How Children Hold Us

I feel so lucky whenever I hold my kids’ hand. I’m saving them from oncoming traffic, but they’re saving me from incipient mortality. I’m walking them into this world, but they’re walking me out. We’re both ultimately helpless. We hold each other, really, hand in hand.

That’s the reason the children are here. When Din Anna was murdered, the family became wildly unbalanced. All death, all the time. That’s why I brought the children back to Sri Lanka while my wife stayed behind in Oxford. Our nuclear family split to give the greater family energy. The children think they’re being cared for by doting elders, but they don’t get it. They care for the elders. They give them life.

The children are blissfully unaware and when you’re caring for them you can catch a contact high. Children's emotions are so outside their body that adults have to step in to modulate them, which means we have to be on their wavelength for a while. That means you have to really focused on mundane things like every green fleck in a pasta or uncomfortable socks or how cool this rock is or what that bird is doing. Kids are in a constant flow state and you have to be with them to keep it from overflowing. I wouldn’t call this a meditative state but it’s an insistent madness that nonetheless forces you to concentrate.

For one or even two parents this is too concentrated, but for an extended family it’s just the right dosage of delirium. All of the kids’ dumb shit breaks people out of the day-to-day like a drug. Paati can go from mourning her son to sewing her great-grandson’s toy back together, because it simply must be done, and it must be done now. The children drag your attention back to living, even when death is all around. They simply have to be fed, clothed, and indulged, and this drags the old people forward in an irresistible current.

They’re just so cute, which my mother used to say was so you wouldn’t kill them, but now I think it’s so you don’t feel like dying. The fact is that you are dying, unless you feed and care for these children and part of you lives on. By feeling what they feel, by being their emotional support animal, you can live a little longer, a little stronger, and feel less alone for a minute. Caring comforts the carer, giving gives back, by making all these things into transactions we have lost what they are, which are loving acts. Love is the deep defiance of thermodynamics, staring in the face of entropy and saying “no, I just don’t feel like it.”

The energy we spend raising children is neither created nor destroyed. It just flows through us and if we’re lucky we get to catch a contact high. Parents are less attuned to this because we’re so annoyed all the time (like right now! these urchins are hovering over me!), but grandparents get it. Great-grandparents are the worst; these well-respected elders completely lose their minds.

There’s this weird capitalist sense that kids are a burden until they’re of working age, and that raising them must be some solitary, furtive sacrifice. The traditional sense is that they’re a blessing for the whole community, not some burden until they can ‘provide for themselves’. The truth is that children already provide that which makes life worth living. Someone to share it with. This is the most important thing in the world, and everything else is just things.

In Sri Lanka most people (myself included) live with their parents until they get married, then they get knocked up and move back in with their parents again. Most people are children until they have children, and then the cycle restarts. You can see this in Arab cultures, where a person's name becomes Abu Hasan, or the father of Hasan. ‘Adult’ is really a relational term based on a caregiving relationship, not an identity, floating alone in a void of bank accounts and criminal records. Even people that don’t have kids are somebody’s auntie or uncle. People say ‘born alone and die alone’ but this never made sense to me. You’re born literally connected to someone and you die with them holding your coffin.

There is this unbroken energy that runs through us, from vibrating RNA strands to the ‘vibes’ of being around someone. That energy gets tamped down as we get older, but with children it's unbound. They don’t understand that they have a separate self for a while and they’re right. We teach them the delusion of separateness in order to fit in, like the numbers on a football jersey, but that’s not what you are. Children constantly break this delusion by making inordinate demands of everyone. They drag you out of yourself, to mediate the great Toy War of 2023 or feed them or wash their bums. I keep telling them they should be doing these things by themselves, but they are like little idiot arahants, constantly reminding me that the self is illusion, so come clean my butt.

Today, for example, my son is standing there naked, wagging his finger at me about something I did, then he farts, runs off, and leaves me in his pong. For all the walls of propriety we put around the self, kids just tear it all down. They demand that we be connected, they demand sharing, they demand kindness, all the things we struggle to do as adults. Philosophers (like myself) send the children away to do ‘serious thinking’ when the kids are living it in the next room. We miss our greater use of thumbs for greater wisdom and miss the point that — in the pursuit of happiness — children certainly seem happier than adults.

To me a great problem of philosophy is not just that it barely admit non-Europeans (Europeans being literally the most violent people), not just that it barely admits women (men being the most violent gender); the glaring injustice is that it doesn’t admit children at all. Those humans who — in their innocence — are the wisest of us all. The truth is that children are natural philosophers, and they have co-created the most powerful philosophical works in human experience.

Cultural creations like the Jataka Stories or Aesop’s Fables or religious stories are constantly retold and recreated from mother to child, but we discard all that in favor of boring shit from men sitting alone, trying to imagine things in a void while someone else raises the children. We write off the cultural co-creations of children as superstition and folk wisdom when in fact they are super-wisdom, full stop.

I write this all like it’s so obvious while multiple women are caring for my children right now (along with a few men who promise the world and then disappear for long naps). I have the luxury to get a low enough dose of children that I can take a philosophical perspective on them rather than being eyeball deep in just surviving. I came back to the old world and it’s a better one. This is a place which makes no attempt to raise children with more/better products (ie, capital) and parents making the perfect choices all the time (ie, being rational actors). This is a place which simply throws raw human labor at the problem, which it doesn’t as a problem at all but rather a blessing, mashallah.

When I get over my own petty annoyance at not being on my phone, I am able to be with my children and feel a little bit of what the grandparents are mainlining. Then I shoo them away so I can write it down for strangers, lol. But it’s really not that complicated. It doesn’t require much philosophizing or — worst of all — economizing. If you go on the kids’ trip for a bit they’ll take you where you’re going. Not to dead matter, but to an insistent energy that keeps on living. I get a tingle of it when I hold their hands, and for that moment I really feel like they’re holding me.