I watch my children sleeping through power-cuts, and I can’t tell them it’ll get any better. For all I know it’ll get worse. We don’t even take them to the supermarket anymore, who knows what’s in store?
How do I prepare my children for a future I’m not ready for? How do I give them skills I do not have?
What a time it is to be a child. What a time to be a dad.
When I was growing up in Ohio, I remember going to the supermarket with my father. I’d hang off the front of the trolley, my little sisters clinging to either side. I still remember how vast and cold that place was, the aisles stretching on forever in a child’s mind. Francis Fukuyama called this “the spectacular abundance of advanced liberal economies.”
I’ve been inside it. What could capitalism not provide?
If you took some butter, another butter slid down to take its place. If you took a fruit, another one just slid down. I remember feeling absolutely lost in the supermarket, clinging onto the cart. There were no seasons, there were no reasons. Whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, it was there.
Just don’t stray too far from the cart or you’ll become a commodity yourself. Like a special on yoghurt, they’d read your name over the intercom and any interested parents could pick you up. I used to wonder, is there another child behind you, in case the store runs out?
When I came back to Sri Lanka, my father-in-law would always go to the markets. Nothing super about them. A government built roof and some cement stalls. I guess you could call it a ‘wet’ market, or what white people call a ‘farmer’s market’.
He’d handpick ‘the best’ fruit and veg, even get live chickens butchered then and there. When he wanted to make a special biriyani he’d bring a goat home and kill it himself. All of us young people laughed at or even scolded him. With modern conveniences, what a waste of time. What’s the point of the old ways, when the new is so shiny and bright?
Well, we were wrong and he was right. In fact, we needed to go back even further in time.
When my father was a child he grew up on a farm. Not because my grandparents were farmers, they were teachers, but everyone just kept some animals and grew vegetables once. So my Achchi would wring the necks of chickens sometimes. My father made friends with a pig named Tito, weeping when his playmate was sold to the slaughterhouse.
It’s strange how we think of that life as brutal, while we’re on the other end, picking up some tortured ‘pork’ that was never named or loved at all. Tito didn’t have it so bad in hindsight. He’s still remembered now.
My generation skipped over all of this stuff. I don’t mean that no one in my generation grew up in a farm or went to wet markets, I mean that it wasn’t the default. We grew up at the end of history and all of those things were the past.
We were the first generation to grow up with constant electricity, global shipping, instant telecommunications, an ever-evolving state-of-the art. I grew up that way in America, but so did my cousins in Sri Lanka, just a little behind. But we didn’t know. It was all borrowed money. It was all borrowed time. It was all stolen from the future, and that future was my child’s.
Like any deal with the devil, at the beginning you got stuff. A lot of stuff. All the things you ever wanted. That’s why people make deals with the devil in the first place.
What did I know? I was a child. Nobody told us what all the energy and resource use would cost. They just told us to recycle, and that seemed easy enough. We seemed to save the ozone layer by just changing fridges, saving the world couldn’t be that hard. Little did I know, I was born into the age of ‘fuck around’.My children are born in the age of ‘and find out.’
Forget BC and AD. Time is now divided into FA and FO.
Now all of a sudden the supermarkets don’t work anymore. Unlike the open-air wet markets, you’re breathing trapped air with a respiratory disease around. It’s not safe anymore. I mean, it’s relatively safe if you’re wearing a KN95, but that’s not a fun day out with my unvaccinated kids.
And the illusion of plenty is shattered now. Sometimes you take an item off the shelf and it’s the last one. Sometimes there’s nothing on the shelf at all. Sometimes blood and bones explode out of nowhere, like when in a war in Ukraine makes bread hard to find in Lebanon. Cleanup on Aisle 5.
And so here we are. I’d call it a cruel reckoning, but it’s really just regression to the mean. Literally every human to walk the Earth before my generation had some sense of their connection to it. They had to. It’s only my generation which wonders why everything isn’t shrink-wrapped and arriving on time. And so my kids will have to figure out their connection too. Even if it’s to an Earth that’s vastly, tragically, reduced.
So what apocalypse skills would I like to teach my children? Well, their Achchigrows food on the roof of their apartment, the children have started plucking and tending that. Their Appacha has been keeping chickens. We used to laugh at him, but now those are the eggs we eat, and the kids look for them every day. Lately eggs have gone missing. I guess there’s someone in the neighborhood hungrier than us.
There’s a lot of other things—food, water, power generation—stuff our country cousins do but we’ve forgotten. I mean that literally, our cousins in the country live on a farm and generate their own electricity. I used to wonder about their isolated lifestyle. Now I wonder how.
All of a sudden things are reversed. I guess we really did hit the end of history. We done fucked up and need to turn around. So I take my kids back through the supermarkets (covering their faces), back through the market (with free-market shortages), all the way back to the farm, the village, the places our family never quite left, and thank God.
This was supposed to be about apocalypse skills to teach my children, but what do I know? My main skills are filling out forms and filtering search results, and that’s not really relevant now. I’m starting from the same place as my own children, and I’m old and slow. So I guess it’s not about raising children anymore. We have to raise each other now.