This post derives entirely from the image to the left. I can’t stop looking at it. The initial superficial reason is that I can NEVER get a picture of him where he doesn’t make a vomit face. He’s really into vomiting lately. There are worse phases. I don’t like the whole nose picking bit. His vomit face is funny, though. He really taps into the fright and horror that is vomiting. But not in this picture. In this picture you can detect something – something made of thought and depth – whirling behind his eyes. My son has gone underground, into a world.
Being “The Parent” coupled with the nature of young children themselves makes it easy to forget that they, like you, have a vivid and rich subjective experience of the world. It’s also easy to forget because you, yourself, are trapped inside your own subjective experience of the world and that world often overlooks the child’s subjective experience of the world. That’s not to say you’re selfish. That’s to say that the components of your subjective experience of the world in relationship to your child aren’t often granted the room and time to be this philosophical for the simple reason that you’re always making dinner or washing dishes or driving them to birthday parties or helping with homework or saying “MY GOD ARE YOU TWO SERIOUSLY FIGHTING OVER WHO GETS TO PUSH THE ELEVATOR BUTTON BECAUSE, MAN, IT’S JUST A BUTTON. I MEAN LISTEN I REALLY NEEEEEED YOU TO UNDERSTAND THIS. IT IS JUST… A BUTTON, A BUTTON THAT YOU WILL FORGET ABOUT IN NOT MORE THAN 42 SECONDS, NEVER TO BE REMEMBERED AGAIN IN THIS OR FUTURE LIFETIMES. FIGHTING OVER IT ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING APART FROM HARSHING MY SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD.” or something similar.
But the picture above says nothing short of “Dad. I, like you, am a complicated person with a rich interior.” I see it mostly in the mouth, in its resistance. Do you see how it draws him back, into himself? He’s not smiling or frowning or pantomime vomiting. He’s nothingning. His mouth says “Your camera can’t capture who I am anymore because I am more than this external display. This is me but I’m somewhere else now too; most of me is somewhere else. While his mouth denies, his eyes reveal. When you’re taking a picture of a 6-year-old’s face, their eyes explode across the range of sadness and anger and uninhibited joy. What you see is what you get. But these eyes, rather than revealing a particular cliched expression, serve as bridges IN. Of course they’re looking out and seeing, but they’re also an invitation to an inwardness that doesn’t quite shore up with expression. If they express anything, it’s weight. The weight of being a vast (infinite?) inner space, a psychological being, a self with a bigger agenda than pushing the elevator button.
Kids are so transparent. And then? They’re not. There’s an aspect of my son’s rapidly developing interiority that makes him a stranger to me. Who is that young man? What are his secrets? Of what exactly do the conflicts consist that haunt and keep his awareness afloat. What does he hope for? What’s he afraid of? To what extent and in what ways is he tortured by the tireless ghosts of hunger and sex? He is a startling collision of conflict, yes – we all are. But look again at the picture. Look at the way he carries it all. Quietly. Steady. Dignified. If you ask him what’s up, what’s going on, it’s always the same answer:
Nothing. So much something lurks in all that nothing. He’s a composed abyss. It’s my pleasure to know him and I aspire to someday be like him.
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