Rather, I know why they say it. If you’re a vet, you probably see mostly sick animals, and when they’re really sick, death is a saving grace to the pain which is your vision of that animal’s normal. If someone’s cat was hit by a car, of course you wouldn’t say “It was for the best.” When your cat gets a sudden illness, or even a less sudden illness, it is one long car accident, culminating in death. When it’s over, and you’re stroking the fur of what used to be your cat, you are still reeling from coming home to find her wheezing and lethargic, barely able to move and not interested in tuna. When the vet says “It’s for the best,” you are still thinking of uneaten tuna.
It brings up those secret worries about snowballing vet bills. Googling “hepatitis” and the dismay at complicated and expensive long term treatment on top of the twice a day insulin injections and hepatitis has a different special diet than diabetes and there will probably be more urine and vomit and blood and probably diarrhea to clean up now. In the end you conclude she’s worth it, but when the vet says, “It’s for the best,” that little part of you that was tallying up the logistics of animal illness slinks lower down inside you, hunched with guilt.
Chyna (pronounced Chee-nuh) was probably about 8.
Back when Matt was still living in his own apartment, I had a project using a little piece poster board. The rest of the poster board I folded in half, into a rough Teepee shape and wrote “cat house” on the side. To my delight, Chyna ran right over it and proceeded to camp out. She played in that paper Teepee for weeks as it lost it’s shape sliding wider and lower, and she had to crawl on her belly to get underneath.
If you made the mistake of scratching your leg beneath a blanket, Chyna was there to help you SCRATCH harder. Then when you jerked your hand out from under the blanket she perked up and said, “pet me?” with her eyes.
Her meow sounded surprisingly like the word “hello” and I’d always meant to record it, but never got around to it.
She liked to carry toys in her mouth and meow around them, and often meowed in the darker corners of the house, as though she was exploring. If we called out to her, she we glance at us, then continue her expedition. Hello? Hello?
A few years ago we adopted Tricky, and Chyna, though she was eventually happier for the company, started binge eating to keep the new cat from getting her food. She slowly gained weight and started slowing down, acting old. About a year and a half ago, we found out she had diabetes, and almost as soon as we started treatment, she started acting like a kitten again, and was more loving and social than ever. The new house was likewise good for her, with more spaces, more places to climb, more perches, and spaces to crouch beneath.
With some cats it seems like the only time they come near you is when they want to be fed or they want to be pet, but Chyna would follow you around to see what you were up to. If your lap was full, she would curl up by your leg, or if it was too hot, she’d curl up a few inches away, purring and clearly just happy to be near you. Her favorite place in the world was the bathroom, and the first time she tried to jump on Matt’s lap he was in the bathroom and he was, shall we say, unprepared for a lap cat.
When Ender came into the picture, Chyna was the first cat to sniff him (though she’s also been the smarter cat in terms of keeping out of reach as he starts to grab for furry things) and when he cried she would meow at us in evident concern that we weren’t taking care of him fast enough. One of our friends brought a toddler to the house, and when we weren’t watching closely enough, she picked up Chyna around the middle, and carried her into the room, arms and legs sticking awkwardly out in front. Chyna didn’t try to scratch or bite the little girl, she just looked at us and meowed pitifully as if to say, “can you do something about this please?” I really hoped we would get a few years of trying to stop Ender chasing her around before we would have to say goodbye.
Whenever we got home from a trip, or even a long day of errands, Chyna would be sitting at the french doors, looking out for us. As we got out of the car, she would stand up expectantly, and we could see her mouth opening to meow at us.
Matt and I debated about giving Ender such a loaded nickname. Forget the fact that Ender Wiggin killed two children (in self defense) before he was 12, and forget that he unknowingly committed mass xenocide. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a summary of Ender’s Game should help.)
Ignoring all of the acts he was tricked or pushed into committing, there’s still the problem of (the character) Ender’s own experience: his childhood didn’t exist, and once “freed” from the training of killing buggers he spent the rest of his life trying to absolve himself of the guilt of that war. He is never at any kind of peace until he marries Novinha on Lusitania some… 3000(?) years later, and that is a half-peace, under shared guilt and the weight of disaster.
It’s not something anyone would wish on a child, and names are nothing if not wishes for our children. Look at the most common meanings of names: beautiful, lucky, joyous, strong.
Except the character of Ender is not just the sum of his actions and experiences. He’s the most compassionate bad-ass imaginable. Oh, and a genius besides. And everyone he comes in contact with can’t help but love him. These are far from bad things, even if they are the very traits that get him into Battle School, and more importantly, the traits that pushed him to the top of Battle School, and ultimately made him responsible for winning the Bugger war.
We played with other nicknames. When I talked to him while I was pregnant, I usually called him “Ollie.” It’s funny, it seemed automatic at the time, but now Ollie is a totally different being: Ollie was the fetus and I can’t imagine this baby being anyone but Ender. Of course he could decide he hates it when he gets older, but fortunately Olivander lends itself to all sorts of nicknames. These days I’ve given up on telling people Ender is “short for” Olivander, because generally it just confuses them.
Matt and I both loved the name Olivander, but we weren’t settled on it. I’d thought of the name Ender independently, but wanted to give our baby a name with some meaning aside from a literary character, and Ender, as far as I know, has no meaning beyond the literal “one who ends,” which is not the most auspicious of meanings for a baby. As a nickname though, it’s an entirely different matter.
We were listening to the audiobook of Ender’s Game, and all its sequels, on a series of long trips. Matt had read Ender’s Game before, but not recently enough to remember it. I’ve read it so often I have bits memorized (which isn’t actually unusual… that is true of many of my books). As we got to the end of one of the books, Matt said, “couldn’t we name him Ender?” He was half joking. I grinned at him and pointed out that if Ender could be a nickname for Andrew, surely it could be a nickname for Olivander. I think we were pretty much decided after that.
When you think about it, any interesting literary character probably didn’t have a wonderful time of it- otherwise they wouldn’t be interesting. Misery and conflict is what makes a story. If we have a wish for our children, it would be boredom, and if naming our children were granting wishes, we would never name them for literary characters. No one wants their children to have adventures.
Naming isn’t wishgranting though, it’s giving. And if we are giving Ender anything from the character Ender, I hope it’s a taste of future, of things that seem impossible, of everyday beauty and love. Maybe the knowledge that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and a bit of healthy distrust for authority. Independence but not loneliness, responsibility but not guilt. And especially a sense of open possibility.
Ten years ago, TEN, I saw a Star Wars onesie at Hot Topic with “Future Jedi Master” printed on the front. I bought it immediately. I knew SOMEDAY either I would have a use for it, or one of my friends would.
We are nerds. Of varying degrees and types, but everyone I spend any degree of time with is a nerd. So Star Wars is always a hit, and as it happened, I got to use the onesie for my own baby. It got me thinking though, watching him roll around in his Jedi shirt.
Maybe it’s just the hormones. Maybe it’s paranoia. These days, I swerve between absolute joy, and horror at the possibility of loss of any kind(with bouts of boredom and exhaustion thrown in for good measure).
So, as much as anyone might wish to banish the prequels from existence (and I don’t, I’d keep them if only for the light-sabre battles), I kept thinking about Yoda declaring 9 year old Anakin Skywalker too old for the training.
When DO children start training at the Jedi Temple? 8 and a half? 6? 3? Infancy? I suspect the (fictional) answer is around 4 or 5, much as you might see of young athletes being taken for training in some places. Or, you know, Battle School.
Battle School isn’t a bad parallel. You have this child, who has in all likelihood been remarkable since he or she was a baby. Not to say that people would love their gifted children more than typical children, but a precocious toddler probably has a little extra sparkle and charm.
And then your baby tests too high on the midichlorian scale and your life is just ripped apart. You get those fuzzy bright – too sweet years, and then you don’t see them until they’re vague and peaceful calm as Obi Wan. Does anyone refuse? You leave this beautiful bright four year old to meet his destiny and 20 years later, he’s a stranger who has seen more of the universe than you’re capable of imagining. Maybe all parenting is kind of like that.
But maybe it’s not like that at all. Maybe the four year old isn’t so much adorably brilliant as he is frustratingly advanced. Maybe he constantly pushes against your artificial boundaries, ready to cross them long before you are ready to let him. Maybe all parenting is kind of like that too. But this little child doesn’t just cause trouble in school when he’s bored, he levitates, and talks his teachers into letting him have extra recess. Every day. Maybe if hadn’t been found by the Jedi, he would have been lost on a path of drugs, crime and force lightning.
And maybe you don’t have to just hand him over to the priesthood, maybe that was just unique to Anakin’s circumstances, what with Mom being a slave. I mean, obviously it’s a boarding school, I doubt they have Jedi-letts who commute, but maybe they have parents weekends every couple months. Maybe the little ones put down their training sabres and pack up for a long holiday over Thanksgiving. Maybe they make paper planets with heart stickers and glitter for Mother’s Day.
Then there’s sure to be at least a few families who moved to Coruscant to be near their Jedi tots. In fact some probably even moved to Coruscant just in hopes that their child would be accepted. They probably used special belly-headphones to play special force channeling soundtracks for the fetus. When the baby turned 18 months, they enrolled him in a class that claims to raise midichlorian levels, satisfaction guaranteed.
Do the parents ever hang out watching light-sabre kata practice? Does Dad pick his Jedi up from a match with a younger but more talented boy and scold him for not triple flipping into the opening he saw two and a quarter minutes in, or what about a little force nudge when the kid blinked sweat out of his eyes a minute later? Does Mom observe her daughter meditating and tell her maybe she needs to work a little harder at it since she always seems to need to itch her nose after only a few hours?
Why do I assume the Jedi parents would be overbearing and… awful?
I guess it’s because I know (however it is you can know something about a fictional universe) that there is no room for parents in the world of the Jedi. Parents are distracting, they are attachment, they turn Anakins into Darth Vaders.
If it’s genetics (and Luke says it is) most parents of Jedi must have had some feel for the force as well. Probably they wouldn’t have turned into Toddlers & Tiaras type psychos, they would have been sensitive, aware of nuances, feeling the subtle needs of their baby. They would have been there with a hug when the training was too difficult, they would have felt the pain of struggle, of the alienation that must be necessary to finally attain a detached calm. And the hugs might keep the student from struggling through, from learning what needed to be learned.
Was a Jedi ever allowed to be a child? Did they have time for games and giggling and stupid stunts, or was it all concentration and breathing?
The Jedi. The Jedi’s father. The athlete and her parents. Theresa and John Paul and Ender Wiggin, Mr. and Mrs. Madrid. The parent of every real world soldier, alive and slain. They give so much, and we expect it all of them. Was it worth it? What they missed, what they lost?