So the news media wants you to know: It's going to cost you dearly to have a kid.
$241,000, actually. And that doesn't even count college, and you know how costly college is! Pretty daunting, this whole procreation deal.
Thing is, my wife and I didn't have the money, either. When we had our boy, Justice, I made $17,500. We rented a duplex, and drove two cars worth a combined - not making this up, this is what they sold for: $125. And this isn't the 50's. This is the 90s.
Foolish to have a kid? Mathematically, sure. And I love math, but math ain't everything. You can't play kickball with it or watch it giggle in the bathtub.
Turns out, my parents couldn't afford me, on paper, either. Maybe they're filled with regret. ("Wow, we paid tens of thousands and we wind up with BRANT? WHAT A RIP-OFF.") But I doubt it, because they seem to not only like me, they like the expensive humans my wife and I produced. (Full disclosure: There's a big downside to this having-kids thing.)
Ironically, on the same day the annual "Cost of a Child" study comes out, there's this guy from American Idol in the news. Justin Guarini was a star - he finished second to Kelly Clarkson in 2002. But now money is tight. Very tight. He wrote on his website that he's had to skip meals to make sure his family has enough.
There was a time when I could have thrown down cash for a house, and had any number of lovers in and out the door. A flashy car and clothes to match. An ego to trump them all.
Now, I rent a home filled with love. I have a wife whom I love and who loves me (me!) and who lifts me up. Children who give me cherubic-lipped kisses before I leave for work and who are the most delicious morsels of joy and peace and prosperity.
I am a pretty wealthy individual.
And then this, his best line:
I have more riches than I can count. Most of them come in the form of smiles and drool... but they make me feel like a gazillionaire.
Justin Guarini, I didn't watch your season of "Idol", but I'm now a fan. You, sir, are on to something.
And so is Bruce Brander, unfortunately. Bruce wrote a terrific book, called Staring Into Chaos, and it's about how civilizations, you know, go down the tubes. And Brander notes a commonality: Declining civilizations look at children through a cost/benefit lens. They see them as a drag on our personal autonomy, or another personal accoutrement, to enhance our status. It's plus and minus, and minus and plus, and maybe it's worth having one, if it doesn't make me cancel my Bahamas trip.
(Is it incumbent on everyone to have children? Of course not! But you might want to root on those who do, and create a culture and policies that support marriage and families, even big ones. Other people's kids are wonderful, joyful things, too. For one thing, you need them to retire.)
Of course, this whole "kids are too expensive" thing has a funny familiarity to it, and by "funny", of course, I mean, "tragically unfunny". It's precisely where we are. And precisely why western civilization, demographically speaking, is most definitely, irreversibly, going out of business. The numbers don't lie. As a culture, we simply love ourselves too much to burden ourselves with little versions of ourselves.
And then there are those who will continue to see children for what they are: Miracles and blessings. But they are now the counter-culture. The good news is, the counter-culture doesn't just have drool on its carpet and a beater in the garage. It has a future, and that future is at a table, surrounded by the laughs and cries of our grandbabies.
Expensive inconveniences grow up, and have their own inconveniences, and, like Justin Guarini, wouldn't trade them for the world. What, exactly, was I going to spend that money on, anyway?
I know bargains when I see them. They make me smile.
And these two bargains can smile back.