Old fashioned mental health

I have noticed something about kids. Especially the ones who have acquired mobility and coherent speech, or something close to that. Let me use this story to demonstrate. Some time back I was in a matatu. Along Thika road, meditating as the matatu and other passengers did matatu and passenger things respectively. I was seated at the very back, my eyes on hibernation mode. They were not closed, just not focused on anything in particular. You could say I was in the famous nothing box.

Something caught my eye and fished me out of that box. Seated in front of me was a gruff-looking man with a hardened aura and stern facial features to match. The kind of guy who can turn an extrovert into an introvert by simply looking at him. Seated in front of James Bond’s villain was a mother carrying a baby. The baby preferred to stand on her mother’s laps and face behind, using her mom’s shoulders for support. The face of the baby was directly in the line of vision of Bond’s villain. You would think that the baby would take one look at the guy and scream.

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But she didn’t. She looked at the guy and unleashed a beaming smile. I observed and thought, well this is interesting. Kids are by nature harmless and adorable. It’s almost a common nature in all humans to be gentle towards children. I don’t raise an eyebrow when a campus lass goes ‘awww, so cute’ at the sight of a toddler. But this guy was at the opposite end of that spectrum. His fortress of sternness was unbreakable. The toddler didn’t care. She focused her attention on Bond’s villain, her smile getting bigger as if he was the freshest image she had ever seen.

At this point, I reasoned that even a stone sculpture would melt from the sheer cheerfulness that the kid was projecting. And you know what, she did it. She made the villain baptize himself and transform into a disciple of optimism. His resistance had been overpowered.He couldn’t help smiling back. He just couldn’t. And for once he looked like a benevolent human being. Just for those few minutes that he returned the toddler’s smile. And I didn’t want to look on anymore. Lest I spoiled that moment of magic.

There’s a way young children can beat back the clouds of worry that so easily encompass us adults. They have this joy and happiness that is remarkably contagious. Sure, we can’t be like children and have little to worry about. But hanging around them gives us an opportunity to share in their world of bliss. In this era of mental illnesses and gloom, it’s refreshing man.

Similar experiences have been recorded by one Jordan Peterson when he and his wife were taking their child for a walk on a stroller. It was a ‘rough’ neighborhood, frequented by tough men with gangster lifestyles. He describes how they would approach the stroller and betray their gangster vybe, going all : awww, what a cute baby!

Indeed children are how my introverted self got to know the neighbors when I moved to a new apartment building. They had these kids who had just learnt how to walk and to them walls and doors meant nothing. I would be opening my door and before I step in a small human has already beat me to getting into my own house. I have had to make a trip or two to the neighbors to return their kid.

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And that’s how conversations start because the child will pull you right into the house as if she just found a brand new toy and showcase what she found to her dad. “Eer, hi, I brought your kid back”. “Oh, thanks man. This little guy is very active. You are the new neighbor?” And so on and so forth. So after a week of staying indoors mostly alone, I got to have a conversation with another human for a few minutes. It was like a tonic. I enjoyed it. All because of a kid.

You might be wondering where I am heading with all this baby talk today. You know, kids are known for a lot of things including being delicate, prone to illness, high maintenance, expensive, loud at night et cetera. But they are also delightful little creatures. They totally make up for their need for constant care by being comical and unending sources of joy.

As adults we also have our shortfalls, like our tendency to fall into depression and the vices we run to as a means of escape, such as alcoholism. We also struggle with existential questions every now and then. You know, what’s my purpose? Why is life so difficult at times? Is death the end of it all? These questions are tough, really tough. They can and do leave behind a broken spirit.

When we have someone to care about who is more important than ourselves, a lot of these questions are no longer our primary focus. We have a reason to get up every morning and live again, despite the challenges that we are sure will assail us. And as a bonus, this someone genuinely loves us, is happy to see us back home everyday, drags us out of our dark thoughts and induces a smile on our faces from time to time. Issa good deal.

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Now, of course having children requires a lot of planning on our part. We have to anticipate the needs of the child and how we will meet them. It is even recommended to go to the clinic for check up and solid advice if you are planning to have a baby. You will get very useful information that will keep you from the hard way.

When I was younger I used to hear that people had kids so that they can take care of them in the future. I thought that was all there was to it. Turns out there’s more. Raising children actually brings sanity into our adult world. Our jobs are not enough. Money is not enough. Family, well we may have a good one but it still doesn’t take away that feeling of being lonely, purposeless and lost.

We can look for a solution in many things but let’s also remember our lives on this planet are finite. We can waste away our existence trying to find an antidote for loneliness and purpose or we can do what everyone else has been doing, but this time with understanding.

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Having kids in a monogamous set up and going to a church regularly may look traditional and old fashioned. The impact of missing those things is devastating though, simple as they seem. The emotional and neurological effect of those two things is very positive and difficult to find a replacement for. They are not perfect solutions and they are not the solution to everything. But they do a damn good job of keeping us from rotting away in a bin of loneliness, vices and pessimism.

It’s easy to focus on the wrong things in life. The Devil is out here actively encouraging it. Kids can be a pile of work. But that’s not all there is to them. Not at all. It’s a once in a lifetime shot to have a good relationship with another human being who already loves you from the beginning. As we grow older meaningful relationships with other people start to really matter and getting a bond like the one we have with kids is difficult to source from elsewhere.

Especially since we will be looking at either other adults or animals. Adults have their own things to attend to and their perspectives are almost always different from our own because we grew up in different environments. Animals… can’t even talk. There’s a limit to their companionship. Missing that bond with children, proves to be a life-sinking iceberg later in life. So yeah. Our children need us. But we need them too.

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