There’s not a great way to convey the merciless relentlessness of having a child who insists on continuing to exist and want and need regardless of how much sleep you got, how sick you are, how many times you have already read that book, how tired your arms or how aching your feet, how hungry or sweaty or needy-for-cognition you’ve gotten, how much or little support happens to be available that day. It’s a lot.


Parents aren’t better at parenting tasks because of magic or even because they responsibly read the entire parenting manual, they’re better at them because they are forced to practice way way way more than anyone would naturally choose to practice any such tasks (and accordingly your skills will be uneven depending on how you divide those tasks).

(from a tumblr post I wrote about having kids)

Why is immersion the best way to learn a language?

I submit that it is because you do not get to stop.

If you were in, say, Java, then you probably would pick up Javanese as long as you did things reasonably aimed at continuing to be immersed in Javanese (that is, not immediately finding the nearest English-speaker and latching onto them, or adopting a convenient orphan and teaching them English, or buying a ticket to Australia). In spite of the fact that this strategy does not necessarily draw on anything we know about deliberate practice, or language education, it would still probably work. It’s how everybody learns their first language, and in that case it basically always works, because babies really can’t do anything else about it since they don’t already speak anything else. To communicate at all, a very basic human need, you have to match the standard of other talking entities around you, and you will not stop having to do this, so eventually you will.

Most things are not like this, or they are like this but not enough for it to be a good idea to try to learn them this way. If you are in the ocean, and you cannot stop being in the ocean, this is actually a terrible way to learn to swim and an even worse way to learn about sharks. If you are a subsistence farmer, and you cannot stop being a subsistence farmer, you might learn a ton about your plot of land, but also you might have bad weather one year and starve. If you are in a typical American math class, and you cannot stop being in a typical American math class, you might pick up more math than you would by playing in the woods, but you might also burn out and develop lifelong math anxiety.

I hesitated before writing this post because I don’t know what is special about languages and childrearing—I can’t think of other obvious things in the category, though there are probably some. And I worry that pointing out the efficacy of relentlessness will lead people to commit themselves to things that are more like typical American math classes in the pursuit of whatever it is they want-to-want to learn. Please don’t do that. But if anyone else can come up with a common thread between my examples of successful-relentlessness, or more examples, that might be useful.