The most Herculean of all tasks

One day long, long again in ancient Greece, Zeus dropped by to visit his son, Heracles. He took the form of a bear or a wombat or a rock or something. Mythologists aren’t quite certain. It was probably a bird, though, so let’s just go with a goose.

“You do far too much sitting around,” honked the Zeus goose. “You need something to do.”

Heracles, a sassy teen at the time, answered with a sigh.

“I’ve got stuff to do,” he said, thumbing down through his Twitter feed on his phone.

“Not enough, apparently.”

“How would you even know. You’re, like, barely even here.”

That really ruffled Zeus’ feathers. Literally, in this case.

“Now see here,” he said, taking a second to preen his feathers before continuing. “Whether you like it or not, I am your father. And when I speak, you will listen.”

Heracles sighed again and looked up from his phone.

“I have created for you thirteen tasks,” Zeus said. He motioned with his wing, and a series of scrolls, each rolled and sealed with a dab of wax, appeared before Heracles. “Each scroll contains one objective you must complete. When you have done so for all of them, you will have become a man in my eyes and may join me in the pantheon of gods.”

The young man scoffed.

“Really, Dad? Scrolls? Can’t you just DM me the list?”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“You wouldn’t,” Heracles said and returned to his phone.

Mythologists say a lengthy argument continued from here. In the end, this battle of stubborn insistence versus stubborn indifference ended with Heracles reluctantly agreeing to complete the tasks, but only if Zeus promised to delay his curfew to 1 a.m. on weekends and stop randomly checking his Internet browser history.

So, one by one, Heracles tackled the 13 tasks, each more annoying than the last. He had to kill the Nemean Lion, Stymphalian Birds and the hyrda; he had to shovel mountains of dung from Augeas’ nasty stables; and he had to fetch Cerberus back from Uncle Hades, who stole the multi-headed pooch when he and Zeus were heavily embroiled in some kind of disagreement over property.

One after the other, Heracles begrudgingly completed his tasks, only breaking to periodically share his misery with his Instagram followers.

But then he hit No. 13. He unrolled the parchment and read it with disdain.

“Choose an appropriate name for your unborn daughter,” he read. “Ugh.”

Now, Heracles had never even considered having kids, let alone naming one. He first consulted several popular baby-naming sites, but couldn’t find a combination of first and middle names that sounded satisfactory to his ears. For days, he marched around Greece mumbling names to himself. None felt comfortable.

Heracles turned to the gods to aid in his quest, but found their opinions of what constituted a respectable name for a child to be far too varied. All of Apollo’s suggestions seemed pretentious, and Ares’ were all too blunt. Aphrodite’s were a little too … how to put this delicately … risque for Heracles’ liking, and all Hermes offered were ridiculous gag names like Apple Blythe or Pilot Inspector or Blanket. Those who didn’t offer their own awful suggestions turned their noses up at the ones Heracles had been considering. Although he possessed strength to capture the Erymanthian Boar and wits enough to remove the Amazon queen Hippolyta’s girdle, Heracles was incapable of counting the number of times someone answered his suggestions with, “You don’t want to name a child that.”

Heracles was stuck. After whipping through the first twelve tasks like Cetus through a Trireme, it seemed the last would best him. He returned to his father humbled and ashamed.

Zeus, lounging around Mount Olympus in the form of a giraffe, nodded his long neck knowingly.

“I figured that last one might trip you up, son,” he said. “Names can be tough.”

“So what do you suggest?” Heracles asked his father.

Zeus shrugged.

“I don’t,” he said. “I think you just have to go with your heart, regardless of what others think. Besides, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Regardless of her name, people are going to call the kid whatever the heck they want.”

“Is that why everybody calls me Hercules, Dad?”

Zeus flashed two rows of gigantic teeth and patted his son on the shoulder with his hoof.

“No, son. That’s just ignorance.”

For the first time in forever, father and son laughed together.

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Children, or the Lack Thereof: An Essay

The other day, I learned via the Facebook that one of my friends is expecting a baby, due in something like two weeks.

“Amanda,” I called from the dining room table, where the laptop calls home. “Did you know Stephen was having a baby?”

“Yes,” Mandy replied from the living room, cranking up her droning black metal music to drown me out.

“When did this happen?” I yelled.

“Probably about nine months ago.”

Makes sense, I suppose. Ask a stupid question …

I’m 32 years old, an age in which I’m officially considered ancient by people who are younger and still a wee child by people who are older. It’s also the age in which everyone I know is either having or has had at least one child. Possibly two or three. It’s that next big milestone in life, the one that in my mind — more than marriage or employment or college graduation or retirement — signifies true adulthood. Once you have a kid, it’s Grownupsville, man. You are officially in the Cult of the Adult. Have fun. Wait, you’re not allowed. Sorry. Even if you were, there isn’t time. That kid of yours is crying.

To be fair, it’s not that I’m opposed to having children, per say; rather, I’m far too selfish to share my time and money with someone I don’t even know at this point. Under circumstances that didn’t involve this potential person — guaranteed to be helpless, demanding and incessantly needy, all traits that I hate — being forged from my own genetic makeup, I’d say it was a no-brainer. Kids? No thank you, ma’am.

Think of it this way: If you were to walk up to me and say, “Adam, you handsome, clever devil. I’m about to introduce you to a total stranger who will monopolize all of your time, cost you nearly every extra penny you earn (which, of course, isn’t any), and whine incessantly when things don’t go his way (and sometimes when they do),” I’d tell you to go ahead and cram this person back into wherever you found him. Except in this case, I helped create this person myself, and cramming him back where he came from might not go over so well with my partner-in-crime. Because I am personally responsible for loosing this attention/time/money black hole on a hapless world, I am obligated to love and care for it for the rest of my natural life.

Really, folks, what kind of a proposition is that? You see what I’m saying, right? To a childless outsider, it seems like a bit of a bum deal. In fact, I know good and well the only reason most parents survive parenthood is by developing the preternatural ability to completely ignore their children, to somehow mentally dial down all of that racket and go about their business. You’ve seen those parents in Walmart happily shopping, seemingly oblivious to the child in their buggy wailing her throat hoarse, right? Uncanny.

“But Adam,” the be-childrened among you are no doubt screaming at your newspapers or computer monitors or tablet screens right now, “Having a child is the greatest blessing in the whole world. Do not miss out. You will regret it for the rest of your opulent, time-obese life.”

To this, I won’t argue. I probably will regret it. But don’t let that go to your head. Regret and Adam Armour go together like desperate cries for attention go with Miley Cyrus (Look, I’m being topical!). Chances are, no matter how happy I am with whatever thing I’ve found on the opposite side of a closed door, I’m always going to wonder if I wouldn’t have been just a bit happier with all the stuff behind the doors I didn’t open. If that sounds like a wretched way to live … well, it kind of is. Oh well. At least I won’t be passing this poor outlook on life on to anyone else.

A few days ago, Mandy and I were picking up some groceries at Kroger — stuff like pizza fixings and chips and ice cream we won’t have to worry about sharing because, you know, we have no children. Near the end of one of those little islands inconveniently scattered throughout the store, a gaggle of three or four women had gathered. At least two of them had small children in their buggies — squirmy, whiny things who stretched their tiny little arms this direction and that in attempt to snag anything and everything in their immediate vicinity. All of these women were super-pregnant. It was as if they planned it. Synchronized pregnancy. Like plump, flightless birds, they squawked at each other, emitting high-pitched noises to convey their pleasure at how pregnant all of them were, what a blessing it was to be so pregnant. Unfortunately, their baby-filled bellies and greedy-children-packed carts were totally blocking the nachos Mandy and I needed to complete the taco dinner we had planned for the evening. We circled them two, three times, trying to wordlessly clue them in that they were in our way. But they didn’t move, didn’t even look up to acknowledge us. Eventually, we left, nacho-less and annoyed.

“Thing is,” Mandy said as we complained to each other on our way back through the parking lot, “even if we had asked them to move, they would have just ignored us.”

Of course. Chances are, they wouldn’t have even heard us. They were, after all, parents … adults … happy residents of Grownupsville. And we are still just children.

Is it really any wonder this is a hard sell?

Is it really any wonder this is a hard sell?