The Ghost of Things Past

This page written circa 10 March, 2000.

Kay and I have been wondering more and more lately if we should have a second child. Meri is delightful, and we gather from comparisons with ladies in Kay's circle that we are lucky in that Meri is well-behaved, apparently intelligent, a relatively good sleeper, healthy, respectful of things on shelves, and so on. However, she is time consuming... three meals a day have to be prepared and cleared away for her, in-between snacks find their way into carpets and furniture, she averages a complete set of clothes each day in the laundry, her daiper is changed five or six times a day, she baths once a day (mercifully she showers with me and then plays by herself in the bath at my feet for 20 minutes), she likes to have books read to her and makes assertive requests for such services, and she rarely busies herself for more than 15 minutes without wanting attention, from 6AM to 8PM each day, give or take an hour.

Well, we did not wonder fast enough and we are expecting number two in late October. Grunt. It's vasectomy time, my fecundity has outlived its welcome. We mildly preferred a boy last time, and that's the official line this time, though for some reason I am finding it much easier to weigh up girl's names. If a girl, which Kay doubts, her middle name is likely to be Rose, and we are mulling over names like Sahara and Sierra. We are having difficulty thinking of anything characteristically Australian like Merinda, for either a boy or a girl.

Don't get the idea we are not enjoying Merinda. Now that she understands a lot of what we say, it is a delight to play with her. She is excited when I get home on weekdays, we play ball or horses around the livingroom floor until her bedtime. She will go off and play with Mary and Charlie next door, and she likes to play with Dominique if I am helping Kay get dinner. She knows where to put the screwdriver if she is helping me undo Turtle and get hair out of his cogwheels. She will let me undress her, read her some stories, and then fall asleep on my shoulder and get carried to her cot. She will tell you if she is tired early and wants to go to bed. I am dogged, nevertheless, by some considerations in the light of the burden of the last year, and the now-doubled prospects for the next few.

My father liked doing similar things with me. We would play trains (one room was given over to this) when I was three, and I still remember the three locomotives and layout with seven points, the seventh of which had a solenoid that occasionally stuck. I remember him carrying me in from the car one late evening after we had been to the drive-in (I slept in the back seat). I remember him coming into my room and playing with an alarm clock one morning, as Meri plays with our clock-radio.

I did not get to know my father, at least I have no direct memory of his personality. I have only snippets of memory and my mother's reports. I imagine my mother might have been hard to live with, I certainly found it so. I know, however, that he was neither violent nor lazy nor stupid. He had a temper, and his soul may have been every bit as teflon-coated as mine, which upsets a lot of women, but he was apparently tickled with me, and had been married to my mother, quite successfully by her own report, for the better part of a decade before I was born. Yet he left. He evaporated completely from my life before I was five, and had been dead for years before I even found out.

Why did my father eject? I do not know really. My mother did not know exactly, or could not describe it. Neither my mother nor he particularly wanted children, and she reported once that he did not like her putting so much love into me instead of him. There would have been other factors, just as there have been incompatibilities in relationships I have previously had... factors that only become significant when there is so much resource pressure that one party is no longer getting the minimum out of the relationship. Having a child, I now know, puts on a whole lot of resource pressure. I have no trouble understanding this.

To say that I have no trouble understanding is perhaps an understatement; I am concerned about it. Either by scientific training or through having several partner relationships, I have acquired a well-defined notion of what I want out of a relationship, and what it costs me to have one. Kay and I are still trying to see our future, as we cannot envisage retirement in Santa Rosa. One future that appeals to us is what we call the "low-profile" plan, which involves living in Sydney, without a mortgage, on little income, having time to spend with friends and with our kids, taking leaves out of books such as Vicki and Ian's. The addition of one, especially if of the opposite gender, puts this plan at hazard, in terms of the number of bedrooms let alone the cost of education.

Why did I have kids at all? I want to pack into this life as many experiences and as much pleasure as possible, and breeding is fascinating. I also envisage my old age as being full of social things, and I fondly recall the periods when my mother and I lived apart but had regular dinners out, to exchange notes on life and people... that did me much good, and gave her much pleasure. (Liberi: Nota bene!)

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