Last week my son James had a funny reaction to seeing my face covered in shaving cream. It prompted me to think about the things James has been afraid of during his first 16 months, and to consider how the reasons he fears compare to the reasons I fear. I talk about those in an essay appearing this morning at The Millions:
These are the things my son James has been afraid of in the 16-months that he’s been alive: The grinding blender, the roaring vacuum, disembodied voices on the speaker phone, the time I pantomimed a broken leg, being put to bed alone in his crib. Most recently he ran in fright from shaving cream.
I’ve got an essay up at The Millions today. It was inspired by some similarities I’ve observed reading my brother Ryan’s emails from abroad and watching my one-year-old son James cruise around the living room. I tie the two of them into my life, noting that these days I dont explore as widely as I used to:
Recently two people who wouldn’t seem to have much in common—my 26-year-old brother and my one-year-old son—have both had me thinking about wonder and fear, and how their experiences of those two things are similar to each other’s, and different from my own.
“The Bible legend tells us that the absence of labor-idleness- was a
condition of the first man’s blessedness before the Fall. Fallen man
has retained a love of idleness, but the curse weighs on the race not
only because we have to seek our bread in the sweat of our brows, but
because our moral nature is such that we cannot be both idle and at
ease. An inner voice tells us we are in the wrong if we are idle. If
man could find a state in which he felt that though idle he was
fulfilling his duty, he would have found one of the conditions of
man’s primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and
irreproachable idleness is the lot of a whole class- the military.
The chief attraction of military service has consisted and will
consist in this compulsory and irreproachable idleness.”
It’s astounding how often in War and Peace Tolstoy is able to write
about overwhelming elements of human experience as easily as if he
were observing a rock in his front yard. In this case, his
description of obligatory and irreproachable idleness captures one of
the pleasures of being a parent: even something as lazy as a late-
morning nap feels purposeful, even dutiful, when taken alongside a