Monday, September 21, 2009

The children are the future. Let them worry about it.

I am not worried about my children's future. There. I've said it. Sure, I worry about whether they'll find nice people to marry, or if they'll be fulfilled in their jobs, be happy in their choices. But I am not worried about the future of this world. I won't be one of those gloomy old whiners who says, "I've got a daughter! I've got a son! It's her money you're spending! It's his earth you're destroying!"

You know what? I have a son and a daughter, and if they find themselves 37 years old in a world without polar bears and social security, I expect them to figure it out. My adoptive mother used to say "You're big enough and old enough and ugly enough to handle this." Of course, she also used to say "You're free, white, and 21..." and attach the same optimistic sentiment. But we won't go there. She lived to be 92.

Both the right and the left invoke their children's futures to drive home a point, trotting out the next generation like some kind of diapered trump card guaranteed to end all disputes. "I don't want my children to live in a world without rain forests, a world of socialized medicine, a world where gays can marry, or NYC is underwater." It's a convenient argument. I may even have heard it coming out my own mouth. But guess what? It doesn't matter what kind of world you or I want them to live in. They're going to live in whatever world this one has become by the time they get around to living.

And there's nothing you can really do about it. Nor should you try. You can be responsible. You can do what's right. You can teach your children to understand your beliefs and work to make their lives great. But every generation has its own challenges and problems. Did your parents anticipate 9/11? The collapse of the mortgage industry? Internet stalkers? If they had blustered and fussed more, would those menaces have been avoided? No.

If you think you're going to fix the world for your children, forget it. The world refuses to be fixed. The good news is that we continue to deal with it, daughter after mother, son after father, since the beginning of time. We invent styrofoam, then we quit eating off it, we invent the internet, but we don't let our kids publish their phone numbers, we start wars, we pull back, we finish wars. We're big enough, old enough, and ugly enough to manage whatever the next thing is too.

Do you turn around and blame your parents for global warming? For nukes in Pakistan? For autism? Of course not -- how could they have prevented such things? The world is such a different place than it was 30 years ago, and in 30 years I'm betting it will be practically unrecognizable again. We'll be begging for our I-pods back while our children's contemporaries will be yelling that they don't want their children growing up in a world where the uploading port is wired to their brains and not their ear canals.

I think one of the reasons that the show "Mad Men" is so popular is that in watching that show we can see how far we've come. With an unflinching view of the 60s, and all the things about these people's lives that we find foreign (calling people "negros," not using car seats, slapping women's asses at work, drugging themselves through childbirth, etc) it's impossible not to wonder... what were these people worried about, for their children? What kind of a world did they not want their kids to grow up in? These were our parents. My biological mother was born in the 40s. What could she have wanted, hoped, or feared for me? What does it matter?

Protest. Work. Change. Do what you think is right, and fight for what you believe in right now. But don't drag out your children to make me feel guilty, as if they will be, 50 years from now, the helpless victims of my current whims. They'll do what they have to do, just like my kids will. They'll face problems we cannot imagine, until the debates of 2009 seem as antiquated as rules about driving a horse in Manhattan. Let the future take care of the future -- convince me that what you want me to believe is good for you today.

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