VIEWSrnUncommon Propertiesrnby Thomas FlemingrnPick up any newspaper at random, and you will come uponrnstory after storv of children being murdered, beaten, andrnmolested. I begin this chapter on Monday, October 19, 1992,rnand looking over the Chicago ‘Tribune I discover: a frontpagernstory on Chicago schoolchildren venting their grief over thernmurder of their friends, a headline story on the mayor’s plan torncurb violence in response to the shooting of a first-grade child,rnand an article on a 15-year-old killed for the sake of his jacket.rnOn some pages, the lead tells the whole story: “Ex-foster parentrnaide held in handicapped son’s death”; “Victims of sexualrnabuse by clergy seek strength and answers at conference.”rnThis is only one paper on one day, and the cumulative effectrnof reading such stories over the course of a decade is arngeneral impression that children arc being ictimized and thatrnsomething must be done about it. If newspapers are, b)’ theirrnvery nature, pornographic in arousing passions for strangers,rnthen the readers of newspapers and the watchers of news programsrnare slowly becoming addicted to a svmpathy for otherrnpeople’s children conceived of as helpless and innocent creaturesrnat the mercy of malevolent parents, teachers, and clergymen.rnThe most obvious question, one that is asked by many people,rnis why? Why are so many children—many more, apparently,rnthan in previous generations—abused by the very peoplernwho are supposed to care for them? Without being eitherrnfacetious or offensive, we ought to be asking the oppositernquestion: why are so few children killed or abused, in any age ofrnthe world?rnThe existence of children is, viewed from nearly any angle,rnmiraculous. That sensible men and women should consent tornhave them in the first place is strange enough, even if procreationrnand birth have been most often the accidental result ofrnignorance and carelessness. But the real and persistent miraclernis the parents’ refusal—or failure—to terminate thesernThomas Fleming is the editor of Chronicles.rndrains upon their time, resources, and tempers. “One cannotrnlove lumps of flesh,” declared a physician of Dr. Johnson’srnacquaintance, “and little children are nothing more.” Mostrngrown-ups will admit, in their candid moments, that otherrnpeople’s children are intolerable.rnThe poet Philip Larkin was hardly unique in breathing arnsigh of relief upon escaping the trammels of childhood:rnUntil 1 began to meet grown-ups on more or less equalrnterms 1 fancied myself a kind of Ishmael. The realizationrnthat it was not people I disliked but children wasrnfor me one of those celebrated moments of revelation. .rn. . The knowledge that I should never (except by deliberaternact of folly) get mixed up with them again morernthan compensated for having to start earning a living.rnMuch has been written on our “natural affection” for ourrnown children, but if we equate the natural with the rational—rnas so many philosophers do—then nothing could be less naturalrnthan to develop an affection for the little ticks that swellrnup at our expense, battening upon their mother’s milk andrntheir father’s sweat.rnFor women, there is some excuse. Childbirth can be, I amrntold, an unpleasant and painful experience, but its pangs dornbrmg relief from the misery of pregnancy. Besides, for ninernmonths the mother has grown accustomed to carrying thernparasite within her belly, and she can hardly help developing arngrudging acceptance of whatever it might turn into. Thernmother of my (or rather, our) four children was determined tornhave a girl the first time out, and when I told her it was a boy,rnshe looked at first confused, then curious, and said with arnsigh, “Oh . . . well, I might as well have a look at it.” After examiningrnthe squalid mess for less than a minute, she decidedrnthis “lump of flesh” would do, after all.rnMothers are at a distinct advantage in learning to bear thernsight, sound, and smell of their newborn offspring. Provi-rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn