uring a business meeting, a lady in front of me glanced at the watch and excused herself. She must call her son’s teachers at summer camp; they must not forget to give him gluten free food. “Oh,” I said, “he has a coeliac disease?” She gave me a short, surprised look meaning: ‘How dare you think I would born imperfect child?’ and explained: “Of course not, gluten just isn’t good for us.”
Next day I had lunch with my daughter and her friend who just spent few weeks during summer as a camp leader. I asked her if they got many calls from worried mothers and she confirmed. She told us about a boy aged nine, who was receiving mother’s messages every five minutes and a call every hour. There was something somnambulistic about him, she said. The teachers got together, invented some minor offence and confiscated the child’s phone. He went into coma for few hours before starting slow awakening. Next day he was running around, playing with other kids, while teachers put their phones on silent mode, ignoring the calls from his mother. The last day they returned him his phone and when he saw it, he started crying. He said he didn’t want to go home.
The same evening I went for a run. I’m slow and used to joggers passing by. I overhead two women speaking about school tests their children in the third grade had. One said, “We had this as number five question …” and the second chuckled: “But we had this question as number ten!”
Slow run gives you a lot of time to think. The word “we” ladies used stung me. They looked around forty, obviously not in the third grade anymore. They knew everything about their children’s schoolwork, down to the content of tests and the order of questions in them. It felt like they were collecting information from two lives, theirs and children’s at the same time.
I remembered the gluten “we”, too – the child will eat something at his summer camp, but it won’t be good for “us”, even if mother is hundred miles away.
Up until the beginning of the 20th century, the poor sent their children to work away from home as early as in their sixth year; and the rich sent them to the boarding schools. Parting the ways of parents and children depends on the culture. In the Mediterranean world, Christian, with the cult of Mother, the children don’t really go away from home. If you read testimonies or novels from the trenches of the First World War, after the battle the night fills with the sound of dying Italian soldiers calling their mothers.
In the last ten years, the unemployment of youth has in Spain or Greece reached 50% of the younger population and there are not rioting because their parents support them.
Still, parents are not talking about “we” when talking about their offspring.
Something new has happened. Part of the population has spent most of their years with the mobile phone and they think about them as an inborn ability. When they have a thought, they want to share it immediately and when they think about somebody, they want to check on him or her. Grownups can turn off their phones; children are not allowed to (maybe they don’t even know that’s possible).
This is the age of worry. If you love somebody, you worry about him and check on him every five minutes, right?
But if you’re checking everything, where your life ends and other life starts? The history of western civilization is history of individualization. However, there is a current running against it – it looks like only mothers can afford it for now. Giving birth has stopped being the final act of bringing a new individual in the world. Technology can keeps the young inside the communication uterus. “We” never really turns into “you” and “me”. Some births are unfinished and some children not fully born. Some call it love, but it surely is not. It feels like owning the body part that rightly belongs to you and child’s growing up is a threat of amputation.
It’s a coming trend. In the atomized society, when you have no loyalty and no deep link to your work, the company you work for (Amazon example), your sexual partners (Tinder culture), etc, we still yearn for the meaningful and deep connection. Some mothers are finding it in their children.
This is a big opportunity for us, men, to save the day. The obstetricians cut the real umbilical cord; we must cut the symbolic one. If in the first days of the new life mother says, “We drank everything” or “We pooped!” just smile and wait. When child is sleeping, go to your partner, take her in your arms, look into her eyes lovingly and say, “Darling, I’m so sorry you shat yourself. Don’t worry, I love you so much I’ll stay with you even if you are incontinent.”