Existential parenting

I’ve always been a little … shall we say … existential? Even as a small child, I asked my mom about when the sun would blow up. 

She’d always tell me that it was so far into the future, it wasn’t even something we had to worry about. I worried about children 10,000 generations in the future anyway. What would happen to them? Turns out, the sun wasn’t really the thing I should have been worrying about.

Recently, I’ve seen some headlines that I — me, Queen of Apocalyptica and Good Cheer — hadn’t imagined I’d see in my lifetime. Polar ice sheets melting at record rates. Untold numbers of species dying within our lifetimes. Chemicals from plastic giving toddlers speech delays. Glyphosate in Cheerios. 

Happy summer, everyone!

The End Times publishing schedule seems to be careening toward terminal velocity, so it’s everywhere. I know these aren’t pleasant topics to think or talk about, and by writing this, I know I’m adding to the cacophony. But the truth is, I’ve been thinking about writing this column for a year — the fact that these are indeed really strange times
to be a parent. 

Alongside the daily juggle of making sure I attend to all the paper-signings and bag-packings and appointment-makings — that reminds me, I never re-scheduled my son’s 4-year checkup! Cool! I’m on it! I never miss a detail! — I’m also evaluating, at least for my oldest, who is 6, what the age-appropriate “need to know” basis is for the stuff she might overhear on the radio or at school or floating through the air (in digital particles we’ll later find out humans were never meant to live near). 

I won’t lie to her, but I don’t think it serves any of us to be overly detailed. Problem is, I’m not always sure where that boundary lies. 

The Common Sense Media article How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects provides some guidance. But such tips aren’t always easy to recall  in the moment.

After the election, my panic was such that I couldn’t even tell her who won. When she finally asked me if Hillary won when I was putting her to bed one night, I burst into tears. I’ve talked to her about race relations, abortion, whether God exists. 

But I can’t tell her about the babies at the border. I will. I just can’t right now. We’ve had so many conversations in which she asks the perfectly logical question: “But why would people do that?” And I have no answer. 

In this world of back-to-back panic attacks, my husband, William, joined the Arbor Day Foundation and planted several trees in our yard. My heart grew when I realized what he’d done. We plant trees, never knowing if we’ll see them to maturity. They’re an investment in the future. We’re listening to The Lorax.

I’m re-watching Mad Men right now, which reminded me how falling-apart and chaotic the world felt in the 1960s, too. But still they planted trees, ones that are mature now, providing shade for our house. 

Speaking of our house, last year we bought our dream home, which happens to be in really-not-dreamy shape. We’re down to the studs in many of the rooms, knowing this will be a lifelong labor of love. 

It would have been easier to stay in our former home. But we couldn’t resist the opportunity to shine it up — to show our children the reward that comes from taking care of something and making it your own. They don’t fully understand why we would have moved into such a dump when we had a perfectly fine house and a custom-made playhouse in the backyard. 

Like Maggie Smith writes in her poem, Good Bones:

I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful. 

Whenever my squirrel brain starts scampering too far into the future, I think: We have to plant our trees today. We have to fortify good bones. That’s what we can do. 


Katie Dohman is currently living in the midst of a full-house renovation with her three kids, two pets and one husband. Follow her adventures at instagram.com/dohmicile.