In January, God willing, my wife and I will be having our first child, a boy. We plan to name him Elijah.
I wonder a lot about who he might be, aware that we simultaneously have a lot and a little influence over it. We’ll prepare him for the world, teach him to interact with it in a healthy way, but no amount of teaching or preparation can really inoculate you against society. School may make him cynical. Other people’s beliefs may make him uncertain. There’s no controlling for the worst, just as there is no guaranteeing the best. All I can hope for, then, is that he can recognize one or the other for what they are and react accordingly.
The cliche is that when you have a kid, you develop all sorts of hopes and dreams for them. Sometimes unrelated to your interests, and sometimes so intertwined with your childhood dreams you risk living vicariously through your child. I don’t feel any of that. I honestly don’t care what Elijah wants to be. My only hope is that he’s a good person. I think everything else, any success or accomplishment (or lack thereof), will flow from that.
Lately I’ve found myself trying to picture the world through his eyes. Or, more accurately, remembering how I saw the world when I was a child. Colors were more vivid. The air a cleaner scent. I think about how Elijah will slowly develop nostalgia and wonder what it will be tied to. Sitting at our kitchen bar watching his mother and I cook and wash dishes? Watching the world from our front window, next to our cats, smelling the cold in the air as summer transitions to fall? Will he read with me in our basement study?
One thing that’s weird to me is that he won’t be a Buffalonian, as I am. He’ll grow up near Philadelphia. And he’ll be a suburbanite, no less! If I successfully indoctrinate him into my love of hockey, he’ll probably root for the Flyers and not the Sabres. His cultural understanding will be different than mine. He’ll say “soda” instead of “pop,” or “wooder” instead of “water,” or “creek” instead of “crik.”
Elijah won’t know the bitter cold that comes with the wind off of Lake Erie. He won’t smell Cheerios from the General Mills factory on his way to school. We won’t take him to our favorite spots–the Botanical Gardens, the Basilica, or the Albright Knox–instead, we’ll find new ones with him. And then he’ll find his own.
We’re privileged enough, now, that Elijah won’t grow up to want for much, as my wife and I did. He’ll have more than two pairs of jeans to wear to school. He won’t wear his sneakers until they’re falling apart and, even then, glue them together. He won’t have memories of his grandparents bringing bags of groceries to the house when the factory went on strike. My parents worked in that factory so I could eventually give this luxury to Elijah.
Unfortunately, Elijah also won’t know his grandparents well. He only has three to start with, and two are in Buffalo while the other is just outside of DC. Because of our location, extended family will be a foreign concept to him. But on the plus side, maybe that means he’ll get to choose who he considers family. And maybe he’ll do a good job of it.
I’m fascinated with the fact that he’s going to enter our home “tabula rasa.” It’s a huge responsibility to teach a child, to instill in them the values that will make them a good member of society. Not necessarily successful (although of course I want that), not necessarily respected (of course I want that, too), but good. Someone that cares for others. Someone that gives a fuck.
I keep telling my wife that I need to get my shit together. Build good habits. Because I need to model these things for him. I need to show him with my actions what it is to be curious, and healthy, and empathetic, and kind, and respectful, and charitable. When he’s young he’s going to watch me and copy the things I do, if only because there is no one else. That means picking up my flaws, too.
I used to be afraid of that. I don’t want to fail him. I probably will. But it’s also a challenge I’m excited to meet. I don’t fantasize about watching Elijah hit a home run or earn scholarships or anything like that. I fantasize about the conversations we might have. Listening to him figure out the world and helping him along where I can.
I feel most excited when I picture the small moments we’ll have together. When it’s quiet. When it’s still. When I can soak in who he is and feel awe at the potential of who he’ll become.