I turn off the midday movie, a common part of our summer schedule. Biff and Bash run off with helicopters, koalas, Batman, and garbage trucks in a complex story of friendship and adventure on Mystery Island. Blondie remains prostrate on the couch.
“What are we doing now?” she asks like clockwork.
“You can do something. I’ve got to finish grading these papers.”
She lets out the sort of long, dramatic sigh only a firstborn daughter can give. “I think I’ll just lay here until the tv is back on.”
“You find yourself something to do, or I’ll find some cleaning for you to do. Got it?”
“Uuuuuuugh. Fine.” Stomp, stomp, glare at Mommy, stomp, stomp to her room.
When Blondie’s alone in her room, she could be doing a variety of things. It used to be staring at toys staring right back at her, but now there’s creativity humming in the air…
I walk by her room: she’s holding a palm-sized concoction of little Lego pieces. “What’s that?”
“It’s an ice cream maker!” She explains the function of every miniscule button.
“Oh neat! Will you put it in the Lego treehouse?” She received a treehouse Lego set for her birthday. After Bo had put it together, it sat as is in her room until her backpack fell upon it.
She looked at the pieces, scattered in her storage box. “But it’s broken.”
“You could rebuild it.”
“I don’t know how.”
“It’s Lego, Kiddo. You can rebuild it however you want.”
Her face scrunched, pulling dimples out of hiding. “But it’ll be hard.”
Breathe, Mommy, don’t roll your eyes–oh hell, roll your eyes. “You can build an ice cream maker, you can build a treehouse.”
This same halt comes at her desk, too. Our big seven-year-old has her own desk, perfect for coloring, writing, drawing, creating…
“Can I play computer games today?” She calls after reading a few chapters from her latest library acquisition, Secrets According to Humphrey. (A series right up your gang’s street, Lady Shey!)
“Then what am I gonna do?” Her whine mimics the slide of a finger along violin strings. It grates, it stings, it makes me want to just close the door without a word and let her survive on her own until dinner.
“Why don’t you work on another Spoty the Dog story? Or your research on Egyptians and tornadoes? Or do one of those coloring projects Grandma gave you? Or do your word search? Or do SOMEthing?” Insert a dramatic gesture towards the desk surface, the only clean surface in the room.
Blondie continues to bury herself in toys. “I dunno,” she mumbles from under a pile of puppies.
Even when I try to get the imagination rolling, Blondie’s got a knack for burying it. While her brothers easily role-play themselves into stories about cars, or ponies, or planes, or astronauts, or animals, or any number of things, she tends to simply latch onto them rather than starting something herself. One morning she said she wanted to make a puppy school; after helping her make a school and little picture books for her puppies, what do I find? Puppies in a pile, her head in her hands, eyes on a Lego book. Why? “I’m too tired to play.”
Writing’s rather like that.
Story-creation is “fun,” but it’s also work. Bloody hard work. You have to take an entire world filled with people and places and screw-ups and miracles and somehow come up with the right combinations of the right words in the right order to help people you don’t know see what goes on inside your brain. We all know that the first draft is shit, of course it’s going to be shit, and yet we can’t help fighting with ourselves over each and every word we put onto the blank space. It’s just so, so much easier for it to stay inside where we can fine-tune it to our heart’s content, and daydream about our glorious debut on the publishing scene, complete with awards and carpets and active-wear models hanging on our arms. We are each of us filled with worlds, but the act of drawing those worlds up and out of us can seem like an impossible action. You may as well locate the physical point of my soul, or make Biff eat oatmeal. It ain’t happenin’.
Which is why as both a writer and a parent, I have to watch my expectations. Yeah, that first draft is bound to be horrid, and know what? It may take a while to even write that first draft. Maybe some character sketches, setting freewrites, and mini-scenes need to come first. I did this for writing Middler’s Pride, and it seems to be helping with Beauty’s Price, too. I’ve yet to start the story itself, but I’ve got over thirty pages of just, stuff. It’s all useful in the end, because in the end it gets me in the groove to do the impossible: create.
I walk by my daughter’s room. She hunches over her desk, pencil dancing about. “Need anything, Kiddo?”
“Mommy, wanna see my inventions?” Blondie stands up. Insert a dramatic gesture towards the desk surface.
“It’s a Wood-Chopper Movie Starter!” The steps blur together while she talks, for I’m just lost in this image: where did this come from? I see more plans for inventions on her desk: wake-up calls for dads, dog feeders, pool starters. My heart swells, and I remind myself I can’t force this kid to be creative the way I know how to be creative. If she’s going to explore her imagination, she should do it on her own terms. I can’t wait to help her tap that mad-scientist vein in that curly head of hers, unlock all its potential–
“So when can we build this? We’ll need some really big logs, and some springs, and the log’s got to come into the house, and…”
Ah, well. I still love it.