The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Nap Time

August 31, 2015 | by

Stanisław Wyspiański, Śpiący Staś, 1904.


What hath night to do with sleep? ―John Milton, Paradise Lost

One of the cruelest and most arbitrary displays of grown-up power has always seemed to me our approach to jet lag. Post red-eye, a child is diminished and cranky and disoriented. Almost sick with fatigue, she falls gratefully into deep slumber on the first bed offered, maybe after killing several unpleasant hours until that bed is ready, perhaps fully understanding the privilege of sleep for the first time. And then, a scant hour later, she is shaken briskly awake by some grown-up. Can’t sleep too long! They tell you. Have to fight the jet lag! Must get on local time! And the day—you’re wasting the day! 

At least, that’s how it always was in my family. Even then I knew—knew!—that I could have slept five, six hours and still, come evening, have gone to bed whenever they wished me to. How cruel to be deprived of this newly discovered treat, sleep! And I knew that whatever we saw would be through a haze of sleeplessness, and that as a result all my first experiences with new places were exhausted, resentful, and aggressive. My heart twists for the miserable little children I see disembarking from a long-haul night flight, and the drawn, exhausted faces of their parents. Read More »


August 25, 2015 | by


German students fencing in the 1820s.

The other day, I stopped to give myself a talking-to. I’m worried about you, I said sternly. Your constant outrage is not healthy, and all these self-righteous interventions with strangers are completely out of control. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but you’re turning into your mother. 

I was appropriately horrified. I knew what angel-me was talking about: the time my mom slammed on the brakes to leap out of the car and accost the neighborhood kids whose snowball had sailed into the street. Or the time she yelled at a preteen for smoking on the sidewalk in front of the rec center. Or the time she lectured a car full of my classmates about their grammar. Read More »

Letters of Note

August 13, 2015 | by


Thomas Rowlandson, A Book Auction, 1810-15.

In his late twenties, my father was a habitué of the Charles Hamilton Autograph Auctions at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, where he would snap up anything that went unsold at the end of the day; in this way he earned the nickname The Vulture. Charles Hamilton himself was a noted signatures expert who had given testimony in a number of prominent forgery cases. His auctions were known for their quality and their miscellany, and for the personality of their proprietor. ‘‘Unless you have a soul made of solid lead,’’ he purportedly said, ‘‘your pulse quickens and your eyes brighten when you look upon something that a great man actually held and into which he put his personal thoughts.’’

My father, due to his own somewhat indiscriminate buying practices, ended up with a somewhat unfocused collection of bargains. He had some good pieces of ephemera—two tickets to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, a dinner invitation from Thomas Jefferson—but he also had a single strand of John Keats’s hair. And then there were the ones that got away. There was that time Hamilton auctioned off Harry Truman’s World War I diaries, and the asking price was a bit high, and no one was allowed to inspect them before bidding, “and they might have been incredibly boring,” but still … Read More »

Naptime with Mrs. Melville

July 30, 2015 | by


A portrait of Maria Gansevoort Melville by Ezra Ames, ca. 1815.

Yesterday we posted Rick Moody’s introduction to Genoa: A Telling of Wonders, a searching 1965 novel by Paul Metcalf in which he grapples with the influence of his great-grandfather, who so happened to be Herman Melville.

Metcalf makes liberal use of Melville throughout the novel, often quoting his work for paragraphs or pages at a stretch. He also inserts his own asides, and one of these in particular I’ve found striking. “I think, for a moment,” he writes,

of Maria Melville, Herman Melville’s mother, who, it is reliably reported, would require her eight children to sit on little stools around her bed, motionless, while she took her daily nap, that she might keep track of them.

Read More »

No Bad Things

July 15, 2015 | by

Growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Illustration: Thomas Tait

From the ages of twelve to fifteen, I went through an obsessive-compulsive rigmarole before bed every night. The process demanded a minimum of two hours filled with concentrated touching, blinking, gulping, repetitive thinking, and chanting. If I botched any part of this strict routine, or if I was interrupted, I’d have to start the whole ordeal again, often tacking on an extra hour.

When I finished, I’d tuck myself into a sleeping bag under my covers, even during the most humid summer nights. I did all this out of fear: if I didn’t adhere to my compulsions, I thought, I would be brutally murdered in the middle of the night by a nonspecific being, or snakes would slither up my bedpost from beneath the frame and bite the soft spots between my toes. I used the heatstroke-friendly sleeping bag to “protect” my vulnerable digits.

Even then, I understood that my compulsions didn’t make sense. Many people with OCD are aware of the irrationality of their compulsions. But our behavior and our habits are governed by an internal system, a logic engineered to quell fear and anxiety so we can operate within our skulls and in the outside world. These rules, mind games, and habits are reinforced through practice. They become a way of life. Read More »

Mister Sun

June 19, 2015 | by


Albert Anker, Portrait of a Boy, nineteenth century.

Like many small children, my brother was an accomplished con artist. And as is often the case with little boys, his manipulations were most effective when applied to his mother. I can particularly recall one bit of business he’d pull between the ages of about three and five, when we were at the market and he didn’t feel like walking. He’d gaze up at her beseechingly, bat his eyelashes, and simper, “I’ll carry your bundles if you carry me!”

By this point, I had decisively lost my looks: at seven I was a scrawny, buck-toothed gnome with a waxen complexion and a mullet, usually stalking around in pantaloons and a sunbonnet. Charlie, on the other hand, was still cherubic. Read More »