Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black and White

Ryan, as I expect is true for most small children, has very few gray areas. Everything for him is black and white. He’s either wide awake or sound asleep. He’s either delightedly happy or utterly miserable. He’s either completely famished or full to the gills. He’s either full of energy or totally exhausted. He generally has very little transition between extremes of any kind.

I suppose the simplicity of both his needs and his comprehension is the main cause of those strict boundaries. He doesn’t recognize the growing feeling of slight hunger, only the pangs of a completely empty stomach. He doesn’t want to miss anything that’s happening around him, so he pushes himself to the full extent of his energy before his body gives in to sleep all at once. He’s happy when he gets what he wants and he’s miserable when he doesn’t, and he’s unaware of any middle ground.

Fortunately, the proportions of the extremes are generally exactly as they should be. He’s happy almost all the time, and his unhappiness is usually quickly and easily remedied. The misery of an empty stomach is relieved by the first taste of a snack. He sleeps the sleep of the truly and thoroughly exhausted and wakes up refreshed and full of energy.

Sometimes, when I watch him, I wish I had such simple needs and that my needs were so simply fulfilled. I’m rarely as totally miserable as he is when he’s miserable (although I’m certainly mildly unhappy more often than he is), but neither is my happiness as complete as his. I don’t think I’d mind those short bursts of utter misery if in exchange I got the hours and hours of ecstatic joy that he enjoys. On the rare occasions when I push myself to the brink physically and emotionally, when I collapse into sleep it is the same deep, refreshing sleep that he gets every night.

Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off between black and white and shades of gray. And the older he gets, the more gray he’ll discover. And there is a certain beauty in the complexity of all those shades of gray.

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