They cannot stand absence, even when it is only in your mind that you have absented yourself. Just as you are immersing yourself in doing whatever removes your attention from them, they will stir, struggle, cry out, disruptively remind you of their presence, remind you to be present. Your becoming inane with boredom is OK with them. They might even let you attend to something that only lightly engages you. But they will by no means stand for your becoming absorbed. They must, always, have at least a part of your attention. Food you need only given them every three hours or so, but attention you have to supply constantly. It seems to be, in fact, what they mainly feed on. Not affection, mind you, but attention – that which addresses not the heart but the ego. At this stage, affectionate talk, kisses, caresses they find at best amusing, more often merely tolerable, and sometimes bothersome enough to make them kick out at you. This leaves me in little doubt that the organ growing most rapidly in their little beings, and therefore in need of the most sustenance, is the ego. But I suppose it only makes sense that the ego should get priority in human being’s development. Although much-maligned, supposedly the nemesis of the heart and that from which, later in life, true wisdom is supposed to distance us, the ego is, after all, essential to one’s sense of holding together as a unit with a place in the worl – a place from which to put yourself in relation to the rest and begin to develop understanding, intelligence. Without the ego in place, the self does not hold as as a center and all in life remains apart, unintelligible.
It surprises me how indifferent my little girls seem to each other’s distress. So much for the preternatural empathy that twins are supposed to have for each other. Either that empathy is (1) just a myth, (2) something they acquire only once they are conscious and civilized enough to develop a relationship, or (3) this particular set of twins simply has not come equipped with it. Indeed, I tend to discern between them more signs of antipathy than empathy. Yesterday, their mother took them to the doctor in the morning, and although they got their latest shots, one on each thigh, they were quite docile when they returned. After feeding them, I put one – the slighter and younger (by a minute) – in a swing chair and she fell asleep before long. The other was mostly awake in a bouncy chair but quiet, self-amused – which pleased me, since self-amusement is a capacity I appreciate in myself and tend to pity others for lacking. But when her sister awoke, it was in pain from the shots and I could do little to stop her from crying. Even the bottle did not pacify her: although she was hungry enough to feed, she would so only in fits and starts, crying in between. As convulsive as her crying became at times, I noticed – and was thankful for it at the time – that the sturdier sister remained placid in her chair, unaffected by either the shots or the other’s pain. In fact, as if selfishly reveling in her own good fortune, she was in a solidly good mood, not even crying for food although I was making her wait unusually long for it. It was almost as if, the worse matters got for her sister, the better they seemed to her: rarely have I seen her more obviously contented. It was only when suffering one, exhausted, fell back asleep in the swing chair that she began to act up, not exactly crying but clamoring, demanding, in her seemingly assertive, angry-Englishman, I-will-brook-no-excuses way. I was able to recover her good mood by paying attention to her and distracting her with some of the toys the babies’ got for Christmas, which she looked at as if they were living creatures. When I began throwing one of those stuffed toys up in the air, it made her smile, and when I let it drop to the floor I was delighted to hear her laugh – the first genuine laugh I’d heard coming from her. I tried it again, and there was that laugh again after the toy hit the floor, a rapid heh-heh-heh-heh. It happened each time I let the purple little stuffed creature fall to the floor, a dry, hard , rapid little laugh that began to strike me as less delightful. Could it not be a sadist’s laugh? Were the toy creature’s mishaps compensating her for the fact that her sister had fallen asleep and ceased amusing her with her suffering? Does this not mean that cruelty is more innate in us than compassion, which has to be taught, nurtured?
They’re identical twins, but their identity with each other doesn’t always coincide. Yes, they can often seem very different. But Just when we think that we can tell them apart by certain characteristics, they trade those characteristics: the fussy one becomes the quiet one, the hyperactive the sleepy, the smiling the taciturn, and so on. (Only one set of characteristics has, so far as I can tell, been a constant: one takes an avid interest in the world beyond the window, the other seems to find it unbearably tedious if not repellant.) So are we, I wonder, sentimentally jumping the gun once again, trying to see them as individuals before any true individuality has developed, just as we have tended to jump the gun in thinking we have discerned signs of true cognition?
Helping to care for babies only a few months old – changing their diapers, burping them, mopping up their puke, ensuring that they are always comfortable in bodies over which they have little control – has more than softened a few lifelong aversions for me. Is it that I have simply become inured to certain things, in essence corrupted, because of having to contend with them for the sake of my children’s welfare? And is it only a measure of how corrupted I have been that I even delight and find humor in what used to disgust or perturb me, that I should laugh when one of the babies’ breaks wind, or goes into the rhythmic grunting of defecation, or gets me, despite all my precautions, with a splash of vomit, or spouts a stream of urine even as I’m changing her? When they are produced by my infants, things that once horrified me I now regard mostly with mirth – and when they are produced by other adults I am, I believe, at least more tolerant that I used to be: the adult farter or burper or vomiter no longer runs the risk of being forever tainted in my eyes, rendered an untouchable. Yet it is not corrupted that I feel. On the contrary, I feel that I have gained in innocence. Could it not be that my experience with the babies has shown me that life need not be one long process of losing one’s innocence, that there are times when innocence, by virtue of the blessedness of an experience, can be won rather than lost?
They’re still less than four months old, but they have nightmares; they react to different stimuli and adults’ attempts at communication; they often seem lost in thought and observation and reverie; they undergo sufferings and pleasures; they get used to things and see much that is utterly new. Yet none of it leaves any retrievable record in their own minds – it is a secret even from themselves, or, rather, from the selves they will become. They will come into consciousness as if in media res, already knowing much of the world, yet not knowing how they know it.