Childish Things

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

“It’s Christmas!”

I press myself up from the sensible mattress. The impression of my 42-year-old form marks a crime-scene chalk outline for a brief moment, until the NASA-designed foam releases that shade of Julian Murdoch into the ether. I can feel last night in my lower back — too many hours hunched over, sitting on the floor, wrapping presents and watching Dr. Who. By tradition, I head downstairs first while the kids sit on the stairwell, out of sight of the Christmas tree. I turn on the coffee maker. I turn on the tree lights.

“Santa came!” I cry out in my most enthusiastic dad-voice, a tone reserved not just for children, but specifically for my children in moments when I’m channeling Ward Cleaver.

Small feet rattle the house. I hug the kids as they race by. They’re warm in their matching pajamas, wide eyed and full of animal glee.

The coffee is sour.

By 10AM, all the presents are open, the garbage collected. It’s a good Christmas. I’ve had Nerf battles and played Lego Indiana Jones 2 for half an hour with my son. I’ve read the book of poems my daughter wrote. I’ve started work on a massive Lego TIE Fighter.

But sitting there on the old, tired, blue-and-white striped couch, as I start thinking about what to make the kids for lunch, I am filled with loss and resentment.

On this holiest of days, a day which holds genuine spiritual meaning for me, a day in which the secular world glorifies childhood, I am overwhelmed by Grinchian Scroogemongering.

Not because the day isn’t wonderful (it is). Not because it’s overly commercial (ours wasn’t). Not because I don’t love my family with every fiber of my being (I do, and do, and do).

But because Christmas is no longer mine — it’s theirs.

Here’s the dirty little secret of being a parent — it implies being a grownup. And being a grownup often sucks. I’m quite good at avoiding it, honestly. I’ve spent most of my life driving a not-too-hidden Peter Pan agenda, one in which I get to live where I want, how I want, doing work I want to do, playing games, buying toys and avoiding unnecessary responsibility. I’ve managed to raise my children, so far, in harmony with my own love for play. I have indeed managed to indoctrinate my children with those things I love so that I might fulfill my own childlike desires alongside them.

But increasingly, it seems I’m forced into a box. In the box, I experience vicarious pleasure, rather than being a collaborator in my children's play. In the box, I'm responsible for building and tweaking and otherwise owning the new computer on which my daughter will play Wizard 101, while I haven't made my weekly World of Warcraft group in a month. And yes, I am bitter.

It’s smelly and hard and uncomfortable in this box. I sit on the discarded pieces of a Lego X-Wing I built "for Peter" last year. The sharp bits dig into my skin, small and irretrievably separated from the awesome that was the completed Rebel fighter just 12 months ago. Its wings went to make dollhouse furniture last summer.

I don’t fit in this box. I don’t like it. But there's absolutely no question that I constructed it, piece by piece, out of willpower and furious intent. I've carefully molded my children's loves and desires to hew close to my own, and now that they're old enough to have filled out the edges of the world I've shown them, I am green-eyed and sore as they expand into it, leaving me with the mortgage and the taxes and the health insurance forms.

This is an ugly, selfish feeling. I imagine sitting in first-century Corinth, reading the Apostle Paul’s epistle, and shaking my fist, cursing Paul for telling me to behave like a grownup. It seems, at that moment, that Paul would do well to go suck an egg.

I keep this to myself, of course. I bury the id as I have so many times in my life. Not to do so is to walk down a path of personal anarchy, one which leads directly away from the man whom I've spent 42 years getting to know, and whose birthday I am celebrating.

Tomorrow will be another day. I will wake up, and I will revel in the good around me. I will love my kids, and my kids will love me back. I will share joy in their discoveries.

I will be a good father.

And if I ever insinuate that this is an easy choice, call me a liar.

Comments

We just celebrated my daughters first Christmas. It was a flurry of paper and cardboard boxes. Was great fun. And as much as I envy her for her first experiences, I take joy in the fact that my wife and I are right there along side her enjoying every minute with her.

That and the fact that my wife bought me a Where's Wally Book.

rabbit wrote:
Actually, the movement of the various Christian holidays around the holiday was generally designed to keep the early followers from being prosecuted, but in this case, the 25th of December wasn't really codified until (working from memory) until 200-300 AD. The highest likelihood is also that he was born in springtime, several years earlier than 1AD, as Herod was supposedly still alive (and we have evidence that Herod died 1-3 BC somewhere). Again, working without a net.

The history of times, places and documents in religion is something I've long been fascinated with, and not something that really makes one Iota of a difference to me philosophically or spiritually.

Interesting. I was always under the premise that Christmas was intentionally set on 12/25, making it coincide with Winter Solstice with the motivation being that it would make pagans easier to convert. In fact, Yule is adapted from the Norse word Jul which means "wheel" (annual cycle).

But yes, Jesus was most certainly not born in the winter (most biblical scholars say either spring or mid-September) falsifying the very premise that Christmas is based on: the birth of Jesus on December 25th. The discussion of which is interesting any way since Jesus himself told everyone to celebrate his death, not his birth. *shrug*

So I guess your article is asking us to give you a wakeup call... GROW UP ALREADY!!!

Just kidding Great piece.

Nathaniel wrote:
Continuing the aside:
Mike wrote:
I know it's not really what your post is about, but it's refreshing to read someone in the game writing industry who isn't afraid to admit to their beliefs. And I don't know if you get much "h8" about it, but here's kudos from me.

Eh? He mentioned in passing that Christmas has spiritual meaning for him past the secular, and quoted something from Corinthians. I'm not sure what "hate" you would expect from that. (I refuse to use your silly abbreviation.)

While I fully appreciate the sense and decency of the rest of your comment, I need to stop here and say "Bless you, child."

Nathaniel wrote:
or the way they fail to support the right lane in Demigod.

That's a sin for which there is no absolution.

The early Christians were heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire for their following a man who was essentially executed for treason. The reasoning the Roman empire used to crucify Jesus was that he claimed to be the king of the Jews. That's why most crucifixes say INRI it means Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judaeorum or Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, the Romans nailed the crime committed to the top of the cross when they crucified someone. So the Christians, to avoid being murdered by lions moved the celebration of His birth to the largest Roman holiday of the year, Saturnalia, which was celebrated on the week surrounding the winter solstice.

Also, great story and, while I have no children. I spend more time justifying in my mind why I can spend time playing games than I used to.

Always love hearing stories from Julian about his family. They're always so heart warming. If I ever have children, I'd hope my family turns out as well as yours

Wow... Articles like these are a big part of what separates GWJ from the morass of other gaming sites out there. Thanks for writing, Rabbit.

Also, I'm struck by the great extent that my Christmas was fully mine this year. It makes me appreciate it all the more.

This is what came to mind

IMAGE(http://www.machall.com/comics/20060922.jpg)

this year was my 2nd Christmas with my daughter and the first where she was really involved with everything. Christmas in my family is a week long affair of extened family, food and drink and so the opening of presents has long been about watching the joy in the youngest as they get their presents so for me this year when my daughter pointed at the scary man in red and said "pres", or tore through the paper on her 10th present was nothing but joy for me.

Your article though does make me wonder if I would feel the pang of jealousy when she is old enough to get the presents that I want for me rather than things where the thought of helping her make block towers or the like is the only interest for me.

Now I'm not a parent and I'm grumpy at that, but past a certain age I'd either expect them to buy me something slightly better than a piece of soap and/or contribute to the event, especially if I bothered to figure out the awesome-in-a-box 2.0 gift they really wanted and having spent a lot of effort on the day and event...if not then there's going to be trouble! *shakes fist*

Its obviously not even remotely about the exchanged items either, its rather about the whole exchanged experience.

Thing is, when you're little everything is magical, whereas as an adult you have to figure out that you sometimes have to make the magic for yourself/others. If no one is bothering to make you any, then you're probably going to be less and less inclined to do it for them/others as time passes, or worse, you might just begrudge them more and more.

I'd rather teach them some of this as soon as they're capable of understanding, and make it part of the family ethic. Possibly they'll end up better balanced between the creating/consuming sides of the event/life, and who knows, they might even spread it to others as well.

Now the article is about far more than just this, but I'd extend it to some other areas as well. If you drain yourself on the little unimportant things then it might turn out that when it really matters you don't have enough resources in the tank to do as much as you could have. So perhaps the lesson should be that you sometimes need to be a worse parent in the short term, so you can end up being a better parent in the long run? Errr, tricky...

animal wrote:
So perhaps the lesson should be that you sometimes need to be a worse parent in the short term, so you can end up being a better parent in the long run? Errr, tricky...

I put it a different way -- parenting is all about making uncomfortable and difficult decisions NOW so you end up with good kids LATER. Bribery is the classic one. If you bribe your kid to act a certain way, it solves the immediate problem (if you stop screaming your head off I'll give you candy) and creates massive problems later (kid screams everytime he feels like getting candy).

In the case of gift giving -- my kids create magic for me all the time. It's just not the same as actually BEING a kid.

My favorite quote from C. S. Lewis is a riff off of that verse: "When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

That's probably preaching to the choir around here, but I still felt it was worth sharing.

Loved the article, Julian...so much so, I decided it was finally time to get myself registered to say so! This is rapidly becoming one of my "daily check" sites.

I haven't started building "The Box" yet, but it does feel weirder and weirder with each passing year, this situation I have where I know more about some of the video games my students are playing than they do.

Mitch

P.S. I too appreciate the glimpse into your spiritual beliefs.

Vargen wrote:
My favorite quote from C. S. Lewis is a riff off of that verse: "When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

That's probably preaching to the choir around here, but I still felt it was worth sharing.

CS is an interesting figure...

rabbit wrote:
animal wrote:
So perhaps the lesson should be that you sometimes need to be a worse parent in the short term, so you can end up being a better parent in the long run? Errr, tricky...

I put it a different way -- parenting is all about making uncomfortable and difficult decisions NOW so you end up with good kids LATER. Bribery is the classic one. If you bribe your kid to act a certain way, it solves the immediate problem (if you stop screaming your head off I'll give you candy) and creates massive problems later (kid screams everytime he feels like getting candy).

In the case of gift giving -- my kids create magic for me all the time. It's just not the same as actually BEING a kid.

Well put.

Thanks for that, rabbit. This was my second Christmas with a child and I am rapidly learning exactly what this means, not just on holidays but every day of the year. Although admittedly, it does make the penitential "mini-Lent" of Advent a bit easier to deal with.