Are children like litter? Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University professor, thinks so. In a recent video clip from the Joy Behar Show, the esteemed professor compared having many children to “littering” and explained that “we’ve got too many people on this planet to begin with.”
Other members of the panel agreed that refraining from having children was about the “greenest” thing anyone could do. Simcha Fisher’s spot-on article, Big Families Are the New Green, that ran in Faith & Family last spring covers the Catholic response to that particular argument rather well, so I don’t feel the need to address it.
But I will address the litter analogy. Because nobody calls my babies litter and gets away with it.
The main problem with Helen Fisher’s litter comment is that it presumes children are consumers. Aging, childless-by-choice Rutgers professors who live in large homes and travel the country in jet airplanes might very well be consumers. But children? They’re producers.
Children produce joy.
One recent evening, when I pulled into the driveway after picking up my oldest kids at a youth-group meeting, I saw two small faces peek out from the living-room window and then disappear quickly. As I made my way up the walkway, I heard excited voices inside the house followed by loud shushing.
When I opened the door, cheerful shouts met my ears. Someone started singing. Sparkly banners decorated the walls, and my five-year-old son stood proudly on a chair as he tossed small bits of paper in my direction. It was handmade confetti, complete with crayon scribbles and painstakingly cut jagged edges. “Welcome Home!” the banners read, and “We love you!”
After 90 minutes of absence, my littlest kids were celebrating my homecoming — in a big way. And for no other reason in the world except that they are children, full of joy and bursting to share it.
Children produce creativity.
I already told you about the handmade confetti, but there’s more where that came from. Lots more. There are impromptu deep-sea fishing trips, inspired by sofa cushions and laundry baskets on rainy November afternoons. There are voluminous novels, hand-written on secret notebook pages and squirreled away in dresser drawers. There are silly rhymes about bananas, made up and giggled over while waiting in long lines at the grocery store.
I remember years ago when my oldest brother spent an entire summer working on a remote control “mechanical shark” that was going to be lifelike and astonishing. Laws of physics and limitations of technology are the kinds of things jaded grown-ups worry about. The confident creativity of a child knows no bounds.
Children produce love.
Even physical contact with a child stimulates production of the “bonding” or “love” hormone oxytocin, but the love children produce goes far beyond biology or chemistry. It goes straight to the heart of why God put us on earth. Sure, we are meant to be fruitful and multiply, but we are also created for communion, and no one knows this better than a child who is born into the world with a ready-made desire and uncanny ability to give and receive love freely.
No one had to teach five-year-old Raphael, for example, how to love his oldest brother Eamon. He just does. Intensely. One recent night, when Eamon was sleeping at a friend’s house, Raphael asked if he could sleep in his bed. “Because he touches the blankets in there,” he explained, “and I just want to be close to them.”
That kind of genuine affection and devotion is not exactly something we need less of in the world.
Children produce gratitude.
Last week, a nasty virus made its way through our home. Child after child fell prey to a fever and cough. Night after night found me up at all hours, wiping noses, soothing sore throats, and dispensing cough syrup.
Eventually, I too became sick, and on one of those nights, I was lying awake in the dark, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in and praying for sleep. It was then that four-year-old Daniel entered my room. He clambered into bed next to me, pulled up the covers, sniffled, and sighed. I rested my hand on his chest and through flannel pajamas felt his steady heart beat. He reached toward me in the dark and placed a small cool hand on my feverish forehead.
Thank you, God, for small hands and small moments like these.
Children don’t litter the earth; they renew it. They don’t consume the planet; they feed it.