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Tony Woodlief is a wise man. Excerpt:
People are inherently self-centered, and especially in a peaceful, prosperous society, this easily leads to self-indulgence that in turn can make us weak and ignoble. There’s something to be said for ordeals — like parenting, or marriage, or tending the weak and broken — which push us into an other-orientation. When we have to care for someone, we get better at, well, caring for people. It actually takes practice, after all. I’m still trying to get it right.
… Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us — perhaps me most of all — need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.
A month or so before Matthew, our first child, was born, my sister, who already had two kids by then, told me that our lives were about to change in ways we couldn’t possibly understand. You will lose the freedom to go out on Friday and Saturday night, without a care in the world. You will lose freedom, period. You damn sure will lose sleep. But once that child is here, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without him. You will know contentment at a level beyond your imagination.
She was right. Reading Tony Woodlief’s remarks brought to mind something that happened in 2004, when Matthew was five. I came home from work with the worst stomach virus I’ve ever had. I was puking constantly, and barely strong enough to drag myself to the toilet. Within a few hours, the virus had passed to Matthew. Because Lucas was a newborn, Julie had to keep herself and the baby locked away, which left me pretty much to take care of Matthew. I remember being sick as a mange-ridden, three-legged dog, but having to hold my even-sicker five year old over the toilet so he didn’t fall in headfirst as he was hurling repeatedly.
Then I bedded him down on the couch in my home office, for some reason, and laid down on the floor just below him, so I could be close enough to help him get back to the toilet if he had to vomit again. A few minutes after we settled down, he rolled over, lolled his head off the couch, and upchucked all over me.
I don’t know if I’ve ever loved that kid more than I did in that moment. You’d have to be a mother or a father to know what I mean by that.
The film to watch, by the way, is “The Secret Lives of Dentists.”