Royal Arrival at the Will Homestead

GEORGE F. WILL

July 27, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- Earthquakes may strike, the stock market may crash and locusts may devour the crops but 1992 will be remembered as a banner year for the Republic because of the birth of David Maseng Will. He is doing well at life. The kid's a natural.

Of course being a baby is like playing the bagpipes. That instrument sounds much the same when played by a master or a novice, and babies get the hang of baby-ness straightaway. Still, David, just completing the second of the 3,640 weeks the Bible says is man's allotted span, already is showing signs of prodigious promise.

Well, all right, to be precise, he surely would be showing such signs in the intervals between eating and sleeping, if there were intervals. There are not, which means he is in the pre-prodigy stage that babies pass through, a stage properly described as winsome barbarism. It is cute, but it is barbarism nonetheless.

A barbarian has been defined as someone who regards his passions as their own excuse for existing. David does. His as-yet narrow repertoire of passions, voiced with Wagnerian crescendos, are for nourishment and dry diapers. In considering his desires self-justifying, David is suited to this city that is planted thick with insistent interest groups. But he is just a baby. What is their excuse?

He cries frequently and has a strong sense of entitlements, so he may be a liberal. However, he has the breezy indifference to other people's interests and convenience that we associate with conservatives. It is unclear whether a political predisposition lurks in David's DNA.

What is, and is not, in our genetic material is a modern puzzle. It gives rise to the nature-versus-nurture controversy about what shapes individual development. All babies, be they Oliver Cromwell or Mark Twain, arrive looking pretty much alike and created equal in the sense that they are, in the language of the Book of Common Prayer, ''unspotted from the world.'' But that does not mean babies are blank slates on which ambitious parents can inscribe destinies of their choosing. Every parent holding a newborn feels the certainty that a sturdy, unique personhood, unlike any other, is present.

The modern parent is offered a torrent of advice and many devices for nurturing the perfect child. The wonder is that young parents, especially, do not crumble beneath the weight of the responsibility. Many do dissolve in guilt about the probability that they are neglecting some nuance that would give their child momentum toward success in the meritocracy. ''As the twig is bent,'' and all that.

Now the good news: Children are not twigs. They will ricochet around the world as they choose, and their choosing can be influenced only up to a point.

Nature and society combine to cause most children to be born to parents who are not yet 30, parents still physically strong and emotionally resilient. However, just as schools require us to read great literature before we have lived enough to fathom why it is great, so, too, we have babies too soon. At least there is much to be said for having a baby when you more fully understand what they are getting into: life.

This is not because older parents can offer plentiful advice. By the time a parent has seen sound advice bounce off the hard shells of several previous children, that parent is apt to offer hopes rather than advice. My hopes for David include this:

That he have the foundation of happiness -- a great passion for some excellence. Such a passion erases the distinction between work and play, turning toil into recreation -- literally, re-creation.

In one of his Palliser novels, Anthony Trollope says it is important for a young person entering life to decide whether he or she shall make hats or shoes, but that is not half as important as the decision whether to make good or bad hats or shoes. Cezanne, after putting a subject through 115 sittings for a single portrait, said, ''I am not entirely displeased with the shirt front.'' That is how to paint, and live.

Such are the night thoughts of a father who knows that disturbed nights are to be anticipated with certainty and borne philosophically in homes where infants take up residence. But when night with slow retreating steps departs, and David sinks into the almost invertebrate slumber that adults can only envy, a father feels not fatigue but exhilaration.

It is the thrill of being again buckled by love to all the coming astonishments -- the first firefly, first ice cream, first dog, first friend, first baseball game -- that keep adults connected, through wide-eyed children, to the world's eternal freshness.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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