Of course, there's a lot of suggestibility when it comes to talking about emotions. If I were being paid to blog about being pregnant and how I felt about being pregnant I would probably attribute a lot of things to it that I don't when I'm just going about my life. Which is why I was interested to find a link to this article, from New York magazine. Now, you might think that reading an article with the subtitle "Why Parents Hate Parenting" might be a bad idea for a 39-week pregnant lady, sentimental or otherwise. But it's a strong article because instead of falling into the normal lifestyle carping (singles are happier! no marrieds! no parents!) she sets out to solve the seeming paradox of why studies have consistently found parents less happy than those without kids although almost no parents would say this. A lot of it is what you'd expect: parents are in denial, parents expectations have become too high, etc. But the real meat comes at the end, when she demonstrates how, like always with such studies but is so rarely mentioned, it really comes down to the questions being asked. When you ask moment to moment things, like, do you have more stress, of course parents say yes. But when you look at more existential questions, like feelings of loneliness, parents come out as less depressed. One of the parents are less happy people doesn't buy it, because life is actually experience as series of moments, not as what we make it in reflection. I'm not so sure. I've always been fond of what Annie Dillard says, that good days are not hard to find, it's good lives, and that a day spent reading is not always a good day but a life spent reading is always a good life. People like to tell aspiring creative types or whoever that you have to enjoy every part of the process, the doing, not just the having done. But the process sucks lots of the time for almost everyone. So if we are not so happy moment to moment, but construct ourselves that way in retrospect, is that really such a failure? "Being in the moment" may be a balm against anxiety, but does it take us away from where the meanings are - in where we've come from and where we're going?
So I was thinking about this and thinking maybe I'm not so unsentimental after all, and then I came across Philip Levine's wonderful poem "You Can Have It" in Rita Dove's new anthology, and thought especially about these lines:
. . . We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.
In 1948 the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,
for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctor's appointments, bonds
wedding certificates, diveres licenses.
The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then the bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,
and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
Like any good feminist, I'm skeptical about nostalgia. The nostalgia here totally takes me in, but mostly because it's for a time before my birth. "Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Radio Days" are my favorite Woody Allen films. It's as impossible for me to imagine commemorating 1994 the way Levine commemorates the year he turned twenty. It's as impossible as imaging my kid at twenty in 2032(!) Maybe my youth was just less textured and nostalgia-worthy than Levine's. But Levine's nostalgia goes hand in hand with its impossibility. The past as we imagine it, his 1948, his being twenty, is as if it never was, unless he wills it back, give it to us, who were never there. It's a construction, but just maybe it's not a lie, the way I always thought it was. Life may be a string of moments in which the average parent is more unhappy and stressed, but it's also the string of moments who trail behind, as equally unfixed as any vibrating present the happiness gurus could imagine.