Like all parents, having a child was a journey I was born prepared to take. I did not know this at the time, however. In fact, like most parents, I felt wholly unprepared. When I held my first son in my arms, it seemed possible that some mistake had been made. At thirty, I still felt much like a child myself – a thing curious and learning and quite willing to shirk dull responsibility for a bit of pleasure. This little fellow needed an adult through-and-through, not a man-child adroit at imitation.
Trying to teach yourself to do something you already know how to do when you have simply forgotten that you know how to do it leads to some contorted lessons. Sometimes I would hear myself barking out instructions or reprimands and wonder why I sounded so much unlike myself. Was this what adult Bill sounded like? I hoped not; I didn’t like him.
Part of the problem is that my children came along right when I needed them most, meaning, as I was very busy unlearning what I had been born knowing. I did not think I was unlearning anything; rather I felt I was learning how the world worked. I had to figure out how it worked so that something I planted would grow, so that something I built would stand. I would stare and stare and stare at the world, at all its pieces, the vast machinery of it, believing that somewhere in that glittering and tarnished and rusting heap of stuff was a great pot of gold waiting for me if I could just learn how to untie the complicated knot of the world as my eyes beheld it.
Then came Sawyer, the most stubborn person I had ever met. His demand upon us – my wife and I – was this: I must be all right as I am. Flapping and humming in the grocery store must be all right. Talking to myself in public must be all right. Not taking tests at school must be all right. In fact, not succeeding at anything must be all right. My world is within me, he said. The machinery you wish to master means nothing to me.
He spoke to us in the truest language he knew – his attention. When we thought he was all right, he gave us his attention; when we thought he wasn’t, he withheld it. As I said, he was very stubborn. His demand that we love him no matter what he did or did not do was infuriatingly non-negotiable.
When you get used to being contorted, you call discomfort normal. When you get used to being contorted, you mistake effortlessness for laziness. It cannot be that everything, including me, is as it should be. The world my eyes beheld, the loud and violent machinery, appeared anything but. Yet that is exactly where the journey I was born to take would lead me, with a little boy who talked to himself as we walked ahead of me on the path.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.