Their home was nice, the food was nice, the girls were nice – nice, nice, nice.I disappointed myself by finding our perfectly pleasant lunch with perfectly pleasant people inadequate. […] These were good people and they had been good to us and we had therefore had a good time. To conclude otherwise was frightening, raising the specter of some unnameable quantity without which we could not abide, but which we could not summon on demand, least of all by proceeding in virtuous accordance with an established formula.You regarded redemption as an act of will. You disparaged people (people like me) for their cussedly nonspecific dissatisfactions, because to fail to embrace the simple fineness of being alive betrayed a weakness of character. You always hated finicky eaters, hypochondriacs, and snobs who turned their noses up at Terms of Endearment just because it was popular. Nice eats, nice place, nice folks- what more could I possibly want? Besides, the good life doesn’t knock on the door. Joy is a job. So if you believed with sufficient industry that we had had a good time with Brian and Louise in theory, then we would have had a good time in fact. The only hint that in truth you’d found our afternoon laborious was that your enthusiasm was excessive.
The last thing we want to admit is that the forbidden fruit on which we have been gnawing since reaching the magic age of twenty-one is the same mealy Golden Delicious that we stuff into our children’s lunch boxes. The last thing we want to admit is that the bickering of the playground perfectly presages the machinations of the boardroom, that our social hierarchies are merely an extension of who got picked first for the kickball team, and that grown-ups still get divided into bullies and fatties and crybabies. What’s a kid to find out? Presumably we lord over them an exclusive deed to sex, but this pretense flies so fantastically in the face of fact that it must result from some conspiratorial group amnesia. […] In truth, we are bigger, greedier versions of the same eating, shitting, rutting ruck, hell-bent on disguising from somebody, if only from a three-year-old, that pretty much all we do is eat and shit and rut. The secret is there is no secret. That is what we really wish to keep from our kids, and its supression is the true collusion of adulthood, the pact we make, the Talmud we protect.
Youth was the time for happiness, its only season; young people, leading a lazy, carefree life, partially occupied by scarcely absorbing studies, were able to devote themselves unlimitedly to the liberated exultation of their bodies. They could play, dance, love, and multiply their pleasures. They could leave a party, in the early hours of the morning, in the company of sexual partners they had chosen, and contemplate the dreary line of employees going to work. They were the salt of the earth, and everything was given to them, everything was permitted for them, everything was possible. Later on, having started a family, having entered the adult world, they would be introduced to worry, work, responsibility, and the difficulties of existence; they would have to pay taxes, submit themselves to administrative formalities while ceaselessly bearing witness--powerless and shame-filled--to the irreversible degradation of their own bodies, which would be slow at first, then increasingly rapid; above all, they would have to look after children, mortal enemies, in their own homes, they would have to pamper them, feed them, worry about their illnesses, provide the means for their education and their pleasure, and unlike in the world of animals, this would last not just for a season, they would remain slaves of their offspring always, the time of joy was well and truly over for them, they would have to continue to suffer until the end, in pain and with increasing health problems, until they were no longer good for anything and were definitively thrown into the rubbish heap, cumbersome and useless. In return, their children would not be at all grateful, on the contrary their efforts, however strenuous, would never be considered enough, they would, until the bitter end, be considered guilty because of the simple fact of being parents. From this sad life, marked by shame, all joy would be pitilessly banished. When they wanted to draw near to young people's bodies, they would be chased away, rejected, ridiculed, insulted, and, more and more often nowadays, imprisoned. The physical bodies of young people, the only desirable possession the world has ever produced, were reserved for the exclusive use of the young, and the fate of the old was to work and to suffer. This was the true meaning of solidarity between generations; it was a pure and simple holocaust of each generation in favor of the one that replaced it, a cruel, prolonged holocaust that brought with it no consolation, no comfort, nor any material or emotional compensation.
I loved Duncan and I loved being his mother but I wasn't sure I was prepared to be only his mother. Before we were even married, when Russell and I had gotten our dog, Humbert, I had walked him early one morning, and as I stood on a line for coffee, someone had offered him a dog treat. "I always ask the mommy first," she said, looking at him expectantly. "Oh, I'm not his mother," I said, "I'm just his...friend," and she looked at me with complete contempt. "You're his mother," she had scolded, "Poor dog.
There has always been a sliver of panic in him, deeply buried, when it comes to his daughter: a fear that he is no good as a father, that he is doing everything wrong. That he never quite understood the rules. …There is pride, too, though–pride that he has done it alone. That his daughter is so curious, so resilient. There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.