OK, I’m over it. For the first fifteen minutes today after I learned that Sarah Palin’s daughter was pregnant at age 17, I have to admit that I was — to employ the biggest euphemism I’ve used in a long time — perplexed.
Perplexed and befuddled. Perplexed, befuddled, and gobsmacked. Gobsmacked, perplexed, befuddled and crestfallen. Crestfallen, gobsmacked, perplexed, befuddled and spazzed out. Even a little angry. How could McCain and Palin have done this to us? It sure seemed like one of those surprises you get when you invite your buddy to move in for a month because he’s between apartments and he winds up bringing along — well, you get the idea. Not ipso facto a dealbreaker, just not exactly what you thought you bargained for.
Then I thought about it for nearabouts an hour and I realized I had nothing, really to be upset about, and even less to make an issue of personally; that it was even less of my concern than I had any right to arrogate to myself. It’s a fact of life that at 17 years old, a lot of teenagers have had sex, although most parents try their best to get them to postpone it, or at least use their brains as well as their genitals. I’m no exception, although I didn’t get pregnant, and neither did she. So it would have been awfully hypocritical of me to stay very perplexed (or anything else) on that basis.
So then, what else could I be upset about? That the pregnancy would bring up the issue of premarital sex during the Republican National Convention? That’s not an entirely unproductive or pointless discussion for us to have, when you think about it. And neither is the discussion about what to do if one of the kids — now about to grow up awfully fast — gets pregnant. And then I realized that it’s quite possible to be 17 years old and have a family that’s supportive enough, and a good enough head on your (two) shoulders, to make it work. Particularly if people don’t treat you and your husband-to-be as though you’ve somehow endangered the future of the Republic, which they really didn’t — I’m sure they’ll be relieved to know. America will survive. ;).
I was reminded of one of my favorite poems, written by John Barth at the beginning of The Tidewater Tales: a charge from a wife to her husband, a challenge. You see, he’s a storyteller, a novelist actually, and she sets him a task: to tell her the greatest story she’s ever heard.
Tell me a story of women and men
Like us: like us in love for ten
Years, lovers for seven, spouses
Two, or two point five. ‘Their House’s Increase’
Is the tale I wish you’d tell.
Why did that perfectly happy pair,
Like us, decide so late to bear
A child? Why toil so to conceive
One (or more), when they both believe
The world’s aboard a handbasket bound for Hell?
Sentimentality, was it? A yen
Like ours to be one person, blend
Their flesh forever, so to speak —
Although the world could end next week
And that dear incarnation be H-bomb-fried?
Maybe they thought that by joining their
(Like our) so different genes – her
Blue-blooded, his blue-collared — they’d make
A blue-eyed Wunderkind who’d take
The end of civilization in his/her stride?
Or maybe they weren’t thinking at all,
But (unlike us) obeyed the call
Of blind instinct and half-blind custom:
“Reproduce your kind, and trust them
To fortune’s winds and tides, life’s warmth and frost?
Perhaps they considered all the above
(Like us, exactly) — instinct, love,
The world’s decline from bad to worse
In more respects than the reverse —
And decided to pay, but not to count, the cost,
Different, to be sure, than being 17 and pregnant — but not necessarily less of an adventure, or one guaranteed to go smoothly (which, like all things in real life and the best fiction, it doesn’t, entirely.)
Finally I realized that the best thing I could do is wish the young couple and their unborn baby luck, and hope that they get a lot of support and good advice, and understand that they can make it work if they’re willing to work to make it, and it looks like they are. May God bless them and keep them and their child.
Now let’s get back to also talking about what the Republicans can do for America.