“i used to think that the sun and the moon were the same,” my stepson said. He had been told that they were different but did not believe it. He must have convinced himself that they were two sides of the same coin-gold and silver-or perhaps he thought that at night the sun faded, as if by a dimmer switch, to become the moon. At what point he had to drop this view, he did not tell me. But his poetic image deserves to survive as a metaphor for what happens to childhood convictions: again and again, the sun turns into the moon.
When I was nine, I drew up a list. It was a list of the things my mother did that I vowed I would never do when I grew up to be her age. The list was long and quickly lost. But I still remember the main points.
I vowed I would never worry about sleep. I didn’t like it when I came downstairs at night, unable to sleep. My mother would sound displeased and panicky. My father would be more soothing, offering a glass of milk or an apple, telling me not to worry. If my children could not sleep, I resolved, I would be like my father. I would never be agitated, would not tell them that they would be exhausted the next day. And what’s more, I knew that I would never institute a “quiet time” after dinner when my children were not wanted. My mother was possessive of this time. Why? Why did she want to be “quiet”? Why be so obsessed with sleep and quiet? Why be alive at all?
And then there was the obsession with age. This wasn’t a criticism of my parents in particular, it seemed to involve all the adults I knew. One thing was certain, I would never be the sort of grown-up who walked into a house full of children and asked them how old they were or told them it was astonishing that they had grown. Whatever did they expect us to have done? Stay stunted? Grown-ups were often shy and maladroit. They did not, I remember feeling, know how to talk to children.
Some of them did not know how to converse at all. Even when they were with each other, the asinine question of age still seemed important to them. I’d hear…