Parenting, post-viral nihilism and the illusion of control
I was eating raspberries straight out of the package, and I really couldn’t care less to wash them.
It was a sunny day, and I was sitting on the deck in my pajamas, watching my girls play. We were all on the mend from what I thought was the worst virus of the nine we’ve had in the past nine months.
If this unwashed expensive summer fruit was meant to kill me, then so be it. I didn’t have the bandwidth to worry about all these diseases afflicting us and the dandruff of the farm labor picking the berries.
I had developed post-viral nihilism.
I thought this most recent virus (which might’ve been an adenovirus ) was the worst. The cruelty was making me think I was out of it before hitting me with the next set of symptoms.
My wife was the first one in, so she was the first to come out one morning to display one of the virus symptoms, pink eye. She looked like what I imagine people look like before they turn into zombies. It lasted about three days, with the second day being the worse. Then my oldest daughter got it, and looked like she had survived a bad scuba accident. Then I got it, and I looked like a flamingo.
You may think, “Wow, Carlos, you compared your wife to a zombie and your daughter to a scuba diving survivor, and you compare yourself to a cute animal.”
You are wrong. You are probably thinking of the Tropical Flamingo, not the Kenyan Flamingo I am referring to, which has terrifying red eyes!
I learned about it in a Disney documentary about flamingos. Typically our daughters don’t watch much TV, but in viruses like these, when we are all out of battery, we just let them.
Like any other Disney movie, there are parts in the documentary that are dark and sad, which I wasn’t expecting in a Disney documentary about a fluffy pink animal. Leave it to Disney to wrap endearing stories over existential conversations toddlers are not ready to have.
“Dad, why can’t we have a rat cook for us?” “Dad, why was that boy eaten by a whale?” “Dad, why is Bambi’s mom lying down to listen to the fireworks?”
In this documentary, that crisis moment came when some baby flamingos couldn’t shake off the salt forming around their ankles. These anklets made it difficult for the babies to keep up with the group, making them easy prey for the Marabou stork.
The Marabou stork looks less like a white stork, which we associate with delivering babies, and more like the vultures in National Geographic picking at half-eaten zebra carcasses. One look at the back of its head, and I could tell not all evolution is efficient because there is no biological reason for the wiggly stray wires sticking out of its bald head.
When our daughter asked me what the stork was doing, I told her it was there to eat the flamingo. My daughter jumped out of the couch and ran to her toys. She returned with her play microphone and stood before the TV, shouting, “Flamingo, you can do it!! You can do it, flamingo!!”
My daughter will never know if the flamingo did it because I fast-forwarded through the scene. I didn’t want to lie to her or fumble through the honest explanation because, unlike Nike, the flamingo just didn’t do it.
A few weeks later, my daughter looked up from her lunch and told my wife, “Mom, you can’t never not pie,” which I understood to mean that three negatives made one negative. It was an accurate statement since gluten doesn’t never not agree with my wife. But the word was not “pie”, it was “die.” Once I figured out what she meant, I jumped into the conversation and told her my wife wouldn’t; that we would always be here.
I, of course, am fooling myself by thinking I can protect my daughters from the realities of the world, which mostly revolve around losing those you love. I am slowly coming to terms with something Disney had already figured out; kids will constantly be exposed to difficult subjects, so Mufasa must be betrayed by his brother, trampled by his subjects, and take a very long nap in the middle of Pride Lands.
The only thing we can do as parents is be by our kids’ sides as they experience the joys and heartbreaks of life, hoping we can count on the luck of the draw to be around long enough to help them out or offer them guidance.
Similar to our lack of control over what our kids will be exposed to is our lack of control over the viruses we will be exposed to.
When a virus is provided safe passage from our daughter’s preschool into our home, we are rendered defenseless to it regardless of our healthy lifestyle, the supplements, the green juices, or the crystals under our pillows.
There is nothing to do but succumb to this other virus and go through it.
It doesn’t mean we stop making healthy choices for us and our kids. The best we can do is try to exert control over the things we have control over, even if they are so minuscule, against what we don’t have control over.
Just like Sisyphus, we wake up every morning to eternally move the boulder to the top of the hill, knowing one morning, we will wake up a little off because we slept on the wrong side of the pillow. We’ll slip because, let’s be honest, Greek sandals don’t have a lot of traction, and that boulder will crush every bone in our body.
If the stakes are that stacked against us, what can a handful of unwashed organic raspberries possibly do to me?