There is an overwhelming compulsion in humans to create order out of chaos. It goes someway to explaining the popularity of games like Tetris and Candy Crush Saga – there is a mess which is getting worse and your job is to sort it out.
It also helps to explain the sense of satisfaction one feels when the housework is complete or the garden has been tidied or the car washed. The chaos of mess and dirt has been restrained, if only for the time being, and we feel a sense of happiness at this.
Obviously these compulsions become somewhat strained when you have a child. Once the fruits of your overactive loins become mobile they turn from gurgling balls of cuteness into highly trained mess generating experts – the MesS.A.S. if you will – turning your lovely home into something that looks like something Tracey Emin would put in a gallery.
For our little tribe, this relentless move from order to chaos, a microcosm of entropy, continued unabated for months. The boy would lurch from interesting thing to interesting thing, grabbing, pulling, dropping, smashing and drooling his way around the house. All normal behaviours for a child of his age.
Then the unexpected happened. He started tidying up his mess.
Well, kind of.
During the course of one of his tornado-esque rampages, he paused, looked at the destruction he had wrought, picked up a displaced wooden block and gently placed it back in its rightful place – the box of toys in our lounge.
Ignoring the remaining mess he nodded in satisfaction and turned to continue his mimesis of Godzilla, complete with high-pitched screeches and a battle with a giant moth.
In his eagerness to run like the wind he knocked the box of toys over creating more mess but hey, we felt it was progress.
Since then he has become this strange mix of seemingly conflicting personalities. On the one hand he creates more collateral damage than an air raid. On the other he fussily and diligently puts objects in a particular place.
This is most obviously exemplified at meal times where bits of ham, cheese, various types of veg and pasta are simultaneously put into neat piles on his high-chair table and thrown, full-force, across the kitchen, sticking to walls, cupboards, windows, work surfaces and the wife.
Perhaps there is something profound in an infant’s actions – reflecting the duality of humanity as we truly are, with all of the imperatives of society stripped away, ignorant of what we’re supposed to do, the boy does what comes naturally.
If that is the case then humans are both a destructive yet civilising force. For whilst the boy is a bundle of noisy, noisome mess, he also understands that there is an order to things.
It goes beyond that as well. He is generous with his food, offering it out of hand to anyone who happens to pass by. He has learnt to be gentle with the cats, refraining from slapping them atop the head like a sick facsimile of petting. He is friendly and kind to the other kids on our mooban.
Of course, the opposite is potentially true as well. His actions of generosity and care of the pets could be the result of the implicit training we provide. Perhaps through mimicry (when we feed him, an obvious act of love) and our unintentional responses to his behaviours (smiling, frowning, laughing, etc.) he has constructed a series of guidelines for our little society.
The concept of nature vs. nurture being played out in front of you is both thrilling and worrying in equal measure.
If the primary motivator for actions is the inherent nature of the individual then, as a parent, we should provide loose boundaries, secure in the knowledge that he will be alright in the end, his natural good nature will put him on the right course and our approximate guidance will allow him to become the person he should be without forcing him into a tightly defined concept of himself.
If, however, the primary motivator for developing a personality is the environment we provide then to ensure he becomes the person we hope he will be, our boundaries need to be more rigid, more clearly delineated between ‘right and wrong’.
At its heart, this is the kind of dilemma that parents have been facing for years and helps to fuel the huge market in parenting books. The sense that if you get it wrong you’ll screw your kid’s life up is a heavy burden to carry and it’s natural to look for an expert’s guidance.
As with all the best marketing, guilt and fear drive purchases.
Being a parent clashes heavily with our species’ innate desire for order, and I don’t just mean in the creation of mess.
Unlike Tetris, our lives do not come in ordered little blocks of rigidity that neatly fit together to define order. Life is an amorphic blob that encompasses everything we are and do. This is especially true when having children.
Perhaps that is the ultimate truth to being a parent. Whether you rile against or embrace the chaos you have to accept that it is there and tolerate it to a greater or lesser extent.
And when it all gets too much, you can always play Candy Crush Saga to calm the nerves.