January 29, 2002
Benjamin and the Beanstalk
I haven't written for a long time. In fact, I skipped all of 2001, but there's no truth to the rumor that I was staring blankly at a Monolith the entire time. The fact is, I've been being a Daddy again.
Benjamin Jose Townsend just turned 1 year old, and those people from the Guiness Book of World Records just won't stop calling: "World's Cutest Smile," World's Most Adorable Laugh," "Sweetest 1-Year-Old of All Time," etc. Can't they give us a break with this stuff?
I will pause now to allow you time to gaze at these pictures of Benjamin at your leisure . . .la de da . . . It's okay, you can go back and look at them again. I'll wait. . . . Hum de dum . . . Seriously, take your time . . . Did you notice his smile sitting next to the doggie? How about those Christmas shots?
Okay? All right, so anyway, I was going to talk about the deja vu experience of going through parenthood all over again, 12 years after the first time. My daughter Alexandra was born way back in ancient 1989 -- before the Internet, before the stock market boom (and bust), before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of Apartheid, when the Yankees were lousy, and someone named George Bush was President (well...), when I was -- gulp -- only 30 years old . . .before a lot of things.
I must say that Alexandra's childhood has been almost perfectly timed from a parent's perspective, at least in terms of the child-oriented media and cultural experiences that have come our way. She was just the right age to enjoy the heights of Disney's second Golden Age, staring in wide-eyed fascination at the big-screen "Lion King" when she was 5. Then, just as she reached the age where she could enjoy listening to and reading longer books, J. K. Rowling penned the Harry Potter series, which we've devoured with unhesitating indulgence. Often, being dragged along with the crowd into the ocean of mass consumer culture is stultifying; but sometimes there's good reason for the adulation of millions, and it's a pleasure just to be alive to be part of the experience when it arrives. I imagine that being a teenager in the late '50s, or during the Beatles' heyday, was something like that. To be a parent during the 1990s has been a hell of a ride.
But now I'm doing it all over again, to the astonishment of many friends whose kids have also begun to enter teenage, and thus to exit 100% parental dependence. I keep assuring these well-meaning friends that they can stop suggesting good psychiatrists and drug rehab clinics: we chose to have another baby in a perfectly rationale state of mind. (Now if I could only get back there.)
The real shocker, after one year of this renewed experience, is that it has not been deja vu (that's baby talk for "been there, done that"). It turns out that about 90% of the day-in, day-out activities of raising and caring for a newborn baby feel entirely new and unfamiliar 12 years after the first time through. I have virtually no memory of Alexandra's feedings, changings, crying, smiling, sleeping, crawling, spitting up, rolling over, begging, fetching a stick . . .whatever. I just have a vague recollection of a mix of euphoria and exhaustion, but on the other hand, that's all I remember about college, too.
There are several possible explanations for this. The most likely one is that nature has configured the human brain deliberately to diminish memories of major stressful ordeals, especially where babies are concerned, or else few families would ever have more than one. And of course, the exhaustion factor itself, averaging 13 minutes of sleep per night for several months on end, probably drains a lot of the ink from our memory cartridges. In fact, Benjamin's earliest days are already becoming a hazy fog . . . I think there may have been some crying and poop and spit-up and fussiness, but it's all so blurry, it couldn't have been too difficult . . . maybe we'll have another one . . .
But the real question becomes, here in this 21st Century, post-September 11, New Reality, Fifth Transformation (see my forthcoming book...) world that we're now living in, what will the experience of parenthood, and childhood, be like during this decade? The extent to which the world has changed since 1989 seems immeasurable right now, but no less than, say, the changes between 1959 when I was born, and 1972: that was when the world went from black-and-white and short hair to the psychedelic heights of hippiedom. By the time Benjamin is 12, in the unfathomable year of 2013, will we be living on space rocks encircling Alpha Centauri? Will we have micro-communication devices implanted in our cerebella? Will someone named Bush be in the White House and will there be turmoil over the Middle East?
It's just so impossible even to contemplate. Having a baby is like signing up for a decades-long intensive training course in Life, with classes and homework 7 days a week, few true vacations, and no option for dropping out, or staying back a grade, or even re-taking a test from time to time when you get something wrong. When you've done it before, especially with 12 years' experience to reflect upon, you know most of the basic modules that are coming along: walking and talking, toilet training, pre-school and Kindergarten, playgrounds and Disney World, reading and writing, friends and bullies, Little League, etc., etc. But the sneaky faculty are always changing the curriculum and working in a whole slew of surprise quizzes and special projects without notice. You know you're in it for the Long Haul, but there's a huge pile of Who Knows? blocking the view of the future.
Not that we'd have it any other way. The true ecstasy of parenthood is the Rediscovery of Discovery: the thrill and wonder of emerging awareness, every day. Oh, look, here's little Benjamin now! He's just sooooo fascinated with the computer and the keyboard already; I just know he's going to be a real smart one. I'll let him have the last words:
.,mnn hvb mnnnnn c b cv hgfgjknsssssssssssj mjpvghcgbhhhhhhgj j
Isn't that just the most amazing, cutest thing?
Recent ramblings: Today
Antitrust ain't trusty (6/7/00) Tales of Sri Lanka (11/1/00) Accountant Discounts County Recount Countdown (11/27/00) Well, it seems we must now urgently deal with this silly Microsoft situation.First, the most significant and obvious question: What the heck was Bill Gates thinking when he came up with that name for his company? I've just returned from 16 days in Sri Lanka, the country known as the Teardrop of India, which gave us Ceylon tea and the word Serendipity, and whose capital is named after a famous 1970s TV detective ("Colombo", although they briefly considered "Kojak"). I know, I know, you've been awaiting my commentary on the incredible U.S. Presidential election with baited breath. (Why you insist on eating worms is another question altogether.)
(Click Elsewhen for the complete list)
© 2002 David N. Townsend
The Beanstalk grows out of my head, so to speak, but I welcome
any seeds that readers may wish to plant. Just as long as you don't use
too much fertilizer. Send me your comments, ideas, drool, at
and I'll occasionally respond to, publish, or otherwise dispose of them.
Need more? In addition to the rich and growing archives of this column,
you might want to visit The Site itself, and any of my other collections, on
Communication, Baseball, Rock 'n' Roll, or Travel.