As a white person who has spent most of my life enjoying the relative stability of a middle-class existence (with a few dips in the pool of abject poverty here and there), like all relatively privileged people with nothing better to think about, I am prone to the occasional existential dilemma. I first realized this tendency when I was in college and named my cats Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Even now, as a thirtysomething adult, I still sometimes catch myself gazing into the abyss, wondering whether it will stare back at me. Most of us who have our basic needs met do this sometimes, right?
My mental state these days reads like the Wikipedia page on Existentialism. That’s not to say I’m depressed, although maybe I am to some degree (the hormonal crash that comes with the end of lactating is not something I ever want to experience again, and let’s not even get into the lactation-failure angst). There’s sadness overseasoned with anxiety, along with anxiety’s good pal insomnia. And a lot of stress. I’m not one of those people who lacks a spine and refuses to say “no” to anyone (which apparently means I’m not the target audience of every mom-oriented magazine that exists, because apparently moms in our society don’t say “no” to anything). However, I’m learning that saying “yes” to too many things results in saying “no” to everything, because you’re left stressed, exhausted, and sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching two teams you don’t even care about play baseball while secretly fantasizing about cutting your hair into a snappy new mom-cut because you’re so sick of the baby pulling it and it’s all falling out anyway.
I’m sure most new-ish moms struggle though angst, freedom, facticity, authenticity and inauthenticity, despair, the other, reason, and the absurd, in the context of hormonal whackitude, all while trying to figure out, like you did back in college: What does it all mean? (I used to wish that question on guys I dug who weren’t that into me — that one day, they’d be married to boring, brown-haired women who wear unattractive pants and a bird would shit on them while mowing the lawns of their boring, suburban houses and they’d wonder: What does it all mean? You can tell I was one of those pink-haired, social smokers who drinks a brown-bagged bottle of Boone’s on the steps of Old Capitol instead of participating in Homecoming festivities.) I’m sure we all wonder what it all means. It’s not always a pleasant process, but, like I mentioned earlier, it indicates a certain level of privilege and comfort in life and, done right, can probably lead to something good.
There are many things I hope to pass on to Soren — a love of sports; grammar skills; the understanding that once you know the rules, it’s okay to break them if you have a good reason; kindness to animals and usually to humans, too; the willingness to question authority and tradition; and stuff like that. I hope he doesn’t get stuck with my phobias, anxiety, tendency to over-engage in introspection, and susceptibility to the existential dilemma.
The thing is, I already see the existential dilemma happening with him, although to be honest, the baby version of it is kind of cute. It goes something like this:
- Baby rubs eyes and indicates that he is tired.
- Baby is deposited into crib with pacifier.
- Although baby wants pacifier, he removes it from his mouth and plays with it or flings it out of reach.
- Baby wants to go to sleep but doesn’t, perhaps feeling that sleep is an inauthentic reflection of his existence.
- Baby tries to grab mobile that remains frustratingly just out of reach. He wonders if one day, the mobile will wonder what it all means.
- Baby stares at the turtle on the side of his crib and wonders what it means to be a turtle.
- Baby kicks the mattress repeatedly, thereby earning the nickname “World Cup.”
- Baby rotates counterclockwise until his feet are where his head used to be.
- Baby rubs eyes and indicates that he is tired.
- Baby makes pterodactyl noises.
- Baby realizes that if you stare at the pacifier long enough, somebody reinserts the pacifier into your mouth.
- Baby rolls over onto side to get a better look at the turtle and ponders the essence of turtleness.
- Oops! Baby rolls over onto tummy even though baby is not particularly fond of being on his tummy.
- Baby drools.
- Baby forgets the authentic truth that it’s easier to roll from front to back than it is to roll from back to front and stays on tummy.
- Baby would like to sleep but instead does pushups.
- Baby ponders, in Either/Or fashion, the relative merits of pushups and sleep.
- Baby realizes that this all is actually kind of funny and probably doesn’t really matter after all.
- Baby is turned over by the Great Hand of God, or the Universe, or Nothingness, or baby turns himself over.
- Baby eventually goes to sleep.
- Baby actually is pretty smart.