The end of the world?

So the latest end of the world came on December 21st 2012. And so far so good. My son warns me that the end of the Mayan calendar doesn’t mean that the world would end precisely on December the 21st 2012, but that this would mean the beginning of the end. So even though he claims not to be at all worried about this, I know he is pleased that our family holiday, starting tomorrow, will be in the Drakensberg mountains. The Drakensberg are the final refuge for the survivors of the 2012 apocalypse in the movie 2012. They will be my refuge from the city, the shopping malls and the rest of the world. I am posting a column (updated) that I wrote at the end of 2011, thinking about the end of the world, and what really matters….

Mayan countdown  Dec 21 2012Like many children my son is all too aware of the significance of the year 2012. Earth will collide with an asteroid, he reckons. Or a solar maximum will burn life on our planet into ashes. Or earth will be sucked into a black hole and obliterated. Take your pick.

However, these disasters, based on wild and fanciful interpretations of the Mayan calendar, are not what make 2012 significant. Through history many cultures have predicted an apocalypse in their own time and no such event occurred. Based on available evidence, our blue planet is no more likely to be destroyed in our life time, climate change notwithstanding.

What’s much more interesting is why the idea of the apocalypse passes from one generation to the next. It seems to be rooted in our human capacity to project ourselves into other times, places and people, and imagine ‘why’.  Why do we exist? Why is there evil and suffering? Why do we die?

Perhaps it’s more vanity than common sense to answer these questions with, “Things happen for a reason.”

Is there really a reason behind a good person’s accidental death, a tsunami, genocide somewhere in the world or large asteroid on a collision course with Earth?

At the end of each year we tend to ask these bigger questions of life. If you have the responsibility of parenting young children, they can be more difficult to answer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it might be an opportunity to view your family life with more clarity and perspective.

The original meaning of the word apocalypse is to reveal or uncover. Perhaps we should approach parenting in 2013 by lifting the veil from our family practices. Let’s ask: What doesn’t really matter?

Here’s  my list of things that shouldn’t matter in 2013:

  • Getting everything right all the time, doing things perfectly. Whether it’s your overtired son’s homework, or your daughter’s costume for a dress-up party or the performance of the Under 14 cricket team, failing sometimes, even spectacularly, is normal and healthy and absolutely necessary.
  • Always doing chores or working or accepting invites and putting off pleasurable ways of connecting with your children. Tolerating a little bit of mess in your home or not going to after work drinks every Friday might lead to a great walk with your child in the park, a chance to bake chocolate chip cookies together or an energetic game of soccer in the garden.
  • Earning more than other families, displaying your wealth through extravagant children’s parties, using your Hummer as a rent-a-ride in your child’s school Market Day or dressing your baby in designer onesies.
  • Your own ego. Your children are not an extension of you. They are not there to make you feel better or more important or more succesful.

My good friend called me with a dilemma. She had bought an expensive, very beautiful, very white couch for her family living room before she had her children. Her son was now a toddler and she was struggling to keep him and his muddy feet and grubby hands off the couch. She was screaming and moaning at him constantly about the issue. Could I, as a parenting expert, help her find a strategy to keep him off the furniture?

I suggested she buy a child repellant spray.

Not really.  I actually suggested she buy a brown slip cover for the couch.

I pointed out that at the end of her life she was less likely to be proud of the fact that her couch was still pristine white than of the fact that she had enjoyed and fostered a happy relationship with her children, even when they were boisterous toddlers.

So the final thing on my list of things that shouldn’t matter for 2013 is:  white couches.

 

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