Kids can mess with your head in so many ways. The sleep deprivation, the emotional roller coaster they are on every. damn. day, the existential horror of all your past mistakes and faults come into fruition in a tiny, louder version of you whose safety is your responsibility with the sins of your teenage years looming before you. And the questions. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, all the questions. According to several sources, online young kids can ask anywhere from 200-400 questions a day! And when you have multiple kids, you would think if one of them asked you a question, the others would hear the answer and not ask the same damn question, right?! Ha! Wrong! It would drive one to use too many exclamation points!!
But despite all of that, I love my kids with my whole being. I have devoted my life to them, and I will continue to do so long after they have moved out (and in this economy who knows how long that will take). My wife and I knew that things were going to change when we had kids, and that we’d make sacrifices for them, that we’d have to give up certain things. I used to feel bad about those poor shleps about to have their first kids who actually said to me, “Nothing’s going to change for me. I’m still going to do what I want!” Within two months, they toed the line like the rest of us. Fools. Some examples of those things I willingly changed: I don’t have an aversion to gross things, but I never wanted to be this familiar with bodily fluids. I was never a person who like naps but the lack of sleep means I can sleep virtually anywhere now and will. I never wanted a mini-van, but I’m now on my second one (and I’m not even sad about this one, I love the damn thing). New Balances. But mark my words, I will never own a white pair.
However, one thing I never really thought I’d sacrifice was some of my personal dreams. There are a lot of small dreams that fell by the wayside that I’m not losing more sleep about, like learning how to play the blues guitar. I wanted to learn how to speak Spanish. I wanted to get into a shape that doesn’t resemble a partially cooked Pop-n-Fresh dough-boy (its funny because I’m brown). The one big dream I had was to become a writer and to write a novel. I thought surely I’d have enough free time to squeeze out 500 words or so a day, right? Well yes, actually I did, but I would have to sacrifice something else in order to do that. Would I give up time with my wife? My kids? Doing school work? More sleep? When given those options, suddenly dreams seem like that. Just a dream.
After awhile I stopped having kids and they got older and less dependent. This is it, I thought. This is the year. Then enter the Pandemic. But after a few weeks of mild terror, I saw a positive. Maybe staying at home is a good thing. Get all the things done! Write! Habla espanol! Play Little Wing better than Stevie Ray! Make love to my wife three, maybe even four times a week! However, soon enough the real impact of this pandemic became a reality, and the mental load became too much. For a long time I wallowed. I wallowed for my kids, my students, for America, for myself, but I managed to found some time to write about the about our country’s situation, and then George Floyd was killed and it was back to null.
A few months ago, just before the insanity started, I had an inspiration about the book I had started a while ago, but I haven’t had the inspiration to write more of it. With all of the terrible, horrible going on outside, I just couldn’t. I sat with my laptop and couldn’t make words happen. I could make rage happen, (insert selfless plug for The Masks We Wear) but not fiction. It seemed pointless to write a work of fiction when we had real problems in the world. I just couldn’t make the magic work and flow. Then, a few days ago, my eldest daughter turned to me at breakfast all bright-eyed, before I had even really started my coffee, and asked me a question: “If you could turn any part of your body into any material, like cake or food or whatever, and break it off and that part would grow back almost instantly, what part would you turn something into and what would it be?”
I just couldn’t. Looking into my bowl of responsible adult beige cereal, I started working through the five stages of grief. Denial: “Sophie, it’s too damn early for this. I can’t right now.” Anger: “Why would you even ask that? That’s so ridiculous! It doesn’t even make sense!” Bargaining: “Look, let me finish my coffee and maybe you can think of a better way to ask your question.” Depression: “My head and soul actually hurts because of that question.” And, finally, after about thirty seconds, I made it to acceptance: “Okay, so repeat that?” Now there was a lot to unpack there, and to try to do so at 9 o’clock in the morning is nigh impossible, but the wheels in the old imagination broke loose from the cob-webs and started working.
I don’t need to detail the entire sleep addled conversation I had with my three kids, why would I do that to you? But basically they all wanted to pick their hands or their heads and turn it into some sort of food, Sophie admitted the question occurred to her because she was thinking about the implications of cannibalism and if it still applied if your hand turned into a sandwich. Sam wanted to turn his head into a cake but I had to explain you would die, even if it grew back “almost” instantaneously. However, my wheels where free spinning now and were humming along. I said that I would turn one leg into gold and the other into platinum, as long as they’re going to grow back. I rationalized I could melt down the gold leg easily enough and make gold bars to sell. Sam asked the very reasonable question of why not just sell the leg, and I explained to him a gold leg would weigh too much. I don’t know if I could even carry it. And, if I brought in a gold leg made up of little golden hairs, toenails, blood vessels, that weird lump on my shin, and bones, there would be questions. Questions I can’t answer. Nope, melt that bad boy down.
“What about the platinum leg, dad?” Sophia asked. That, that I’d keep just because it would be awesome.
So now, I’m writing fiction again. Thanks, kids! I cleaned up my computer area, made a little nook in the living room where I focus, and I’m finally getting about five hundred words in when I sit down to write. Not every day, but almost every other day. And if you’re struggling with finding inspiration for your art, maybe talk to some children for awhile. They see things in ways we’ve lost, their perspective can challenge your own, or they can see things simpler then we are able to. Even if they may have no input on what you’re working on, they open up pathways in our mind long forgotten, with the echoes of childhood laughter still reverberating down its halls. If you don’t know any children you can borrow mine. Keep them as long as you need. (It’s been a long four months) Happy creating, everyone!