SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN
The second syllable of the word “suffer” comes from the same ancient root “bher” that gives us the word, “bear,” as in “I cannot bear the pain,” and also the word “burden.” This word evolved into the Latin word “ferre,” which means, “To carry.” If you put the prefix “sub” before “ferre” you wind up with subferre, which roughly means, “under to carry,” and is close enough to “suffer” for this essay.
Childcare involves suffering because children are not always cute. Children are a burden not merely because you sometimes have to carry them, but also because their moods get ugly, and you have to endure the ugliness.
It helps a lot if you love them. In this sense a child is like a beautiful woman. If the beautiful woman is some fashion model I don’t care for, and the beautiful face crinkles up into grief, rage, fear (or all three at once,) it is somewhat appalling to me that what was so beautiful becomes so ugly. However if I love the woman, the bad moods are as beautiful as the good.
It also helps if you are rested and in the mood to be tolerant. Last week I rotor tilled our large vegetable garden and by Thursday I was running out of energy, which made Friday less pleasant than Fridays usually are. I was checking my watch a lot, and the time dragged. I was doing all right, but I suppose my smiles were a bit strained at times.
Certain ideas that seemed brilliant on Monday no longer seemed so smart, and one of these ideas was to take the children fishing. It may seem great to be paid for fishing, however I spend all my time untangling lines, warding off injuries caused by flailing hooks, and all the larger fish, (which are smarter and more wary,) are scared to the far reaches of the pond by the unholy din the children make.
This particular expedition saw my patience tested by one boy whose mood goes through wild swings between abject despair and an insufferable know-it-all attitude. When he hasn’t caught a fish he is deep in the gloom, but as soon as he catches one he becomes a renowned authority on fishing, freely advising everyone else even if they don’t want any advise, even if he only caught a minnow.
I think he reminds me of myself, in a way. When my humor is good he makes me think about how our self-esteem governs whether we feel our opinions have value or not. When I’m tired I get weary of being told I don’t know anything by a boy as tall as my belt buckle, and being informed ridiculous things are the truth. At times he get carried away by his imagination, and I have to gently bring him back to earth, perhaps informing him King Salmon are not usually found in small New Hampshire ponds, and then being informed I am wrong about that.
I like to travel light when I fish, and prefer to be cut off from civilization. It annoys me that state law requires I carry a backpack with a first aid kit and water bottles, plus paperwork involving emergency contacts and lists listing every child with me, and to then have my nagging cell phone disturb the birdsong makes me mutter things I hope the kids don’t hear.
However this particular boy insisted upon lugging around thirty pounds of equipment, including a tackle box, net, and two rods, plus a plethora of snacks. He resembled an Englishman going off on an old-time safari, only I insisted he had to carry it all himself, and not enlist me and the other children as coolies. After a quarter mile he began whining.
By the end of the afternoon I was running out of patience. I had to carry his weighty tackle box, as he was dawdling despite the fact another child’s parent was waiting back at the farm. As I took the box I managed to politely say, “I’ll carry that for you,” but worse was on the tip of my tongue.
Relieved of the weight, his mercurial mood improved, and he cheerfully began talking about the start of the turkey hunting season. He planned to go after an enormous Tom he called, “Old Baldy.” (Memo to self: Stay out of the woods.) As he bragged about his prowess I rolled my eyes and wondered if his Dad would even let him touch a gun. Then he went on about what he planned to do if he got “Old Baldy.” He couldn’t decide. Part of him wanted to have the entire bird stuffed as a trophy, however he also thought he might have only the head mounted, up on the wall.
Into my mind’s eye came the vision of the wall of a hunter’s study, with the heads of lions and tigers and bucks on the wall, and then this turkey’s head, amidst them all.
Suddenly my bad mood was gone. I looked up at the sky, silently chuckling until my eyes filled with tears.
I was especially glad I never lost my temper with the boy when we got back to the farm, and his waiting mother told me why he had brought the second fishing rod. When she had told him two rods were unnecessary, he had told her I might need one.