July 31, 2007

Another hard question to answer

Somewhere back around Father's Day, we were playing a game with Mark & Abbey where you answer personal questions. I don't remember the rules of this "game" exactly, but it was more or less Truth or Dare without the Dare option. At one point I was asked "what's the best thing and the worst thing about being a parent"? Or was it "hardest" and "easiest"? I don't quite remember.

My answer, pretty much, was that one best thing about being a father is the permission to love a thing as much as you want, as possessively, fiercely, and uncarefully as you want. Most of the time in our lives we have to be careful with our love -- doling emotion out, in order to respect boundaries, respect other people, respect propriety, observe timelines, and simply protect ourselves. Otherwise people might think you're crazy -- or you might drive yourself crazy. But a baby. . . . well, a baby doesn't mind. The baby will never think you're crazy. Or if it does, it will never tell.

The other part of my answer was that the infant is a hard, ruthless teacher, the hardest I've found. Even the strictest human teachers can give some slack, when slack is needed -- but the child is inhuman, & can give no slack. It's an egg balanced on a spoon for years on end, and it's still balanced there even as you're sleeping. So don't sleep too deeply.

Also, no one ever shows up and tells you you've won the prize. The prize is that the egg didn't fall off the spoon.

This puts me in mind of something I was told when I was in Boy Scouts -- there's this training exercise that Navy Seals have to undergo. Two Seals have to spend a night (or is it a week?) in the wilderness, finding and cooking food, making shelter, etc . . . . all while carrying between the two of them a large tree trunk which is never allowed to touch the ground at ANY time.

This story, whether or not it's true, made a deep impression on me. It's such an unreasonable test. Are people actually capable of facing a test like that? It's so fussy and delicate, yet so brutally physical, it's sort of insane.

Elliot is no tree trunk, but nevertheless I have a much keener sense, now, of just why the Seals would devise a test like that.

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