Monday, May 10, 2021

Making Irrevocable Decisions with Insufficient Information

As a 24-year-old married man, I was certain that I didn't want to be a parent. My wife felt the same way. We had lives to live, after all. We were the kind of people with places to go, things to do, adventures to have, and none of them involved being parents. I once found myself being harangued (or so it felt) by a colleague, himself a new father, "Until you have children, you're just scratching around on the surface of life. I want to go deeper." And I replied, "You're just digging the same hole everyone else is digging. I'd rather at least try digging somewhere else."

He wasn't the last one to suggest that I would be missing out were I not to have children, my mother being prominent among them. I pretended to listen, but with my mind made up against their evangelism. They were all so earnest, so sincere, so sure of their decision, but, I reasoned, they had no other choice but to be that way: they had made an irrevocable decision and to behave otherwise would be a kind of cruelty to these new lives to which they were now committed. Of course, they had to adopt the position that parenthood was a transformative experience. What repelled me in particular, however, was their condescension that no one could fully appreciate it until they were likewise irrevocably on the other side.

As tends to happen, our child-bearing friends drifted away from us as we collected friends who, like us, chose to remain "free," a world in which it was a given that parents were a self-deluded bunch. We saw them in public, haggard, hair a-tangle. Their children behaved atrociously in restaurants and on airplanes. They were forever scolding through tight lips, obviously right on the edge, as their children whined and cried and misbehaved. If we did reach out to them with social intent for old times sake, everything was dependent upon the reliability of teenaged babysitters and contingent upon saying goodnight at 8 p.m. And the few conversations we had were about poop and pee and vomit. No thank you.

A decade later, we had a child, a perfect baby girl, and discovered that it was, indeed, a transformative experience. And like every parent before us, we had made this irrevocable decision based upon insufficient information, which is the nature of transformation. One moment we were not parents, "free" as we once thought ourselves, and now we were on the other side, finally able, as the evangelists had asserted, to fully appreciate it. Only now did the other parents finally confess to the trials we had previously glimpsed, judgmentally, from the outside. But now we understood. We were, in an instant, new people, dramatically different than we had been before. Better? I don't know about that, but definitely and irrevocably different, so different that we could hardly comprehend the people we had been before.

The term "transformative experience" is one too often surrounded with a lot of woo-woo hoopla, but it is a real and powerful thing. We are always changing, of course, usually gradually, one day at a time, like the way aging works, but a transformative experience comes abruptly. Sometimes they are thrust upon us, like when a loved one dies unexpectedly, but just as often we choose them, even if unconsciously, through the decisions we make. On the other side, we have been transformed into different people. And while I would argue that change is necessary, it is not always good, or at least not all good. The haggard, hair a-tangle parent is as real as the one who is full to bursting with parental love.

You don't have to have a baby to have a transformative experience. Indeed, anyone who has lived for a few years has had them. Young children have them all the time, moments when they suddenly discover new things about the world, new ways of being, new ways to interact. And these experiences are usually challenging and difficult, but they are also what keeps us intellectually alive and vibrant as we figure out this new world in which we find ourselves.

Too often, as we grow older, we stop choosing our transformations. We grow afraid of the insufficient information, we come to fear the inevitable difficulty, we grow increasingly cautious about change. The problem is that we then leave the field open for the transformative experiences to find us instead of us finding them. Much better, I think, is to keep choosing, childlike, to leap into the new, to continue to make irrevocable decisions with insufficient information. That's how we renew ourselves. That's what transformative experience is all about.

Teacher Tom's Play Summit emerged from the idea that our youngest citizens need us and that there is no force on earth more powerful than parents and educators united. This is nothing less than an attempt to bring the full web of the early childhood world together with the mission of defending childhood by transforming the lives of young children and their families. It's a chance to listen and learn about best practices and new ideas from around the world from a wide variety of perspectives. Please join us for this important free event. To learn more and to get on the waitlist, click here. If not us, who? As the great children's troubadour and summit presenter Raffi sings, "Together we can turn this world around."

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