Several years ago, when my oldest was a toddler, we would go to gatherings at a friend’s house once a month. It was all these earth-loving, attachment-parenting, lovely people, and we’d sing and eat home baked bread and vegan casserole and let our kids run naked and wild in the backyard.
The house was this giant Victorian with a big privacy-fenced yard backed right up to the railroad. When a train went by, its ear-splitting whistle sudden and piercing, the rattle of its passing like an earthquake, the children would all run helter-skelter, hands over ears, screaming and crying and diving for their mother’s long flowered skirts and encircling arms. Only the little girl who lived there wouldn’t react, except to put her hands calmly over her ears and watch the train impassively, wait for it to finish its roaring, so she could return to what she was doing.
The hosts had renovated the downstairs of the house room by room, and in the dining room they had sanded away a section of the wall paint in layers, so you could see every coat that had ever been applied, a swirling history of color fashion tracing back to the Victorian era. The stairs were sectioned off with plastic sheeting: Do not enter. The upstairs was a mystery.
The host was this bearded guy, my friend’s husband at that time, who got up at 5 every morning to work on renovations, then went to his work as a carpenter all day. He’d come home at night, clean the kitchen and cook the meal (my friend, after all, had been wrangling a toddler all day, and did not have energy left for this work), play a little guitar with his daughter, and then head outside to build a patio or a play set or a greenhouse. He’d do that until around 2 in the morning and then, presumably, sleep for a few hours before getting up to start all over.
He was a machine. A weed-smoking machine. Self-medicating, obviously.
The mother was this funny, outspoken, bold woman who would, about a year later, give birth to twins and spend most days for the year after that sprawled on the couch with a giant glass of water and both breasts hanging out with an infant clamped to each. At this time, however, she had only the one toddler girl, a little older than my son. There was a newspaper clipping in the hall about the mama and the daughter, from the local paper. I don’t remember what they had done, just that it seemed so amazing to me that she could have a toddler and still do things worthy of news coverage.
On the refrigerator was a slip of paper, with one of those inspirational sayings on it, only what it said was:
“Children NEED interesting parents.” Certainly, hers had them.
For some reason, that quote has stayed with me all these years. Through the gradual drifting apart, and the squabbles, and the death of a friend that more or less ended that community, or at least ended my involvement with it, I guess. Through the years of losing touch with that dear, funny, bold friend whose stories made me laugh more than anything else in those early, hair-pulling, militant breastfeeding, sleepless, crazy, early toddler years.
I can still see that little scrap of paper, stuck to the refrigerator in that bright sunny yellow kitchen.
I don’t know whether it’s true, that children need interesting parents. I like to think so, though. It takes the edge off some of the mommy guilt. The “I’m leaving the house because I have a meeting and I’m going now even though you’re screaming how much you love me and tears are flowing down your face and I’m prying you off my leg and handing you to the babysitter” guilt. The “Go away go away go away I’m writing leave me alone” guilt. After all, I have interesting things to do, and that is important to their development.
Anyway. I don’t know whether it’s true. I don’t. But I do think it’s true that if you want interesting children, it’s probably a good idea to be interesting. Whatever that means to you.
To me, it means following my calling. It means getting up before they do so I can write, so they can see that their mama believes enough in her dreams to pursue them. I think it means letting them follow their dreams too. Monty likes to make video games, so we buy him video making software. Eli likes to make mythical worlds, so we listen to him talk about them. Everett likes to destroy things by burning them, flooding them, and kicking them in, so we try not to strangle him. I said interesting, not well adjusted.
When I caught up with that other interesting mama again, years later, the little girl who calmly watched the trains was a growing young lady who raised chickens and won school awards. A recent Facebook update from the mama read:
“can i get a hell yeah people? daughter won her class spelling bee & the honesty award & just last month son 1 won the award for responsibility. son 2 can read now. and son 3 has made it over 2 months in kindergarten without beating someone up or saying fuck at school (woot).”
Like I said. Interesting. Not necessarily well-adjusted.
What do you think? Does being a writer (or a painter or a chicken raiser) make you a better parent?
P.S. Part One is here. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with Part Two except that they’re both about parenting. And writing. But you can have a look anyway if you like.