Want to hear a good story? Of course you do!
A lot of ink–and milk–has been spilled trying to answer this question. So many writers work best in large chunks of undisturbed, peaceful time. How can you get “in the zone” where you hear only your characters when there’s a baby crying, a Lego war underway, a carpool to be driven right now? In fact, how do you get anything done requiring concentration and creativity when you’re a caring, involved parent?
Being a parent impacts everything else in your life. But that’s not always a limitation. Sometimes parenting opens your world beyond your kids in ways you didn’t expect and never imagined. It’s worth trying to remember that when you’re shredding bits of paper in frustration.
My short essay, “Parenting and the Writing Life: Can They Co-exist?” can be found at the New Hampshire Writers’ Project website. Click on over, especially if you’re having one of those days…
This isn’t the post I wrote for this week.
Earlier in the week, I wrote a post about a new, painful step in parenting: the inevitable time something both meaningful and crappy happens in your child’s life and you find that there’s nothing you can do to fix it. It’s a day you always know will come, at least in theory, but that doesn’t mean you’re prepared the first time it happens.
Recently, something along these lines did happen to twelve-year-old “Jack”–something unfair, inadvertent, and completely out of my power to remedy. It made me long for the days when a kiss could cure a boo-boo or ice cream served on a picnic blanket in the living room could rescue a rainy afternoon.
So I wrote about it…and Jack vetoed it.
I don’t run every parenting-related piece I write by my kids, but I do check in with them when I write something I think might cross into their zone of privacy–something that, for whatever reason, they might not wish to share with the world at large. I don’t necessarily need to agree with them or their reasons, but if I’m going to respect my children as people, I need to respect their desire to keep certain aspects of their lives to themselves. Respect is Rule Number One in our house, and it flows in all directions.
So, for the first time, I’ve axed something I wrote because my son requested it. It’s the first time, but it probably won’t be the last.
The post you’re not reading was, in part, about an aspect of our children’s growing up that belongs to the parent: learning to accept our inability to make their worlds right.
Recently, it has come to my attention that some parents awaken each morning to the joy of perfect, sunny children who always do what they’re told or, if they do misbehave, respond quickly to loving, gentle correction. These parents never raise their voices, never have a drink at 5:00 unless their rosy-cheeked children are in the care of a trusted babysitter they’ve known for years, never leave the house with a toddler attached to one shin and mascara smudged under one eye. They embrace the joy in every stage, every day of parenthood, wishing only that the clock afforded them more hours with their precious little ones. Yes, they’d like more time for sleep and adult interests, but they never have days when they really think about the activities they miss and wish they could have them back. In short, they are the people who say about parenting, “It’s all good.”
I think these parents are lying, very possibly to themselves. And they’re giving complexes to parents, especially new parents, who feel otherwise.
Parenting is not “all good.” Yes, it’s wondrous, enlightening, life-giving and loving beyond anything I could have imagined before I became a parent. In parenting, all the things you’ve heard are true. You will find energy and strength you didn’t know you had. You will hold something tiny and feel more love for it than all of the love one universe can contain. You will laugh in amazement at your own wit come back at you from the lips of your child, marvel at her accomplishments that already reach beyond what you could achieve and never tire of speculating about her future.
But all of the other things you have heard about parenting are also true.
First, an announcement: As we say here in New England, I am wicked excited to share with you the news that I’ve been awarded an Artists Entrepreneurial Grant by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Part of what the grant will fund is a renovation of this blog, so if you see scaffolding going up in the coming weeks or months, that’s why. I’ll let you know if you need to wear a hardhat when you’re on site.
Second, a totally judgmental calling out and tip for parents in restaurants: If your children are a) standing at my table with one of their chins over my child’s head, as if to join my family; b) following patrons into the bathroom and harassing them; c) tripping the waitstaff in the aisles; d) chucking toys (or items from tables) over the ledge separating the brick oven area from the dining area; e) wandering into the entrance area and interfering with the ability of the hostess to greet customers such that waiters have to escort your child back to his table; and f) traveling from unoccupied table to unoccupied table throughout the restaurant, without regard to neighboring patrons, and running toy cars on said tables, playing games there, etc., while you do not once turn your head to check on your children nor reprimand them in any way, then you are not doing an adequate job of parenting your children during dinner.
Yes, as I said at the beginning, I understand I’m being judgmental here. But honestly, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I see behavior in this vein, I try to remind myself, even if I’m annoyed, that perhaps I don’t know the whole story. Maybe there is a special need I don’t know about, or perhaps the parents have had a terrible week due to a situation I can’t even imagine and this is their one, much needed break. But I found it hard to invent excuses for this complete disregard of everyone else in the restaurant.
Okay, enough time on my high horse. Moving on…
Books. Two nights ago, when eleven-year-old “Jack” and I finished reading The Hobbit, I realized with dismay that I had no book lying in wait for the following evening. Jack is selective about what he’ll read, so I knew I had a bit of work in front of me to find something acceptable if we were going to start a new book right away. (My own recommendation is not sufficient to sell a book to Jack; in fact, it often has the opposite effect. How old is he again?)
I asked Jack what qualities he’d like in our next book.
The presents have been opened and put away, the decorations tucked into bins and boxes, far too many sweets have been consumed. Valentine’s Day candy already fills the shelves everywhere, and a certain big-box store yesterday featured shamrocks in an endcap display. (In mid-January? Really?)
I got back to work almost two weeks ago, when my kids went back to school. I found myself facing a long list of tasks, and I knew that the only way to get everything done was to work steadily and remain focused. Nothing innovative there, right?
But in an unplanned experiment, I tried something new. I’d stayed away from social media during the holidays, trading Twitter, Facebook and other perpetual virtual connections for real-life interaction. I used the internet to shop occasionally, and certainly to look up information or to answer questions. But I took a break from virtual life. And after the holidays, I simply didn’t go back for another week.
The results of my experiment? I had more time to spend with family and IRL friends. I took care of tasks that I’d long neglected. My dull-of-late focus on my longest-term writing project suddenly sharpened and I finally made progress in an area where I’d been stalled for what seems like forever.
There were more hours in the day and my thoughts were clearer. Seriously.
The downside is that I did miss quite a few of the people I’ve come to know in the virtual world, many of whom I respect, some of whom I consider friends.