I suppose you notice conversations like this a little more often once you’ve got a kid of your own, but I thought I would remark on it. I hear it from parents and nonparents alike, and it seems very strange to me that anyone could look at one these flailing little wads of helpless protohuman charged to our care and say that they don’t understand why they’re so upset. I mean, you don’t have to like it, sure, it’s inconvenient and frustrating and liable to leave you half-deaf in one ear and more than a little heart-rending. But it seems to me that saying you don’t know why your child is upset is mostly about signaling to other adults that you’ve really truly fulfilled your role as a parent as best you can and that the rest of it is the kid’s fault and there’s nothing you can do.
And that’s more than a little unsympathetic. I don’t always know for sure why Maya’s upset, and sometimes can’t think of what else to try to calm her down and yes, that’s difficult as hell. But let me put two scenarios to you:
- You are at the tail end of your first day in a foreign city, the first you’ve ever visited and one you are immediately in love with. The people are beautiful even though you don’t understand a word they’re saying, the sights and smells made unnaturally vivid by the sheer unhinged novelty of this brand-new place. Everything, the art, the food, the words, the ebb and flow of the world around you is so completely new that at the end of that first day you’re lying in bed practically vibrating. Everything you’ve experienced washes over you and you try almost desperately to assimilate it, to soak it all in, and you’re so excited that tomorrow is coming that it’s impossible to get to sleep.
- You are at the end of a thirty-six or fifty-two-hour work day, being driven like a pack mule by whatever desperate emergency demands that kind of heroism. Routine fatigue is long gone, and now you literally cannot remember a time that your shoulders weren’t piercingly sore, that your eyes didn’t feel like they’d been sanded raw. You lie down feeling like your tendons are sawing on your bones but you’re still saturated with adrenaline, the only thing that’s kept you on your feet for the last twenty-four hours. You lie there, your pulse pounding away in your skull, and despite the crushing fatigue you’re still so wired up you can barely close your eyes.
Being a baby is both of those things at once about every four hours.
You’d cry too, frankly. So would I.