mother and child
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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2. The Dream of Having a Child in Your Life


Nobody wants to talk about this. It's too sensitive. It's too personal. It's too painful. But just about everybody has some version of these thoughts: You couldn't have a child, or you could, but you didn't find the right partner to have a child with. Or you had a child but wanted more and couldn't afford them. Or you had a child but wanted more but got divorced. Or you had a child, but something awful and life-rending happened (see Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. Or—and in my humble opinion, this is the most heartbreaking—you didn't think that with your problems or your history or your hang-ups, you had much to offer a child. Of course, there are exceptions to what I'm about to say, but for the 98 percent of us who are not violent or creepy or legally insane (yes, I made up this statistic), you have something that a child not only will find instructive or beguiling but also needs. It will be the neighbor's kid or your granddaughter or your niece or the sullen teenager who works at the corner store who you befriend after catching him stealing whipped cream canisters for use in mind-altering activities, and you'll say: "Hey, I used to do stuff like that too. And by the way, it never produced any kind of long-lasting happiness. Whereas bike riding or building geeky but awesome rockets with you in the park..."

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