All My Children

My youngest son and I have been reading a short story collection by a well-known Seattle writer. The stories have a distinctly autobiographical feel to them, and so not surprisingly often involve writer-narrators. In one such story, the protagonists explains, “You can’t really be a good father and a good writer.” To which my son barked, “That’s BS!” We try to keep the swearing down around our house, but I let this one slide. Funny, I’d remembered hearing this sentiment from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison many years before. This was back when my children were consuming much of the time I wasn’t spending writing books no one would publish and waiting tables so we could eat and so on. As much as I respected Ms. Morrison’s work, I agreed then with the conclusion my son would reach the other night – and I still do.

But I’m sympathetic. As I mentioned in an earlier post, writing requires my full attention. Children would also prefer my full attention. Yet writing only requires my full attention when I am writing, and children only require my full attention when I am with them. It certainly seems sometimes that it is simply too much to ask that I give my full attention to a story, and then get up from my desk and give my full attention to a child. But really, what are the alternatives?

And I am not talking about children with failing grades or rap sheets, although these are possible alternatives. No, I am talking about my alternatives. What better alternative is there than giving everything I am doing my full attention? Has life ever been better when I am not paying full attention to it? Indeed it has not. What I call suffering arises not from my miserable surroundings, but from own attempts to navigate those surroundings with but a fraction of my attention, as if I could simply teleport myself through a challenge by ignoring it.

Yes, life can feel simpler in our stories without all those troublesome other people to tug at our attention, but in my own experience, children are no more or less complicated than a story. After all, they only want my full attention, which is all I ever have to give anything.

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