think you’ll come by naturally: A sense of humor and a sense of the ridiculous. Forgive yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
All right, enough of the advice. I’m going to take a nap. love you, Coco
(Copyright 2016 by Ruth Pennebaker)