perpetual motion machine
31 July 2000
This month’s On Display topic: restlessness.

It’s way past Damian’s bedtime. Try two hours past. Kid wasn’t sleepy, now is fighting sleep. I sat on the bed reading to him. I noticed a telltale droop to his posture, a telltale fist-in-eye rub. I said, "I’ll go to the bathroom, and when I come back, I’ll nurse and you can go to sleep."

I got back to find the nursing pillow shoved onto the floor and Damian gleefully tossing my tee-shirt overboard after it. He then dropped down off the bed and raced out of the room in classic "can’t catch me!" toddler joy.

What is it about children? Where do they get the energy? When did we lose the ability to move full-out with every ounce of our being? Did we notice it in its absence or did it just slip away sometime whil we were paying bills and buying towel racks? Is it about play? Is it that our lives aren’t as exciting, the clink of a rock against a grate doesn’t thrill like it did the first time (and be honest, when’s the last time you tossed a rock against a grating?), the hereness and nowness of the here and now have lost their freshness and so we too have lost ours? Or maybe it’s just the planned obsolescence of the human body; children have newer cells and fresher blood, so they can go go go and leave the adults shaking our heads in wonder.

If we're inside, we need to go out. If we're outside, we need to be elsewhere. If we're going for a car ride, we need to run down the block to release excess energy (but is it ever truly released or does it just come bouncing back like the proverbial boomerang?). If there's a ledge, it must be climbed. If there's a staircase, it must be climbed and climbed again.

Sometimes I watch him take off down the street and say "wind him up and watch him go" but I don’t remember winding him up. He’s self-winding, fueled by goldfish crackers and air. The energy is incessant, restless, questing, thirsting. If he’s awake, he’s in motion. Feet kicking, running, stomping. Hands plucking, shoving, yanking, clapping. Body flopping, rolling, wiggling. And did I mention running?

Except for the times he’s utterly still. Lost in a song, lost in a book. Abstracted. Elsewhere. The buzzing hummingbird takes a feed-the-muse break. The mind is still restless in that small head with its silky almost-curling hair. The mind still moves along, pointing out "truck" and "motorcycle" and "sun" in the book and repeating the words of the song in a not-quite-singing voice. The mind is restless when the body stills.

And then he’s off again, running, running, running but never running down.

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