And speaking of Pesach, chametz and fears about tech…
According to the most recent cave drawings, children nowadays are using fire more than ever before. And it’s no wonder: fire has many wonderful applications, such as cooking meat, warming the home, and warding off wild animals in the night. We adult Homo erectus, with our enlarged brains and experience of pre-fire days, can moderate our use, but our children—some of whom never lived during a time when you couldn’t simply strike two rocks together for an hour over a pile of dried grass to eventually produce a spark that, with gentle coaxing, might grow into a roaring flame—can have difficulty self-monitoring their interactions with fire.
You don’t want to be the bad guy, but you also want to make sure that your child engages in other activities, like mammoth hunting and the gathering of rocks and bones with which to make tools. So, how do you set appropriate boundaries for your child on fire usage without jeopardizing the family unit so crucial to the survival of the species? Here are some tips:
Establish clear but firm limits: Fire is nice, but there’s a time and a place for it. So institute specific fire-watching times, and stick to them. After dinner, when the fire is lit, anyway, is one good option, as well as early in the morning, when a fire is just the thing to warm a chilly cave. Those living in glacial areas may have a harder time curtailing the use of fire, but just remind your children that when you were their age several layers of animal pelts were enough to keep you perfectly warm. Remember, you’re the patriarch (or matriarch, depending on your community’s customs surrounding familial power structures), and you make the rules!
Have a designated “fire room” in your dwelling: Those with smaller caves or huts might find this suggestion difficult, but even establishing a “fire corner” can help to create separate “fire” and “non-fire” spaces in your living area. In the non-fire spaces, encourage traditional activities, such as conversation (as much as your current vocabulary will allow), arrowhead-shaving, or stick-drawing in mud or soft stones. Reminding your children of the pleasures provided by these traditional activities can help reduce the seductive lure of the fire’s dancing flame.
Watch for changes and communicate concerns: For many children, fire is a harmless, pleasant addition to their lives. But for some it can become an all-consuming passion. If your child seems to be growing unhealthily attached to the fire, don’t wait to talk to him about it. A few common fire-obsessed behaviors to look out for include:
- Distraction: ignoring people when they are in the same room as fire
- Preoccupation: talking or thinking about fire, even when there is no fire present
- Deception: going off to secretly find/make fires; lying about fire usage when confronted
- Anthropomorphization: talking to/interacting with the fire as if it were a sentient being, which the elders we consulted say is highly unlikely, though they have yet to entirely rule out the presence of powerful magical beings within the inferno
Commit to non-fire family time: This last tip is the most important, because, if all you’re doing is restricting your child’s behavior and environment, he’s bound to resent you. So introduce non-fire activities that the whole family can enjoy together, and commit to them on a regular basis. These activities will depend on your region and climate, of course, but hunting and/or gathering is always a great way to be active and insure your family’s survival. If your tribe has already discovered music, carve a bone flute and work on a family song. Believe in a god (or gods)? Carve some rudimentary icons in his/her/their image. There’s no end to the fun you can have when you put your significantly-larger-than-a-chimpanzee’s mind to it!
In the end, just remember that fire, like most innovations, is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s made our lives easier, our survival likelier, and will probably lead to the greatest evolutionary paradigm shift in human history. But it’s also dangerous, destructive, and, yes, possibly infested with demonic forces that wish us ill. As with everything in life, balance is key. If you can imagine what it was like a few thousand years ago, when the first humans started walking upright, and how much grief they probably got from their parents, you’ll have some empathy for your children’s unique place in the evolutionary narrative. At the same time, don’t forget that you’re the boss, and that, until they mate and produce viable offspring, what you say goes. And, of course, it goes without saying that, in the (again, very unlikely) event that fire is both sentient and vengeful, we humbly beg its forgiveness for our insolence and pray to be spared our fleeting and insignificant lives.