I’m writing this as my older son sleeps, hopefully deeply enough to restore his depleted energy after yesterday’s intense soccer matches. What a range of soccer parents schlep their kids to these games! There are of course the win-at-all-costs parents – and it’s not only dads who scream at players – but that is a stereotype, just as “the people” that are referred to during election seasons don’t fit into the stereotype of the shorthand labels we bandy about like Truth. When it comes down to it, most Tea Partiers, moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, in checkout lines and over a cup of coffee, would manage to find commonalities. Everyone has red blood.
And we all support our kids. No matter how we support them in their passions, most of us make an effort because we love our children and want to honor the spark of life manifest in their desires. Best as we can, we notice, nurture, and navigate the world to facilitate setting their ever-growing-and-when-they’re-teenage-soccer-players-STINKY feet on paths that in our (necessarily limited) experience will help them discover whether or not their passion is vocation, avocation or occasional hobby.
My parents were among the first to show me the path I’m on now. They read to me, gave me books from their childhood – and when I happily scrawled my own stories in kindergarten, they hied me to the library weekly, pointed out books about writers, outfitted an old desk with an equally old (manual!) typewriter and all the scrap paper I wanted. I wasn’t sent to any special camps, but they certainly honored what they witnessed in me.
Nonetheless: when I see a van full of kids being chauffeured down the interstate to soccer tournaments, or youth orchestra, or juggling classes, an echo of an interview rings in my head.
A female author was sharing her story of achieving success in her forties after a twenty-year hiatus (cannot for the life of me remember who it was, my apologies). She’d achieved a modicum of publishing success immediately after college, then fell in love and had a child. And a second. Not surprisingly, her creative output trickled and ceased. She’d found a mentor before she’d begun childrearing, and when she and her partner were debating adding a third child to their family, the mentor opined: every child you have is another novel you will not write.
I heard this while driving to work, pregnant with the boy who is now snoring quietly in the adjacent room (yes, I am drafting this in the hotel room’s bathroom, so the lights don’t wake him up, my forty-something butt cushioned by hotel towels).
The mentor was correct. I certainly have three or four collections of ideas and plot outlines and free writes that, given time enough, could well be novels, but probably won’t be. Because I am raising children as well as writing.
The mentor was also incorrect. Despite the real and metaphorical headaches of bringing up my boys, and the incredible amount of time they consume, I could not possibly write as I do if I were not a parent. I imagine my writing would be different (not better or worse, different) if Engineer Hubby and I had remained child-free. This is certainly NOT to say those who aren’t parents don’t create complex, rich, and marvelous art. Arguably, since historically men have comprised the majority of the artist class and, also historically, they were very minimally involved in the grind of parenting, it’s hardly a requirement for great art. Or lousy art.
However, bottom line, one needs extended periods of solitude to make *anything* (nine months gestations for humans plus 18 years for ripening … no wonder Donna Tartt takes a decade per novel!), so hands-on parenting necessarily compromises those of us with artistic bents. “Oh, but it’s worth it,” we say, after griping about our finicky eaters or the history teacher who doesn’t understand our precious progeny.
Actually, it’s not worth it, financially, for many of us. Nor is it even metaphorically worth it on the days consumed by the thrust-and-parry around their so-called “needs.” (I NEED an Xbox. Uh, no, you don’t. You need to get your ass outside and run a couple miles so you’re too tired to whine about material goods. Then you need to take out the compost so your mother doesn’t use words no former English major should unleash on her children before they’re twenty-one.)
But our lives, with all the warts, whining, and wasted moments, are what we have to work with. The consequences of our choices, be they nights of passion or carefully plotted and sought-after goals, are with us. Here. Now. Though they won’t always be (we have fewer years with our kids at home before us than we have behind us).
These moments, on these days, the choices I make to write or not write, even if only for five minutes, is all that is. Annie Dillard is credited with the succinct, truthful observation that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
She’s right. If I want to write, even if it’s only for my eyes only, even if I aim for publication and fail, then I have to do it. Writers write. Period.
My parents noticed and honored the writer they saw in their little girl. Surely, even as I pass the gift of honor on to my sons, and chauffeur them hither and yon, I can continue to honor my own girl. Reading stories and making up my own, scrap paper at the ready.