For the act of laughter which is a sweet contraction of the muscles of the face, and a pleasant agitation of the vocal organs, is not meerly voluntary; or totally within the jurisdiction of our selves: but as it may be constrained by corporall contraction in any, and hath been enforced in some even in their death; so the new unusuall or unexpected jucundities, which present themselves to any man in his life; at some time or other will have activity enough to excite the earthiest soul, and raise a smile from most composed tempers. — Sir Thomas Browne
That man has fallen is evident in his inability to smile and laugh with ease, to be humored and amazed at the seemingly insignificant trifles that consumed the majority of his moments in this life. Man is a very serious animal – the only animal that thinks so highly of himself. Though “a man may smile and smile, and be a villain,” though man must necessarily, in certain scenarios, put on a false face to hide what the false heart doth know; it is yet true that the most self-conscious of our conscious brethren cannot suppress a genuine smile when his soul has been so moved, and this type of man is closer to God as he is closer to children. For though the scrupulous author of these rambling Amblers has little, if anything, of a child-like nature within him; for though the society of children to him is often associated with a common corn crop; it does happen that the author — in order to refresh his old bones — at various times engages with children, and in so doing, observes their nature.1
A child is anything but fickle and is the epitome of consistency and honesty in emotions and thought. Few men can claim to be wholly consistent in both emotions and thought, let alone deeds. Many a parent of a child may think their children to be inconsistent, and the fear of raising one is the fear or not knowing what their next course of action will be, what objects will be choked on or what ledge will be tried. But though the object which enters the child’s mouth may be of different size or have more or less toxicity, the fact remains that a small child will consistently insert nearly everything he sees — except perhaps his dinner — into his mouth. And while all ledges vary in height and danger, it remains that all ledges are tempting
It takes a man little effort to force a smile from my 1-year old relation. You but enter a room and the girl beams with joy; nothing particularly creative is necessary to keep her attention. In the small time I have spent with my niece, it is evident that smiling is nearly as natural as eating, and sucking on the shoes of weary travelers a temptation as enticing as dessert before dinner. In an effort to accomplish many things in one short moment, I attempted to enter the minds of my niece and nephew, nigh one and three respectively. Their mother having left them with their incompetent uncle, they were at the mercy of a man nearly as fun and exciting as a rocking chair. 2 But the joy of children is that they are not too old to be unimpressed or unamused by a rocking chair let alone a small, perhaps cheaply crafted, child’s chair. For it should be noted that in an attempt to complete my nephew’s wooden railroad, in sitting on one of his chairs I so leaned in such a way that after removing myself a decent-sized crack was observed, sending my nephew into a wail of tears, leaving me with a raw feeling for my nephew’s loss (and my apparent gain.)
Nevertheless, children need little to be entertained. They need, for example, a queen sized bed. Thus as I regarded the fateful situation before described, I realized that at any moment my beautiful niece could place a life-threatening object into her mouth, and I noticed that she was currently heading for my sandals. The bed is, in many opinions, a relatively safe area of the house for one to crawl and discover — it rarely consists of sharp objects and if one falls on the bed the experience is almost delightful. An example affords itself in my picking up my nephew and throwing him on the bed — to the delight of my niece and the dismay of my knees. This activity taking its toll, I offered to read my nephew a book. Now, reading is always considered a safe habit for the physical body, for it rarely puts one in harm’s way, unless reading a moving book on a large precipice causes one to move. However, though physically safe, a book can be spiritually dangerous, and I think too little attention is paid to the harm a children’s book can have.3 That stated and out of the way, I found little harm and only an illogical plot in The Runaway Bunny. We got under the covers, situated ourselves to comfort, and I began, reading with such passion and force, I thought to myself it was a wonder the neighbor kids were not lining up at the door to hear the oration.
About three pages in, my nephew had had enough and started flailing about the bed like a fish out of water. It is too true a consistency in children that they will only be read to when they feel like being read to. I corralled my nephew so to save my niece, and we began again, only to again be interrupted by the flopping of my nephew which did nothing but cause great vexation in me and a smile in my niece.
The consistency of children further proves itself in the longevity of their amusement. The younger the child, the longer this longevity appears to exist, so that a game of peek-a-boo with the niece lasts until your arms fall off but will amuse the nephew little. Now, in my keen understanding of the situation at hand, I laid the book I was reading on the floor and decided to entertain new ways to entertain my nephew, for the niece was seemingly content. It is another consistency in children that they always seem content but never are.
I made my way to the edge of the bed where my nephew was, and curling into the fetal position, expecting the worst, was pushed off the bed by my nephew. There is a fine line in teaching young children bad habits. I rose to my feet, entered the same position, and again was pushed off the bed. One unfortunate truth we learn from children is just how easily bored and fagged out we become. It took merely two tumbles before I was willing to call it quits, but the game brought great pleasure to my nephew, even if it did come with a bad moral, and so, a third time I entered that fetal positions and a third time, I was pushed by my nephew.
Whenever I travel I take with me a small Portmanteau in the spirit of Pickwick and what I will call a shoulder bag for books and writing materials. These items were naturally placed at the edge of my bed on the floor. Though, I should say their placement was inconsistent, for they were often moved around the room for no apparent reason. Now, it is another consistency in children that the more they can move, the more they will. My niece, having mastered the ability to crawl and having a decent ability to climb down from such things like a bed on the floor, naturally would strive to do such a thing. In my negligence as I entered the fetal position a third time and was pushed, it so happened that a relatively loud thump was heard as if a head had made contact with the wood floor. I scarcely perceived it was not my head that had made contact, and the deafening wail which followed the noise, the sight of my niece — such a good ambler! — lying on the floor in tears, a good five feet from the bed, caused me to realize where the noise originated. It is another consistency in children that when they fall, they cry. I rapidly gathered my niece in my arms and awkwardly caressed her back to health. In an apparent attempt to leave the bed, she had mis-stepped on my Portmanteau and had a tumble unlike mine.
But as I held my niece in my arms and her tears began to abate, another wail was heard from my nephew. Was he distraught that his dear sister had taken a tumble? That is uncle proved, once and for all his incompetence at raising children, forever subjected to an unfruitful life so to save a few unfortunate lives from the danger of having him for a father? Was he crying for the general fall of mankind, so adequately portrayed in the falls of his uncle and his sister? Was he even crying because his mother, such a good soul, trusted her brother and left him alone, and was thus nowhere to be seen? No. I tell you, the child cried in the consistency of all children and adults alike. As he wailed he shouted his frustration: “I wanna play ‘Push You Off the Bed!’” The child cried not because his sister almost died — as I so adamantly tried to explain to him — but because he did not get his way. But before we rest our judgement, we should take note of this consistency in the child and man. For the fall of man is the fall of our wills which consistently pine that they differ so from that un-fallen Being from above, our Father.
Written at the Ole Midshipman
August 9th, 2014
Transcribed by Adam the Scribe
The Great Room, Kansas State University
August 11th, 2014
Painting: “Landscape with Children”
Oil on canvas, N.D.
¹The Ambler does not pretend to know two cents about children.
²I, for one, find rocking chairs to be both fun and exciting but yet perceive moderns to largely disagree.
³C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.