Why is it that the very rare time that I get my secret wish of having the children leave the house without me to spend a few hours elsewhere, the very first thing I do is run to computer to write about them?
My children. They have me. Completely and helplessly. There is nothing I wouldn't do for them.
Which doesn't mean that they don't drive me completely blinking mad sometimes.
My kids are, unsurprisingly, a lot like me. It's fantastic in some ways. We all enjoy a wry and slightly morbid sense of humour and appreciation for pratfalls and ridiculousness. We prefer adventure stories filled with delightful wickedness, our heroes suffering a series of hideous, yet hilarious, fates, and villains so exaggeratedly sinister that it gives more somber children nightmares.
From the library yesterday, I brought Smootch and Birdie home books ten and eleven of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, a few books by Babette Cole, a Roald Dahl treasury and Neil Gaiman's Wolves in the Walls. All authors are old favorites of ours and I picked them out especially because while the temperature drops outside, we like to burrow in deep under blankets and read ourselves far, far away from this winter.
The first time I picked up The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, Smootch was probably not even three years old. I definitely thought twice about this book, it seemed terribly scary for a children's story. I still brought it home, of course, because I wanted to read it (yes, I do children's books sometimes just for me... but that's a whole other post). Smootch found it on the shelf, however, and after looking over the frightening illustrations it asked me to read it. Uh-oh, here we go, nightmares for a week, I thought. But, no nightmares. We read that book twice a day the entire time we had it and have borrowed it several times since. Sometimes when there is a drama happening around my kids, someone prophesying doom by summer storm, calender year or a far off war, Smootch will look at Birdie and say, 'Everyone know what happens when the wolves come out of the walls' and Birdie will intone back, 'It's all over when the wolves come out of the walls' and they'll both crack up laughing.
I love these kids.
Roald Dahl is probably Smootch's all time favorite. He caught her way back when she was two years old with a series of poems complied under the title, Dirty Beasts. I'm afraid she has been affected for life. She will forever call a scorpion a 'sting a ling' and loves to play a game that has her try to lie perfectly still while I tickle walk a sting-a-ling (my hand) up her leg until she finally shutters and is stung with a pinch on her backside. A picture of an ant-eater (aunt eater) will send her into peals of laughter and the thought of a crocodile chomping up six children (three boys and three girls) every Sunday causes her to rub her hands together and cackle like a miniature witch.
I highly approve of this.
I am pleased that my children share my delight with darkly humourous stories and seem to intuitively understand irony at a precociously early age, but it's not all unfortunate orphans, man-eating beasts and canine home invasions around here. The flip side of having children who are, personality-wise, a lot like me means some fabulous rows that move through our day like sudden histrionic storms.
While we all tend to be low key in terms of dramatic displays of emotion, we do like to narrate ourselves intense and long-drawn stories in our minds, casting ourselves as the Innocent Victim of a hateful and malicious other, namely sister, brother, or, more often than not, mom. Smootch will bottle her epic like hot lava until she blows her top and puts herself into time out to scream into a pillow. Birdie has made sulking into an artform, and I will lock myself away in my cave-like bedroom with the computer and a cup of coffee or head over to the public library where the relaxed sounds of slumbering transients and rows upon rows of books yet to be read will put me into a blissed out state of meditation.
Our arguments, thankfully, end nearly as quickly as they begin. We all take that brief time time to check out of family life for a little bit, and once again center ourselves. Most storms come from the intensity of being around other people which distracts us so that we lose track of our own thoughts and needs. This is an introverted trait, something we all dabble in to varying degrees.
Another thing the children share with me is creativity, although, even with certain overlaps, it manifests itself differently in each person. Neither Smootch nor Birdie can just sit without their moving but the drive for expression brings them to different outcomes. Smootch must draw and write. I have learned to make sure Smootch has a pen and paper by her hands, especially if she's telling me a story, otherwise she'll pick, scratch, peel, poke, chew and otherwise fidget destructively. With a pen and paper, however, she draws the most amazing pictures and writes fantastic accompanying stories. She is my story teller and dramatist. Her mind and most of her body may be calm, while her hands fly about like they're in the center of a twister, exhibiting a theatrical life of their own.
Birdie wiggles. Rhythmically. He'll twitch his left arm, turn his head sideways, bounce three times and then kick my leg to see if it has any effect on me. Then he'll do it again. And again. I know this seems like an early display of OCD, but I can see it's more born of a desire to move and make music then compulsion. He can stop. He just doesn't want to. Especially if it seems to be annoying me and bringing him attention. Birdie is the one who actually plays the keyboard that we got for Smootch. He studies music videos and mimics the dancing (Imma Be by the Black Eyed Peas is an ongoing favorite, he does a pretty good Transformer dance) and he is unusually good with tools and fine hand movements. His exuberance and his displeasure finds voice through his body. You can read him like a book just by watching how he holds his spine and how fast his foot is tapping.
Both kids are driven to expression, through their bodies, their songs and stories, drawings and even tantrums. The worst thing you can do to my kids is refuse to let them tell their story.
I used to think that children interfere with a creative life. And they do, to some extent. Creativity is not an accident or a happenstance of a given situation. Creativity is deliberate. Creativity is thought out, though not necessarily on the most conscious level, and driven. A creative act is one in which a premeditated yet unique idea is put into place, whether it be intentional technique, image, story or movement. The final outcome may be undetermined and surprising, but there is always purpose in the act.
While children can help channel creativity by giving it forms, whether it be in the manufacture of their physical needs (clothing, toys, or food), or creating an environment in which children live, sometimes what you need to do is in direct conflict with the accompaniment of small humans. Creativity requires focus and times, two things almost impossible while caring for little ones, unless you stay up late in the night, which has negative consequences on your mental state the next day and your adult relationships. To make matters worse, children introduce you to so many fantastical elements and views that it can't help but spark you creative urge. It's ye ol' catch 22. While inspiring you, they also frustrate you by denying you time and focus for your craft.
Which is why sometimes I can't wait for them to go away so I can write about them.
I know many people believe that creativity comes hand in hand with eccentricity. I am one of those people. Smootch, Birdie and I all dwell in a place where our moods, feelings, and actions are hardly ever related to what is going on in the real world. We respond to our inner dialogues and motivations, drawing energy when we feel in inspired and moping like it's the end of the world when we are dry. Most of the time it's hard to predict what kind of mood Smootch or Birdie will be in. For anyone who loves consistency and routine, who live by logical consequences and predictability, my children can frustrate them to the point of tears. Sometimes they'll do what is expected of them. Most of the times, not so much. Especially if it interferes with their story.
Don't get me wrong, my kids are actually well behaved. Not at all like the monsters that they sometimes pretend to be. Still, I long ago gave up trying to fit them into a category, saying Smootch needs this in her life or Birdie requires that. The fact is, I can never predict what they need day to day. I can only try to anticipate their needs and be flexible to changes in plan. Sometimes this means having enough string and tape stocked up for sudden fit of inspiration that involves attaching everything in the house to everything else. Other times it means allowing Birdie, who normally can not sit through an entire twenty minute program, to watch the same movie twice a day for two weeks straight, where he sits stock still with eyes wide and a small smile twitching the corners of his mouth every few moments.
Perhaps I am setting my children up for some serious disappointment, by not only allowing for their outlandish ideas but embracing them, filling their heads with bizarre (yet funny) stories and sacrificing my own agenda to give them time and space to play out fantasies. Perhaps they won't fit into our industrious and scheduled world. I can how this is selfish to some extent, that not enough diligence is applied to the timetables and protocols of our society. Perhaps I should be more rigorous in imposing order that benefits the majority, even while it denies an individual.
Sometimes, particularly when we have somewhere to go or I must have something done, they can have me undone. 'Yes, I know you think you need to build a robot out of lego right now, but we've got to get Smootch to school.' Or, 'I don't have time to read you more of your book because I have to put supper on'. Or, 'No you can't have the computer to write a story with because I want to write a story of my own'.
But even as I am saying no, denying or trumping their need to express and play with my need for order (mattresses now stay on beds and bed frames must always stay on the floor), I still get it. Even though it is highly inconvenient to me, I know why she always wants to use her special brown felt marker and must spend half an hour looking for it or that he has to do a two footed hop with a half twist over each green tile in the hallway because otherwise the lava alligators are going to get him. Actually, I don't totally get it, because both those things are ridiculous to me and why can't he just bloody walk forward already, but I do get that even if I don't understand the reasoning behind the behavior and expression, what they are doing is still very important to them and interfering is detrimental to their creative selves.
And I do get what it's like to be frustrated by being denied creative expression. And that what should be done and what's the reasonable thing isn't necessarily what is best. Logic is merely a reference point, but no one around here feels like tethering themselves to it.
Which is why I am giving myself the benefit of the doubt that I choose to sit here and write about my children during my few precious hours without them instead of taking care of household tasks or even taking a much needed nap. There is clearly a drive here that is greater than my faculties of reason. And what greater way can I honour the creativity in my children, give it room to grow and nourish them, even if it does encourage their eccentricities (though, with a wickedly ironic sense of humour), then to obey the same in myself.
I think the world has enough clean dishes, made beds and vacuumed floors. What it needs more of is poets and songwriters and painters. And children who cackle gleefully at the absurdities of life.