Michaels: Existential crises and parenting

“Do you think, after all these years, we’re all just living in someone else’s head?”

“Do you think, after all these years, we’re all just living in someone else’s head?”

That’s what my four-year-old asked my husband last night while I hid in another room, taking a brief hiatus from the Lego bonanza that is my night life.

From my resting place I had but one word go through my head — whoa. Sure, it’s shallow. But that is about as close to an existential crisis as I’ve had since puberty and I wasn’t ready to process. The ‘whoa,’ in fact, was so loud within the confines of my own head that it drowned out how my poor husband answered the question.

While I’m usually loath to offer wry observations on motherhood or anecdotes about my son’s brilliance in print, this is the five year anniversary of when I took my first sick day at the Capital News to become a proud breeder and I’m giving myself a pass for a bit of waxing on.

In case you haven’t heard, for some of us motherhood is a mind-blowing trip.

It comes with a dose of love so strong that it makes your heart and head hurt all at the same time and, lest you get carried away with all the saccharine sentimentalism, it’s balanced by regular occurrences of what we, in my house, call “catastra-feces.” I’ll leave the definition of that to your imagination.

Even in the midst of the messiest one of these situations, however, I count my blessings for my chance to be on the ride of my life.

Parenthood isn’t something I had a hankering for. Like an increasing number of Canadians I was late to the party and would have been perfectly content to skip it altogether, had the circumstances not aligned themselves in the right way.

There are other things to concern ourselves with, after all. There’s this planet that’s in continual upheaval, with political systems in crisis, wars being waged, arctic shelves melting and oceans warming.

And I didn’t feel like a lesser person for choosing to ponder these things more often than that of a squiggly little human of my own creation. No woman should, in fact, feel the need to breed and they increasingly aren’t.

The fertility rate—the number of children a hypothetical woman between the ages 15 to 49 would have over the course of her reproductive life—has been steadily falling over the last several decades.

Canada’s fertility rate, which 2016 census figures released in August, is pegged at 1.6 per cent, slightly higher than the 1.59 posted by Statistics Canada three years earlier.

The last year when the average number of children born matched the 2.1 replacement level needed for the population to renew itself, without being bolstered by immigration, was 1971.

This has been driven in large part by women choosing to join the reproduction game later or deferring it altogether.

In the 1960s, for instance, the average age for a first birth was about 22. Today, that age has been pushed to 30-plus and doctors say the later you go the less chance you have for more and more small humans to explode from your womb.

On the anniversary of my small human’s arrival, however, I can’t help but thank my lucky stars that I was allowed the chance to be a late bloomer.

It’s so much more interesting than I anticipated. Nobody told me some children may explore the grounds for an existential crisis before they knew what “existential” or “crisis” meant. Nor did they say that in a tiny little bundle of humanity that everything I took for granted in the world would continually be challenged, changed and improved upon.

That said, all this may be pointless. It’s not entirely impossible that we’re all just living in someone else’s head.

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