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The Publisher's Desk

The Publisher's Desk

On children.


A newborn baby can fall asleep in almost any environment and with no notice. As they grow older and their brains develop, they consolidate their naps into longer stretches of sleep, they begin to need routines to help them get to sleep, and eventually they become like the rest of us, sleeping only with proper preparation, in the right conditions, at the appointed times, and with no interruptions.

Most things in adult life, however, thankfully become easier and more natural the longer we do them. There are exceptions of course: past a certain point, our bodies no longer “bounce back” from injuries and increasing amounts of exercise must be performed in order to “maintain” a physical standard of living we once took for granted. (For Robert Wyllie’s piece on health fanaticism, see page 24.)

But most other things are like learning to ride a bike. At first, while you know what it looks like, you don’t know how to do it at all. Then you try and fail until it suddenly happens; over time you continue to improve until it becomes second nature, something you do by “muscle memory” with no conscious thought. (For Steve Knepper’s thoughts on cycling, see page 22.)

One can accustom oneself to most things—as Edward Feser describes, most people’s first experience of the martini is a bad one, and then it grows on you (read his philosophy of gin on page 42). Even the act of writing, which has always filled me with the most awful dread, is something which can be formed into a habit and made both better and thereby easier (for David Bentley Hart’s rules for writing, see page 34).

The more we do something the less thought it requires from us and the less it can excite us. But for children everything has this quality of thrilling newness. As Chesterton puts it, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”

Why shouldn’t I quote the rest? It is one of his most enjoyable passages.

“But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

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