22 April 2012
Time, Mind, Earth, Junior
Posted by Callan Bentley
Once again, we roll around to another Earth Day. I find myself in a more-contemplative-than-normal mood this year, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share a bit about what I’ve been thinking. This is a post about the personal side of geoscience – taking data, and its logical implications, and smashing it into life, and seeing what comes out the other side.
Two years ago (to the day!), I went on record here as saying that human overpopulation was a bad thing, and that I didn’t want to contribute to that bad thing, and so therefore I wouldn’t be having any children myself.
So… about that…
… My wife is pregnant. We got ourselves knocked up down in South Africa on our honeymoon. Quite possibly during the safari, or perhaps on New Year’s Eve. Somewhere in there. We are expecting a boy. He’s due in late September.We’re calling him “Junior” as a pre-birth nickname.
We were trying to get pregnant; it was intentional. Because I was so public with my condemnation of child-bearing, I feel obligated to give you readers some explanation. In case this exercise of coming-out as a parent-to-be seems self-indulgent, I can state unequivocally that some readers sat up and took notice of that particular blog post. When Philip and Sam visited, Philip remarked on it, for instance. So, if one person says something, that probably means there’s ten out there thinking the same thing. I feel like I owe those people some explanation for my about-face.
Here’s the back story.
Lily wanted a kid. I didn’t. I wrote that blog post, and I think it precipitated what followed. A few weeks later, towards the end of the school year, she let me know that she was broken-hearted over the whole thing, and that she couldn’t give up on her need to have a baby. She was going to leave me and move to Colorado. But we already had a trip to Turkey planned, and so we took it anyhow. On the flight there, and walking around Istanbul with her, I was the broken-hearted one. I knew I didn’t want to let her go. I knew I would feel empty if she went to Colorado. We both loved hiking, nature, science, travel, food. Life with Lily was better. I began to reconsider my “no kids” policy – was it so important to me that I was willing to sacrifice my relationship with the woman I loved?
So, somewhere on that trip, I said to her, “Look. I can’t lose you. I can compromise. What do you say we get married and have a kid?” And she said yes, with relief and delight that she didn’t have to take that wrenching action. We made it formal a few days later by buying a diamond ring from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and I formally proposed (down on my knee, tears in my eyes) to Lily in the shadow of the Haghia Sophia.
We were married last summer in Bozeman, Montana, a wonderful week-long affair that involved hiking, horse-riding, rafting, hot-springing, and picnicking with our family and friends. It was a sublime stretch of time for us, doing what we love in a place we love, with people with love. I get the warm fuzzies just thinking about it. It was such a good call to have a multi-day wedding celebration; it allowed for quality time with everyone in a way that an afternoon+evening wedding+reception just doesn’t.
We delayed our official honeymoon until the winter break. At work, I had been laying the foundations for the Fall 2012-Spring 2013 academic year as a time of sabbatical, and so we now had a 15-month window (adding in the summers on either side) in which to have our kid. But aiming to have a kid during that window meant pulling the trigger nine months in advance. The earliest we could start trying would be winter break. Hey, how about that – it coincides with the honeymoon trip to South Africa!
Lots of couples have difficulty conceiving, and they have my greatest sympathy — but for us, it seriously happened on the first round of “trying.” I was surprised at how easily it all worked out. Now the muffin’s in the oven. We’re going to be parents. Crazy to contemplate…
So how do I reconcile this with my data-driven assessment of human overpopulation and its negative effects? It’s hard, because it’s not logical. I can only say it’s about my love for Lily, my embrace of being a human in addition to being a scientist or being an environmentalist. Different aspects of my personality and worldview, my intellect and biochemistry are in competition with one another for control of my actions. This is not about reducing carbon emissions or making the world a better place for grasshoppers and and warblers and orangutans. It’s about making a family, about nurturing personal relationships, and trying my hand at something new, radical, and yet somehow familiar.
Why share all these details here on my blog? I think that the decisions I made, the issues I wrestled with, are not uniquely mine. There are other people out there considering their own lives, their own relationship to planet Earth, and my committing these thoughts to print may be useful to one of those people. Let me know what you think. I feel like I’m going out on a limb here.
I’ve been shocked at the level of societal approval I’ve gotten since we announced the big news last week – an outpouring of “Congratulations” which must seem like a strong current of peer pressure to those of my former “no kids” mindset. I’m hopeful about this new phase of life – I know Lily will be the best sort of mom anyone could hope for. Our boy is lucky to have her. For my own part, I’m excited in a nervous sort of way, terrified about health issues, but find that now that we’ve made this decision and committed to this path, I’m not really thinking about the carbon footprint of another American at all. My view is much more focused on our nascent family; the rest of the world has gotten fuzzier, out there on the periphery of my concern. Weird. Things change. My mind has changed. Heraclitus told me this would happen when he made the profound observation that seems to me to be the essence of geology: “Change is the only constant.”
So there: I said it. I’m embracing parenthood. I’m looking forward to teaching my son about nature, about science, about open-mindedness, and about life.
Happy Earth Day!
Life is full of changes and seeming inconsistencies, and as a friend of mine told me once when I commented on him&wife doing something else besides what they had wanted or planned months or years prior, “Sometimes priorities change.”
Congrats on the new member of your family, may he live long and prosper. The best part about kids is that they grow up into people you share a history with.
Once again, congratulations! I can think of many motivations that a person might have for deciding to raise children, some noble, some not so much (Octo-mom, for instance, or people trying to reach a religious standard of twelve children or whatever). I feel a lot more hopeful about parents who have an abiding care and concern for the future of the world, who will pass on their philosophy to their children.
We had similar doubts back in the late 70s on the heels of the beginnings of the environmental movement, but have since raised two children to adulthood. Both of them are pursuing careers that involve the betterment of the human condition (social work and teaching). We can’t always know exactly what path our children will take in life, but I feel confident that someone that you raise will be all the more likely to make a positive difference in the world.
You and Lily are setting out on a great journey! Best hopes and wishes to you both.
My SO and I didn’t have children as our gift to the world (too late for kids now); BUT we were both agreed on the topic.
Having said that, give your self a break from any guilt for any reason for having your child. It is what it is for any reason. (As my wise father once said, “Regrets will make you crazy”)
Thanks, everyone. I appreciate you chiming in.
[…] if its easier at the time, and neglect to turn off the lights in a room when I’m not there. As Callan points out, if one day my husband and I have children, that will undo (in a way) years of dedicated recycling […]
Look at it this way: new and better data came in, so you changed your mind. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
> I know Lily will be the best sort of mom anyone could hope for
I think he’ll find his Dad to be rather special, too.
Congratulations, and thank you for sharing all of this.
Congratulations!! Thanks for sharing. It is touching!
Thank you for sharing this. I admire your openness about a personal journey and set of decisions that you don’t have to defend to anyone. Junior will have a good dad.
Congrats. My personal view is one or two kids is not a net gain for the world population on my part, freeing me of any potential guilt 😀
Thanks for sharing.
As a parent of 2 (both girls) all I can say is that you will never truly regret your decision, no matter what life throws at you.
Congratulations! Two things: 1) Welcome to the greatest science experiment that can ever be run in your own house. It’s a trip! and 2) If you think the decision to have kids was illogical, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The days of adding 2+2 and getting 4 will be over before you know it (to be replaced by 2+2=37), but it’s awesome. Congrats again and nice job on a really well expressed post.
Congratulations, Callan and Lily.
Teaching a son about nature and the world around, to see in their eyes the excitment long forgotten in other eyes, to see they like what you like… It is one of the nicest things in parenthood. At least in my experience.
Congratulations, Callan! To retain your political correctness, you just need to train your kid to consume 50% less than you do!
Not trying to be a jerk here, or anything, but how does the whole “I guess we’ll have kids then!” thing count as a compromise? I mean, you didn’t want kids, she did, and when she threatened to call it quits, you switched on over to her position.
Not much “compromise, is all I’m sayin…”
Two thoughts on this: (a) Maybe it’s a compromise with myself? (b) Lily had already “given in” to me by moving to the east coast, as opposed to someplace more attractive like the Rockies. She’s compromising, and so am I. It’s not just this one issue.
I have the same “no kids” policy you had two years ago. If it came down to having one or losing Nic, I’d probably pull an about-face just as quickly as you did.
I want you to know that my congratulations and enthusiasm for Junior are sincere, and I want you to know why. I’ve seen some genuinely frightening reproduction in my circle these past few years. I have little to no hope for any of these kids because their parents are . . . well, let’s just say that the parents make no positive contributions and I have little faith that the children will make any. It’s so dismaying that I’ve pondered having a child just to try to offset things a little bit. (God, how arrogant does *that* sound?) The truth is, though, that I’m too selfish to do it. I just don’t want a child.
So I think it’s wonderful that the world has Junior Bentley to look forward to. I know no parent can ever guarantee that their values and lessons will take, but I know that you and Lily will try your hardest to raise a smart, conscientious, driven human being who will do some good on our beleaguered little planet. Good on all three of ya.
I’m really sorry for you, guy !
[…] (a) my work on revising the Tarbuck, Lutgens, & Tasa physical geology textbook Earth, and (b) being a new dad: my son is due in about a month. Of course, it turns out I’ve also got a lot more yard work […]
I just found out your news from your August 22 blog–congratulations! I have to confess I was just like you in my younger days–didn’t want any kids, partly because of feminist independence, partly because of overpopulation concerns. Now I have eight–life changes! And I wouldn’t send a single one of them back.
Enjoy–it’s a great ride.