THE CHILD AS AN IDEAL
WHILE the path of progress in the gaining of repose could not be traced thus far without reference to the freedom of a baby, a fuller consideration of what we may learn from this source must be of great use to us.
The peace and freshness of a little baby are truly beautiful, but are rarely appreciated. Few of us have peace enough in ourselves to respond to these charms. It is like playing the softest melody upon a harp to those whose ears have long been closed.
Let us halt, and watch, and listen, and see what we shall gain!
Throughout the muscular system of a normal, new-born baby it is impossible to find any waste of force. An apparent waste will, upon examination, prove itself otherwise. Its cry will at first seem to cause contractions of the face; but the absolute removal of all traces of contraction as the cry ceases, and a careful watching of the act itself, show it to be merely an exaggeration of muscular action, not a permanent contraction. Each muscle is balanced by an opposing one; in fact, the whole thing is only a very even stretching of the face, and, undoubtedly, has a purpose to accomplish.
Examine a baby’s bed, and see how distinctly it bears the impression of an absolute giving up of weight and power. They actually do that which we only theorize about, and from them we may learn it all, if we will.
A babe in its bath gives us another fine opportunity for learning to be simple and free. It yields to the soft pressure of the water with a repose which is deeply expressive of gratitude; while we, in our clumsy departures from Nature’s state, often resist with such intensity as not to know–in circumstances just as simply useful to us–that we have anything for which to be grateful.
In each new experience we find it the same, the healthy baby yields, lets himself go, with an case which must double his chances for comfort. Could we but learn to do so, our lives would lengthen, and our joys and usefulness strengthen in exact proportion.
All through the age of unconsciousness, this physical freedom is maintained even where the mental attitude is not free. Baby wrath is as free and economical of physical force as are the winsome moods, and this until the personality has developed to some extent,–that is, until the child reflects the contractions of those around him. It expends itself in well-balanced muscular exercise, one set of muscles resting fully in their moment of non-use, while another set takes up the battle. At times it will seem that all wage war together; if so, the rest is equal to the action.
It is not the purpose of this chapter to recommend anger, even of the most approved sort; but if we will express the emotion at all, let us do it as well as we did in our infancy!
Channels so free as this would necessitate, would lessen our temptations to such expression; we, with mature intellects, would see it for what it is, and the next generation of babies would less often exercise their wonderfully balanced little bodies in such an unlovely waste.
Note the perfect openness of a baby throat as the child coos out his expression of happiness. Could anything be more free, more like the song of a bird in its obedience to natural laws? Alas, for how much must we answer that these throats are so soon contracted, the tones changed to so high a pitch, the voice becoming so shrill and harsh! Can we not open our throats and become as these little children?
The same openness in the infant organism is the child’s protection in many dangers. Falls that would result in breaks, strains, or sprains in us, leave the baby entirely whole save in its “feelings,” and often there, too, if the child has been kept in the true state mentally.
Watch a baby take its food, and contrast it with our own ways of eating. The baby draws it in slowly and evenly, with a quiet rhythm which is in exact accord with the rhythmic action of its digestive organs. You feel each swallow taken in the best way for repair, and for this reason it seems sometimes as if one could see a baby grow while feeding. There cannot be a lovelier glimpse of innocent physical repose than the little respites from the fatigue of feeding which a baby often takes. His face moist, with open pores, serene and satisfied, he views the hurry about him as an interesting phase of harmless madness. He is entirely outside of it until self-consciousness is quite developed.
The sleep of a little child is another opportunity for us to learn what we need. Every muscle free, every burden dropped, each breath carries away the waste, and fills its place with the needed substance of increasing growth and power.
In play, we find the same freedom. When one idea is being executed, every other is excluded. They do not think dolls while they roll hoop!
They do not think of work while they play. Examine and see how we do both. The baby of one year, sitting on the shore burying his fat hand in the soft warm sand, is for the time being alive only to its warmth and softness, with a dim consciousness of the air and color about him. If we could engross ourselves as fully and with as simple a pleasure, we should know far more of the possible power of our minds for both work and rest.
It is interesting to watch normal children in these concentrations, because from their habits we may learn so much which may improve our own sadly different manner of living. It is also interesting but pathetic to see the child gradually leaving them as he approaches boyhood, and to trace our part in leading him away from the true path.
The baby’s perfect placidity, caused by mental and bodily freedom, is disturbed at a very early age by those who should be his true guides. It would be impossible to say when the first wrong impression is made, but it is so early that a true statement of the time could only be accepted from scientific men. For mothers and fathers have often so dulled their own sensitiveness, that they are powerless to recognize the needs of their children, and their impressions are, in consequence, untrustworthy.
At the time the pangs of teething begin, it is the same. The healthy child left to itself would wince occasionally at the slight pricking pain, and then turn its entire attention elsewhere, and thus become refreshed for the next trial. But under the adult influence the agony of the first little prick is often magnified until the result is a cross, tired baby, already removed several degrees from the beautiful state of peace and freedom in which Nature placed him under our care.
The bodily freedom of little children is the foundation of a most beautiful mental freedom, which cannot be wholly destroyed by us. This is plainly shown by the childlike trust which they display in all the affairs of life, and also in their exquisite responsiveness to the spiritual truths which are taught to them. The very expression of face of a little child as it is led by the hand is a lesson to us upon which pages might be written.
Had we the same spirit dwelling in us, we more often should feel ourselves led “beside the still waters,” and made “to lie down in green pastures.” We should grow faster spiritually, because we should not make conflicts for ourselves, but should meet with the Lord’s quiet strength whatever we had to pass through.
Let us learn of these little ones, and help them to hold fast to that which they teach us. Let us remember that the natural and the ideal are truly one, and endeavor to reach the latter by means of the former.
When through hereditary tendency our little child is not ideal,–that is, natural,–let us with all the more earnestness learn to be quiet ourselves that we may lead him to it, and thus open the channels of health and strength.