The word cradle comes from the same Germanic root as the word cart. Which makes sense; the movement of either a cradle or a cart will put a child to sleep.
Or the movement of a car, another related word. All parents have seen our children refuse to take a nap, and then watch them quickly fall asleep in the car. I imagine many of you, like my wife and me, have intentionally loaded the family in the car to get the youngest child to sleep. And, of course, You also know that if the car stops for too long, the child often wakes up.
I suspect this is small evolution. I noted that from the physical standpoint, humans would seem to be ill-equipped for survival, but we dominate because of our brains. We have, however, a couple of physical attributes that are distinctive in the animal world. Our short jaws and our long chewing muscles – provided by the vertical faces of primates, rather than the horizontal faces of other animals – mean that we can produce very impressive crushing forces with our teeth.
And for long-distance running, we are the champions of the animal world. In 1983, 61 year-old sheep herder Cliff Young set the world record for an Australian long-distance run, beating the previous record by two days. Even though Young was much slower than the other competitors, he knew something his competitors did not: human beings can run, non-stop, for 3 or more days straight. Cliff ran through the night while his competitors slept. Given enough room, a human can run down a horse.
We talked about the Bakthiari tribe, modern nomads who move constantly. And we talked about the hardness of their lives, how they have no time for compassion. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was left behind to die.
In that post, the people who were left behind were the elderly. Would nomads also leave behind a child who was too much trouble? That sounds like a horrible thing, but in Amy Tan’s best-selling The Joy Luck Club, based on her own family history, her mother relates abandoning Amy’s two sisters while fleeing the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in WWII.
Then consider the behavior of swaddled children. When children are bundled up tightly, they tend to be quiet and still.
Small evolution offers an explanation, that is useful whether humanity is a few thousand years old, or several million. These behaviors may reveal an old survival strategy. In former times people were unlikely to travel more than 30 miles from their village. So we can speculate that a family on the move was probably under stress, possibly even danger. Children who become still when bundled, and who quietly sleep with constant movement, would be less of a burden to the family. In fact, the faster they were moving, the more likely the danger, and the greater the importance of the child sleeping; and fast movement, in a cart or on foot, is most likely to produce a rocking motion.
In direct contrast to typical sleeping conditions, I have noticed that my children seem to sleep better on roads that are a bit rough, and those that produce noise. But not too much noise; a lot of noise would suggest that conditions are safe, whereas lowered/muffled noises suggest a stealthy passage. And so, in addition to the rocking and swaddling, we also sing soft lullabies to our children, and use devices that create soft acoustic backgrounds.
Given that consideration, we can guess that those children who did not become quiet might very well be abandoned. Or even killed: we forget that the Greeks readily accepted the story of Oedipus, whose father drove nails through his feet and left him on a mountain to die; and that a Roman father could sell his children, or have them put to death. It is a modern idea that children are worth much more than the the pig or the dog.
This is another important insight for understanding the modern human condition, something akin to sociobiology . We are the products of horrific, grinding, survival of the fittest. Many of our behaviors, and our thinking, are the result of survival conditions that no longer exist. Because the world has changed so fast, in fact, those older traditions of thinking and behavior can be dangerous today.
This example, together with my comments on hide & seek, show just how powerful the ancient drives can be. They suggest that our children live in fear of other humans, including their own parents.
Of chief importance to our discussions here, some of the most dangerous of our earlier ideas and traditions are enshrined in dogmatism, closed-mindedness, and medieval educational approaches that insure that our children will be hobbled by the same ancient fears and intellectual inflexibility that cripple the rest of us.
Child and mother, courtesy of PrintsOldAndRare.com.