We talk to our kids all the time about how some things are for children and some things are for adults. We joke around about watching “adult films” with our friends, (a phrase I’m hoping Atticus actually starts using sometime: “Mama and Papa are watching adult films with Miss Ashley.”). Adult films are shows that are not age-appropriate for them, and we end up using the “adult” label for loads of things: movies, beverages, language, some of those tricky abstract concepts or subjective feelings that they can’t quite grasp yet like romantic love or patriotism or judgment of someone’s poor clothing choices.
Teaching kids about the world is often more complex than I’m game for, but it’s good to go looking for answers when you’re asked about all the flags on Memorial Day or why Ganesh has an elephant head or who first said the moon was made of cheese.
Giving the kids language for everything is possibly one of my very favorite things. Directing their understanding with my own limited sense of the world is, I hope, making us all more aware and open to just how wonderful everything can be.
: : : : : Atticus picked a leek fiber out of his soup the other day. He held it up to Daniel, who thought of another sort of leak and took it upon himself to teach the kids the phrase “take a leak.” They were pleased to share that one with me and so excited at the new homophone in their vocabulary.
: : : : : Grey and Daniel were talking today, and in casual conversation she shrugs and says “What the hell?” He tries to not crack up and explains that “What the hell?” is an adult phrase, generally frowned upon coming from a 6-year old.
As he was telling me about the conversation later on he said she asked what hell is. I asked what he told her, thinking Why the hell is he talking to her about hell? (not age-appropriate). He said he was just trying to explain the phrase, but he couldn’t figure out what it meant and shrugged it off as just one of those silly expressions that adults use.
I got pretty excited and said words are symbols, so he should find a way to explain the expression to her. He walked away griping about symbols being a homophone.
My mom called to say it struck her today that Grey would be turning 7 this summer. It’s pretty painful to think about having a kid already so old. It seems like just last fall I made myself an entire Thanksgiving dinner a week after Thanksgiving and plowed my way through it like a champ.
Seven doesn’t seem little-kiddish anymore. Seven makes me want to tuck her away forever for real this time. Seven is when I remember starting to feel the heartbreak of growing up.
Seven was when I remember becoming painfully aware of a world outside of myself.
For my seventh birthday my mother’s mother gave me an alarm clock radio. She also sent a birthday card with a note on the back scolding me for not sending her a birthday card the month before. “Don’t you think grandmothers have birthdays and would like to receive birthday cards?” she wrote in her gorgeous penmanship.
My mother tried to explain that the note was meant for her, but there are things that cannot be un-read.
When I saw Anne Lamott in Nashville this spring she said, “To be a parent means you’ve drawn your last complacent breath.” She is not joking. It is so hard to care for every thing. But I think somehow caring for every little thing is one small way I can protect my sweet nearly-7-year-old girl.
Back in the fall my friend Jessica told me about this silly little book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. I need to pick up a copy for myself, but what I skimmed was fun and challenging. No creative person wants to think they’re plagiarizing or copying. How many times have I stopped short because I’ve convinced myself it’s not worth the work because it’s already out there by someone else?
Then a few months ago one of my favorite hometown bands, twenty one pilots, crowdsourced their fans for a few song-inspired posters. They made a contest out of it, and I started a design but got bored before finishing (and/or I realized that someone else with superior Photoshop skillz would laugh at me).
Around the same time, Neil Gaiman worked alongside his fans and readers to create The Calendar of Tales. After writing the short stories he went back to the crowd for illustrations.
And about that time Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, blew me away with her Ted Talk, “The art of asking.” Please, please watch her.
I’ve kidded around for years and years with my friend Cholle that together we are one amazing creative genius. We have had idea after idea just dripping with creative energy. My favorite was our idea to create greeting cards for those occasions when you just couldn’t find what you were looking for at Hallmark. And then someecards beat us to the punch. (Although I have yet to see a “Congrats on your baby-daddy making parole” ecard or the “You’re so emo you make me wanna put my hoodie up and stare at my shoelaces”…so maybe there’s still a market for us.)
I’ve always worked better in a team, but when it’s come to my own creative process for my own projects I’m stingy and guarded, as though I’ve only got a limited supply of good ideas and once they’re gone, I’m so screwed. So this spring when some of my creative inspiration peeps went so far beyond themselves to incorporate others, my own thinking about creativity really shifted.
I’ve had some characters sneaking around the dark places of my brain for a little while now. In effort to bring them to light I’ve done a little of my own crowdsourcing. I asked friends on facebook to participate in a story-telling survey so I could perhaps glean tiny gold story nuggets from their real-life experiences.
I asked specifically for people who would be willing to write about their mothers, hoping against hope I’d get a few tidbits to round out some of my characters.
The response to my request has been staggering. I have been so overwhelmed by the beauty and the tragedy my friends have shared, and so many more people are still sending their responses back to me. I’m working my way through the responses more slowly than I anticipated because I’m trying to honor each story given to me.
This exercise has been wonderful for me to see how big and wonderful being creative can be, how limitless creative energy can be. My characters are still growing, and I have no idea where they’re going or what they’ll do along the way, but I’m slowly starting to find out who they are. I’m starting to see how a detail as small as that one birthday card on a 7th birthday could shape just the right character or even that character’s daughter. And I’m blown away that I am able to have such a kind and generous group of people to give me some of their pieces.
*If you would like to share some of your pieces with me, leave a comment for me, and I’ll send you my little survey (not guaranteed to be better than therapy, but definitely cheaper).