I’ve been thinking a lot lately about on/off switches and what if my kids had them.
I play the “robot” game sometimes with my kids but it’s not the same. Seems like every time, just when I’m about to fall asleep, they ask when I’m going to turn them on again. I try to tell them that turned-off robots don’t talk but they don’t buy it for long.
Maybe we just haven’t found it yet. Like, maybe some enterprising, desperate parent, while grabbing their kid, will discover that if you press four different pressure points on his/her head all at the same time, the kid will just turn off…not asleep, not dead, just off.
How often would we do it? For me, lately, I think it’d be a lot. It would start out innocently enough –in the early morning, I’d roll over, grab their heads and press, just to get a few more minutes of sleep. Little mobile snooze buttons. I’d turn them back on for breakfast –so they could eat– but then they’d fight about who got to look at the cereal box and I’d probably just come up behind them and grab their head again. Because there are two, the other one would have to watch me do one and might run and it would probably make me feel bad to chase him/her down. But it’s just an off switch, it doesn’t hurt them. The baby would look at me, then at his heap of siblings on the floor and go back to being totally cute and safe.
I would probably turn the older two on again when we went out, for walks or whatever, so other people would see how good of a dad I was for having my kids not turned off. (Exception being the grocery store, of course, where they’d be laid out in the cart under the organic eggs and tofurkey sausages.) Then, when we’d get home, one of them would say, “Daddy, will you play with…” I’d stop them right there and say something like, “hey, look over there!” and then I’d quickly press their heads. I’d probably wait till after I’d brushed their teeth, got them into their pajamas, and laid them out in their beds till I turned them on again… mostly because my kids are really cute when they sleep (except for last night when George climbed into our bed, fell asleep, and peed –or, at least I’m hoping it was in that order).
I love my kids. I really do. I just think that, when it came down to it, if I could, I’d probably turn them off a lot. The problem with this is…and here’s where the shit gets deep… I suspect it’s exactly those times when you’d most like to turn your kids off that you probably build the strongest bond with them. I don’t know if it’s true but I really want to believe it because otherwise…I don’t know, it’d just be too depressing if it wasn’t. But it makes some sense. At least from the kid’s perspective…at some point during that head-spinning tantrum, in the way back reptilian part of his/her brain, it’s thinking, “I’m being a crazy shithead again and this person is still with me…this person is good to have around.”
But from the parent’s perspective, it’s hard to know what’s keeping us around sometimes. If you bail –right there in the frozen food section, just leave them– chances are they’ll survive well enough to pass along your genes. And that’s really the goal. (And, it’s not like the terrible life they’ll live from that point on in orphanages and crack houses will have any effect on the quality of the genes they pass on. That’s the beauty of Mendel’s wonderful pea work. Also worth appreciating…the bullet we, the neglecting parents, dodged with the debunking of Lamarck’s whole ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’ theory. Imagine the added guilt.)
But you don’t leave them in the grocery store. You stick it out. Partly because you’d be hunted down and arrested but also because there are moments, not so much moments of joy but of a strange pride… like this last weekend when, after just three days of heavy dad time, Theo wouldn’t go to his mother.
Is that mean-spirited? Maybe. Did I feel bad for Kate? Sure. It’s not totally fair that her baby won’t go to her outstretched arms just because she has to be off making the money to support us. Working parents get screwed this way. But, you know who gets screwed worse? The at-home parents. Because their kid won’t leave their arms after three days when help has finally arrived.
But this is where the baby might get turned off. Kate would do it. Theo would be clinging to me, swatting away her outstretch arms, and she’d just press those little soft spots on his head and gently remove him from me. She’d put his fat little limp arms around her neck and just hold him there, pretending a long day at work hadn’t taken any toll on the bond.