The other night at bedtime, Captain Chaos and I were playing a game. We were all (except for The Baby) up in Chaos and The Enforcer’s room. Chaos, wearing only a diaper, was waiting for her turn to get into a clean diaper and jammies. I don’t know how it started, but I was kind of kneeling on the floor, and she was standing a few feet away from me. Then she’d run, full force, at me. We would thud into each other and I’d make an exaggerated “oof” sound which was actually kind of real, given that she was hurling all of her weight right at my chest, and give her a big hug. Then we’d both laugh hysterically. We probably did it at least a dozen times.
Meanwhile, The Enforcer is observing all of this closely as she’s getting her diaper/jammie situation taken care of. She is a master of close observation. So of course, as soon as she’s done, she wants to play the game too. I get into the position for her and she runs at me, but she doesn’t do it with the same gleeful abandon that Chaos so breezily displays in all kinds of aspects of her life. The Enforcer is having fun, and we’re both laughing, but it’s not quite the same as it was with Chaos. For one thing, Enforcer doesn’t actually thud into me. She’s much more cautious, so she hesitates a bit right before she crashes into me and it’s really just a hug. She still laughs hysterically, but it’s a little bit forced. She’s trying to do everything exactly the way her sister did it, because it looked like so much fun, but since she’s only two years old, she doesn’t yet know that it’s not going to be the same because it’s not her game. All the careful observation in the world isn’t going to help you re-create a moment of pure, unplanned, living-in-the-moment joy.
As their parent, I can relate to both girls in this situation. I have to be careful here, because the last thing I want to do is project my own issues and insecurities onto my daughters. I also know that they’re two for heaven’s sake, and their personalities are still constantly evolving. But it’s hard sometimes when you see yourself in your kid.
On one hand, I can remember feeling like Captain Chaos when I would play with my dad. I remember that giggly, wild, free feeling when he would “fly” me around the yard. And I remember what it felt like to hurl myself into my mom’s legs if I was scared or sad. I’m sure I barreled into her pretty hard, with no regard for whether or not I might actually knock her over. These are great memories. They remind me that overall, I had great parents. The kind of parents I could be myself with, who would always be there to catch me if I needed them to. We were not, by any means, a perfect family, but I always felt safe and loved.
So that’s all well and good.
But the thing that I struggle with is remembering what it felt like to be more like The Enforcer in this situation. There came a time for me, as a kid, when I felt like a little bit of an outsider around other kids. I too was a master of observation when it came to the behaviors of others. Up to a point, I had loads of confidence. I liked what I liked (which was reading, writing, horses, and reading), I was really good at school, I had a bunch of goofy little friends, and life was good. But then as I approached adolescence, I felt like I had been playing one game all along and hadn’t noticed that suddenly everyone else was playing something else. I didn’t fully understand the rules, but I wanted desperately to play along. I would go through the motions and force myself to laugh and participate, but it never, ever felt natural because it wasn’t my game.
Take sports for example. I am possibly the world’s LEAST athletic person. This sucks, because for some reason, for kids in our society, sports are, like, a really big deal. I’m not at all physically competitive. When forced to play soccer or something in gym class, I’d be like, “Oh, you guys want the ball? That’s fine. I don’t really give a shit. Just please don’t kick me in the shins because that hurts a lot.” So since sports were made out to be such a big freaking deal, I felt bad about myself for not being good at them. Or even understanding them. (Did you ever notice that no one EVER explains the rules of sports in gym class? They’re just like, “Play baseball.” And you have to do it. And suddenly you’re out and you have no idea why. Do some people’s parents teach them all the rules before they go to school? Do they know the rules because they watch baseball on TV? Are some people just born with an instinctive understanding of sports rules hard-wired into their brains?) And since I was a kid, instead of just saying, “Oh well. I’m good at lots of other useful and interesting things so it really doesn’t matter that I suck at sports/video games/other random-kid-stuff-that-everyone-else-seems-to-love,” I kept trying to be better at it. To like and understand something that I hated. I devoted a lot of time and effort to the playing of someone else’s game and it turned out that that was really stupid.
My game was words. I loved reading them. I loved writing them. I had an instinctive understanding of the rules of words, but I didn’t think that mattered much. I always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, but as I got older, I didn’t think that was possible. I thought I’d have to be a reporter. Or a novelist. I had no desire to run around to crime scenes with a notebook and didn’t think I had the creativity to write novels or any other kind of fiction. I doubted my talents and second-guessed my desires. I shoved my genuine, true passion for words to the back of my mind and poured my talents into the writing of English papers in college. I was good at it, I guess, but who really cares if you’re good at literary analysis? Who, aside from my professor, was ever going to read an undergraduate essay on the writings of Sarah Orne Jewitt, or even a graduate paper on English Renaissance drama, no matter how good it was? Even though, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be a writer, I decided to want to be a teacher instead. Because at least that was something I knew I could be good at. I was good with kids. I could handle teaching high school kids how to write. All the classes on pedagogy and classroom management and strategies to engage teenagers in literature made sense to me. I fully understood what I needed to do to become a teacher. What I didn’t understand was that to be a writer, all I had to do was write. I mean, duh, but I didn’t get it.
Obviously you can’t just write and be a good writer. I’m not going to go out and twirl around in the yard and call myself a dancer. I have no natural talent or passion for dancing. For writing though, I know that at least I have a passion for it. And talent? It’s hard to judge myself on something like that, but I think it’s there. It’s just been lying dormant for a while. Way too long of a while, actually, because I was too scared to even try to play my own game instead of someone else’s.
And that was a huge mistake.
I should have been writing all along.
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve figured that out now, at age 33, not at age 93 or something. But of course the irony is that now I’m trying to write amidst the demands and chaos of my life as a stay at home mom. Right this very moment, as I’m trying to put together this post, The Baby is fussing because she’s getting hungry, one of the twins is repeatedly pushing the toilet-flushing sound effect thingy on a Little People house, and I can hear the unmistakable sound of Rice Chex being ground into the floor with a small sandal. It’s hard.
See, I got greedy at naptime. I ignored the voices in my head spouting off things that I should be doing (laundry, laundry, and more fucking laundry) and took a shower. In the shower, as is often the case for me, I came up with all sorts of stuff I wanted to write about, so, since all three girls were miraculously still sleeping when I got out, I started writing. I got about ten minutes. Because actually being able to wash myself AND write during the course of the same day is asking a lot.
There are plenty of things that have to get done around here, but I’m learning to accept the practice of ignoring those things that I think I “should” do in favor of writing, because writing feels good. Writing is a release, a high. Some
weirdo people say that they get that kind of a high from running. That it can be addictive, just like a drug. I wouldn’t know about that, but I do know that now that I’ve started writing, I can’t stop. I know that blogging isn’t the same thing as serious writing, but it’s a damn good place to start, especially with my kiddos here to teach me so much about life and give me more inspiration to write than I’ve ever had before. And I’m trying, bit by bit, to work on some other writing projects as well. We’ll see if they ever get anywhere.
It’s pretty scary, hurling yourself out there with reckless abandon. My instinct is to stop myself before I feel too out of control. But I know that to really experience joy, to get the most out of my life, I have to play my own game; hard as it might sometimes be, I have to throw my arms out, let go, and fly, trusting that everything will be okay when I land.