Here’s an Unanswerable Question

November 15th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments

Two kids or three?

I’ve been entirely certain that we had reached our limit—two kids—until this weekend, when some sort of synapse fired and suddenly it didn’t seem like complete insanity to have another child. It seemed, in fact, like a lovely idea.

Now that it’s Monday and all the reveries of the weekend have again been put in storage, I’m trying to diagnose what would cause me to have such wild and anarchic thoughts (my wife is also doubtless wondering about the pendulum of my mind). After all, I also bought our Christmas plane tickets home to the Florida Keys this weekend, the first Christmas where I had to actually buy an adult-size ticket for my 2-year-old. So now if I want to go see my mother for the holidays, I have to buy four plane tickets. Would buying five freaking plane tickets really be that much more fun?

Sometimes emotion trumps economics, though, and I think the desire to contemplate a third kid stems from the fact that I like our current pair a lot. You might even say I love them. They’ve been particularly sweet/curious/solicitous as of late, and given that toddlerhood is quickly disappearing in my youngest, there’s a sense of loss and also a sort of creative confidence. We’ve had two babies now and they’re both physically healthy and (we think) not total assholes. Why not try a third?

Here’s why not: if the desire to have more children is led in part by a love for your current children, maybe we should just reinvest that emotion back into the two you’ve got. Not in order to become sweltering helicopter parents, but to really have the time and courage to get to know and understand and respond to them as individuals.

I bring this last part up because I finally got to watching Sean Penn’s Into the Wild off the NetFlix queue this weekend. I had read the Jon Krakauer article in Outside magazine years ago, about Chris McCandless, who wandered into the Alaskan wilderness in his early 20s with no backup plan for surviving in the wild. It was lunacy, in some ways, driven by his resentment against his argumentative middle-class parents. When I read the article, I felt some points of identification with McCandless (though I’ve never been as incautious or alienated as him). When I saw the movie, I spent more time thinking about the parents.

Leaving aside their issues of domestic violence (at least as the movie portrayed it), it seems to me their biggest mistake is that they have no earthly idea who their son is. They offer him a new car after graduation from college, even though his old Datsun is clearly a large part of his self-identity. They misunderstand how much space he needed and what kind. As a result, they were never a part of his ambitions, and they never even had the chance to just give their kid a couple pieces of advice (e.g., “Ask a local what happens to the river in spring, dude”) that could have saved him.

Obviously, a movie—not even a new release!—has literally nothing to do without whatever strange play will act itself out between us and our kids. But even if I’m confident that we could produce another child worthy of love, I’m not overconfident in our ability to really know the ones we already have. It’s more than providing for them, it’s much more than just protecting them. It’s about really recognizing who they are, and that takes a tremendous amount of time and wisdom. For one, much less two, and certainly not three.

That’s my stance this week at least.


  1. scottstev says:

    November 15th, 2010at 11:41 am(#)

    Probably doesn’t help answer the question one way or another but paywalled article makes pretty compelling case that Chris McCandless might have been schizophrenic. Apparently his shelter was very close to a road, not completely inaccessible as stated in the book and movie.

  2. Nathan says:

    November 15th, 2010at 12:32 pm(#)

    Hey Scottstev–Thanks for the link. I checked out the full article and some others that Craig Medred wrote about McCandless. He might be right, but I have a hard time being that convinced because he never actually spoke to anyone who knew McCandless. So I don’t know why I would favor his interpretation over Krakauer’s. The bus was 25-30 miles from the road, in fact, so it’s possible that McCandless couldn’t have made it out. I guess Medred just doesn’t seem to accept a line between schizophrenia and just being a seeker. There’s more of a continuum there than he allows. #rantover


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