Children

Child Proof

We are partway through Chapter 4 of The Goblet of Fire. Bug sits up in the bed and heaves a sigh as big as Mt. Rainier. “Mom, can I have a cool cloth? Please?” His cheeks are flushed.

“Sure, baby.” I put down the book and go to run water over a cloth. He unfolds it and wipes it across his face before draping it over his head. It hides his eyes. He presses his palms against the pink terrycloth, cooling his cheeks and ears.

He has been coughing for a week, but who hasn’t been? The bipolar arrival of spring yields nighttime frost, daffodil pollen, and no escape from airborne funk. “Do you think you have a fever?” I ask.

“I guess I do,” he sighs again. “Can we take my temperature?”

“Sure.” I start to crawl out of his bed.

“I’ll get the thermometer,” he cries. He drops the cloth and clambers over me. “Where is it?” It’s the kind with buttons and a digital display. It’s almost as compelling as my iPod.

“In the closet. I think I have to get it, bud. There’s that special handle on the door.” When we moved in nearly three years ago, I stashed all the medicine and cleaning supplies in the hall closet and secured it with a knob cover. It spins around and requires a grownup grip.

“No, I got it,” he calls. “I go in here all the time.” I hear the door open then close, and he strolls back in the room with the ear thermometer. “How do I turn this on again?” He presses all the buttons as he climbs back over me.

“Wait one minute, mister,” I say. “What do you mean you ‘go in there all the time’? You’re not supposed to be able to open that door. It has a child-proof handle on it.”

“Mom.” Bug levels his gaze at me. “I am not a child.”

“Oh really? What are you?”

He gives his nose a little lift of dismissal. “I am a big kid.” The pink washcloth is flopping on his head again and the thermometer is jammed into his ear. He presses the button, hears the beep, and reads the display out loud.

“97.7,” he says. “Is that a fever?”

“No, baby. You’re fine. You’re just hot.”

“Hm. I don’t know.” For the sake of accuracy, he tries the other side and follows up with a few dozen more checks of each ear. “98.1? 97.6? 97.9. . . ?”

My baby isn’t sick. Also, he is not a baby. That is just a straight up fact.

He is still a child, though. (He doesn’t need to know that.)

Creativity

Sail Cloth

It was one of many, undoubtedly, but it is the one I remember best. The costume was made of bright, sky-blue gingham. My sister’s was green. Knowing our competitiveness and our proclaimed “favorite” colors, mother bought matching fabric in different shades. She sewed the collars and cuffs, the puff-balls and buttons. They were billowing things, wide-legged bloomers in a single piece up to the ruffled neck. Then she painted on our faces. Mine was a smile and my sister’s a frown. Or was it the other way around? It is odd I consented to be a clown considering how frightened I was of the things.  Halloween gives us permission: embody that which you fear most. For one night that year, we roamed the neighborhood at sunset, throwing the demons off our scent and demanding our spoils.

In the chapter following childhood but preceding parenthood, I approached Halloween with a much more improvisational attitude. Patterns and forethought gave way to 11th hour leather, sequins, and duct tape. Keys and washers could hang from chains. A sharpie can turn a bedsheet into a flag or cape. Like concocting a dish without a recipe, all you have to do is open the cabinets and make use of what appears. Mash it together to yield something outlandish and utterly unrecognizable. Partake regardless.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

“Built it (or, don’t even build ‘it,’ Just build) and they will come.”

Pick your dime store proverb. Any old one excuse for immersion will do.

Unfixed is still my preferred gait. If the activity involves a voyage and a bit of play, I give over and let the doing of it offer up what it will. This is why I have bins in the basement full to bursting with filled journals, but only a single publication to my name.  It is also why my resume reads more like a ransom note than a character study. Whether dancing, dating, writing or earning a paycheck, I follow impulses and revel in processes. The product is only an afterthought.

This time of year, the folks walking the streets as pinball machines and chess men are marvels to me. It is not my habit to set a goal and work it into being.

Like so many of us, I was fortunate – or so I believed – to find a companion as open to adventure as I was. The waters below so captivated us, we could not turn our gaze to the stars. Immersion failed us. In the absence of a navigator, our meandering course led us right into the Bermuda triangle.

But I digress. (As usual).

A freewheeling approach to craft and learning has served me well as the mother of a very young child. Want to play with clay? Let’s cook some up and see what happens! Paint? Here’s some chalk and glue. Go smear it on the driveway! Young children are enamored of materials and processes. Where other parents might grow impatient with the purposeless messes, I have found it easy to encourage Bug to make magic from sources at hand. Play with sounds, spices, worms, words. Mix the media. Simmer, stir. See what bubbles up.

The problem is this: On Halloween, you cannot dress your kid as a half-written sonnet.
Bug is no longer among the “very young” category of child. When this transition happened, I haven’t the faintest idea. I notice, though, that he is less interested in the path and more focused on the destination. My child begs for the concrete. When we break out the play-doh, he wants a gryphon or a sword. When I hum, he wants to know the words.

This year, Bug’s desire for a predetermined image at Halloween has me squirming. Yes, our overstuffed closets have supplied a robe and glasses, and my crafty mother has crocheted us matching red-and-gold scarves. It has, however, been painful to make real the pictures inside my boy’s brain. Somehow, he conjured up a picture of Harry Potter with a lantern. Despite my best attempts to replace it with something we had on hand, he dug in and stood firm.

I may tend towards open-ended processes, but I want my son to learn the beauty of drawing the vision to life. Knowing how to map a course towards a point on the horizon will serve him when we his parents are no longer at the helm. Like all of us, he needs to trust in his capacity to secure vessel, sails, skills, and crew.  Ambition does not come naturally to either Tee or me. This means I have to (get to?) turn out of the current and harness the wind.

In the end, we took out pen and paper. I had Bug draw this imagined lantern then describe the parts of his drawing. A five-year-old’s sense of dimension is screwy. To give his image depth by comparison, I took out oatmeal canisters and cookie boxes. Once his rectangle rose up off the page, we discussed handles and doors and reinforcement.

“How will it light up?” I asked. Bug had to wrap his mind around lenses and power sources. He may be dressing as a wizard, but light and object do not spring fully formed into being. Everything in this world came about by way of a process – chemical, physical, human – and the mechanics can guide us as we attempt to assemble our own creations. The lantern from cardboard and paint. The child from flesh and love. Our home from land and frame and mortgage payments.

I would like to believe that surrender to craft and chance would yield something more than just a mastery of the doing. Such faith is costly and not without its risks.

I cannot house my kid in a half-written sonnet.

I also cannot build a whole new life today. This is worth bearing in mind. If it is true that all of creation is the result of processes, then it follows that creation is itself ongoing. Genesis, germination, fruition, decay. Even those costumes my mother made have long since frayed. Back to mice and moths. Back to the threads. Back to beginnings, as Bug and I are now. As all of us always are. The fixed idea still demands surrender to the pace of its own becoming.

I would like to learn from my mother’s way. Choose a pattern, and take up the cloth. Piece something together. As imperfect and fleeting as it may be, clothe my child in it. Finish it. Believe my own hands capable of such a thing.

Brain, Reading

Taken Literally

Learning can be effortless, continual, permanent – and also pleasant. . .  We can learn without effort if we are interested in what we are doing (or in what someone else is doing), free from confusion, and given assistance when we seek it.

Frank Smith, The Book of Learning and Forgetting

We are halfway through Year Three. Sirius black is on the loose, Dementors are terrorizing the countryside, and Crookshanks has it in for Scabbers. In a parallel universe, Bug’s Halloween costume is already assembled. About once a week, he pulls the cloak from its hanger and tries on his glasses, just to make sure everything still fits.

In the evenings, my mother and I bustle around the kitchen preparing dinner while Bug snaps Legos into intricate models at the table. Chattering about the latest excitement at Hogwarts usually compels my boy to spare some focus for the conversation. In the middle of a recent re-cap of the previous night’s chapter, mother asks, “I just wonder when he is going to start reading.” Continue reading “Taken Literally”