The purpose of everything

CHEVY CHASE VILLAGE — CHEVY CHASE VILLAGE -- David Maseng Will, a prodigiously talented 3-year-old, seemed, at first blush, blase about the news.

The news was that on Sunday night a stranger, a jolly, fat, oddly dressed man, would be coming down David's chimney with a sack full of toys, many of which would be strewn about beneath the tree in the living room, for David to enjoy, and for David to resist sharing with friends, as he resists sharing everything, other than germs.


David's response to this -- one would have thought -- astonishing news about the toy-strewing stranger was suitably wide-eyed, and yet he took it in stride, as additional evidence that people really do have more fun than anyone. Turns out, it is difficult to astonish a child, either because everything astonishes, or -- which may be much the same thing -- because nothing does.

A tree in the house


For example, is it not just a bit peculiar that the adults at David's house, who make the rules and are supposed to make sense, and who get cranky if you bring into the house so much as a dead mouse, suddenly hauled a tree into the living room?

The strangeness of that act was surpassed by the weirdness of the dispute about what to hang on it. Father wanted to hang 28 glass balls bearing the emblems of major-league baseball teams. Mother didn't. Mother won.

So the tree is decorated with angels and elves and trains and gingerbread men and other bric-a-brac that presumably add up to something, but they seem to the untutored eye to be so much flapdoodle. Of course nothing much adds up to children, for whom the flapdoodle quotient of daily experience is large.

Their lives consist largely of looking at, and maneuvering through, a forest of adults' knees, so the world is bound to seem strangely constituted.

And given the fact that these tall people voluntarily give little people food, shelter, clothing and television, it is understandable that the little people think the world is organized for their pleasure and that toy-laden people popping down chimneys is just part of the plan.

Besides, once a child has experienced the central event on the child's calendar of bliss -- Halloween -- and learned that there is such a thing as a free lunch after all, and that it is 95 percent sugar, the sheer goodness of life becomes a given.

H.L. Mencken was disgusted because "the average American, whether young or old, simply lacks the mental stamina to face the concept of the irremediable." Maybe so, but Christmas, as the average American family practices it, is a splendid part of the cheerful adult conspiracy to keep children unaware, for a while, of the limits that life puts on desiring.

Presumably at his school, where he is in a class called Beehivers and is majoring in Lego blocks and minoring in advanced tricycle, David is acquiring a keen sense of reality -- nature red in tooth and claw, and all that.


Already he seems to have a vocation, for working with words. Unlike the novelist Peter De Vries, who said he liked everything about writing except the paperwork, it is the paperwork that pleases David.

At his mother's knee -- she often works at home -- he has become, by emulation, a worldly child of Washington. "What are you doing, David?" asks his father as David pushes a pencil across a tablet. "Writing speeches for Bob Dole," replies David, matter-of-factly. Writing a list for Santa should be a snap.

American boy

Next year he will reach the list stage. Last year the ribbons and wrappings and boxes were as diverting as the gifts. This year he is content to let Santa bring what he will, although David is showing an aptitude for becoming a proper American boy, fascinated by Power Rangers and other toys suggestive of mayhem.

It has been said that a teacher can never be adequately paid because a teacher gives the gift of truth, for which no material compensation is commensurate. No child can be given a Christmas present as precious as the pleasure a child gives to parents by taking pleasure from Christmas.

Charles Edison, the inventor's son, once described himself as "the result of one of my father's early experiments." David, who has a child's perfect sense of being the center of the universe, probably thinks exactly what a robust American Christmas encourages children to think -- that they are the result that the universe exists to produce.


0 Come to think about it, that is about right.


George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.