After avoiding it for nearly three years, after an untold number of near misses, possible exposures, and close calls, I had begun to think that I might be immune to COVID-19. Of course, I still got vaccinated and boosted and everything; I took all of the appropriate measures. But, in the back of my mind, as everyone I knew got it, I began to think that through genetics, blood type, or some other unknown magic, I might be one of the lucky few.
As it turns out, I am decidedly not immune to COVID-19, which I found out in no uncertain terms two days after Christmas. As the virus settled in and made me feel like I had fallen off a roof in my sleep, what I really wanted to do was park myself firmly on the couch and watch TV until my eyeballs bled and my body melted away. Surely, with the fever I had, that wouldn’t take too long. But I couldn’t because, you see, my wife and I are the proud parents of a curious, intelligent, and very energetic 9-month-old baby girl. Laying around while she is awake is not an option and screens are not allowed to be on while the child is out and about. So, we did our best to keep ourselves alive while also entertaining and nurturing our little bundle of chaos.
Several days into our mandated isolation, my wife and I trudged slowly around our block, keeping far away from all of the neighbors and pushing our daughter in the stroller. It was a far cry from the brisk walk we typically take each evening, but this was a desperate attempt to feel somewhat normal and human again. As we were walking (or rather, COVID trudging) around the neighborhood, we were talking about the child, because she’s still new and shiny and roughly 50-95% of what we talk about now. For Christmas, she had received all kinds of wooden toys and musical instruments and books and interesting objects that were carefully, thoughtfully designed to enhance her brain development. I was saying that it’s a shame that she won’t remember any of this. Actually, what I think I really said was, “We could just put her out in the yard—she won’t know the difference.” My wife wisely ignored this and said, “It’s all supposed to make her smarter.” To which I quipped, “Do we want her to be smart? Wouldn’t she be happier if she weren’t?”
And we both paused. I’d said it mostly to annoy my wife, but after it was out there, we both sort of considered the idea: Does being smarter make people happier? Isn’t it actually the opposite that is true? Like, should we raise her to be smart, aware, and capable of critical thought? Or, would she be happier and better off if we let her be, for lack of a better way to say it, not that bright?
It sounds like I’m joking, and mostly I am, but how much? It’s also a bit of a real question. This child was born during a global pandemic, under the threat of war in Europe and worldwide economic devastation, to say nothing of the political dumpster fire here in the United States. And all of that is without pointing out the imminent end of the planet on which we live. Will she actually benefit from being smart, aware, and capable of critical thought? I suppose one could argue that she could potentially solve one (or all) of these problems. More likely, though, she will be like us: cognizant of the problems; able to read long, well-written articles about them in The Atlantic; but ultimately powerless to do much of anything.
We didn’t resolve the issue that evening; we just kept walking/trudging, each of us privately considering the herculean task of raising a new human in this world. It can sometimes seem like things now are uniquely bad. So, I guess we junk the learning toys and stop keeping her away from all of the screens? We just let her watch YouTube and UFC and The Bachelor and whatever else and stop trying so hard to protect her developing brain; she doesn’t need to cultivate the critical faculties to realize how bad it is out there. Out here.
But no—of course we won’t do that. We will do everything we can to provide for her the most supportive environment possible. Because the times in which we live are also uniquely good. I mean, we have refrigerators, iPhones, Beyoncé, and more free time than ever before in all of human history. Some of us have so much free time and so much available food that we created television baking shows where we make wildly elaborate food, only to waste most of it. It’s truly wild. (Full disclosure: I have spent an inordinate amount of my COVID recovery time when the baby is asleep watching The Great British Baking Show.)
I understand the immense privilege buried in these sentiments. The fact that I have the luxury to consider any of this is largely because I am a straight, white, suburban, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, American man. As such, I am the living, breathing embodiment of all kinds of privilege. Still, I need to figure out how to raise this child in the very unique times in which we find ourselves.
Our daughter is our responsibility, yes, but she is not “ours.” I don’t feel ownership over her; rather, I feel that it is our duty to usher her into the world to the best of our ability. I guess the most I can hope for is not necessarily that she is happy, or optimistic, or realistic, or smart. It is that she does her utmost to live truthfully, whatever that means to her. It is the best that I can hope for any of us, really.
This world is many things, and not all of those things are good, but I hope that she continually seeks out truth and beauty. And if she does, her road will likely not always be smooth. But I cannot control that part; I can only help her prepare for the journey. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to the living room for another night of watching other people bake on TV.
Casey Murphy is a freelance writer and actor. After fifteen years in New York City, he is now based in Sarasota, Florida, where he lives with his wife and daughter. When not writing or acting, he works in arts administration and development. He was the Development Associate for Foundation Relations and Individual Giving at Asolo Repertory Theatre, and now works for Sarasota Orchestra as their Grants and Donor Communications Manager. Casey is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan.