My mom has this story she likes to tell–how when I was a child learning the piano, I would always at the end of each piano piece add my own notes or my own embellishments–putting in things that weren’t there.
I wasn’t very good at playing the piano the right way because the right way somehow didn’t match how I felt it should be like. ( I got much better at following the rules when I grew older, but my piano teacher always complained that I was too passionate about whatever I was playing. Which is actually pretty cool, now that I think of it.)
Growing up in the mountains, I discovered the perfect hideaway. The mountain behind our home had a small incline with no path leading up to it–no one could see from below because of the tall grasses and the view from behind was blocked by large rocks. From this perfect place, I could look down at our home, I could see the hospital compound and I could even see the road that wound up the mountain towards our home.
I can’t think about any place more ideal for a child to be because of all the endless opportunities for adventure. Everyplace could easily be transformed into elsewhere–into another place, another world, another planet and I could be anything from a secret warrior to an otherworldly alien.
One of the things I liked to do was test out what people would do if they couldn’t find me. During hide and seek, I would hide behind those rocks and no one ever thought to look there. Eventually, they would tire of the game and the sky would change its color and the other children would head home and I would still be sitting there, hiding. I sometimes wondered if they ever missed me.
At times, I tested my mother’s patience by staying hidden even after the supper call. I would watch from my perfect vantage place as the lights in our house went on and my mother called and called. When night descended, I realized that it wasn’t quite as cozy up in my hideaway in the dark. So, I would race down the mountainside and run towards the warmth of light and the warmth of my mother’s scolding voice.
My mother’s father, when she came to live with us, would pinch me in exasperation.
What a child. What a child.
I was not very obedient. Not at all. Also, I dreamed too big for my size. I wanted too many things I couldn’t have, things I shouldn’t want, things beyond my reach.
So there I was a rather mischievous chubby child who was also rather rebellious and who couldn’t fit into a pattern, no matter how hard I tried. One time, when the evening prayers were being said and everyone was all solemn, I burst into a fit of laughter–I don’t know why. But I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard that I had to leave the room and had to be scolded again afterwards.
I guess, I’m still pretty irreverent. I tend not to take myself too seriously, because honestly, if one can’t laugh at oneself one turns out to be a complete and utter bore. My kids have also given up on having a mom who fits into the mold of being what other mothers are.
I’m so sorry, I say. I know you wanted me to give you the scientific explanation, but the fantastic one sounds much more interesting, don’t you agree?
So, I may not be the most solemn or perfect mother, but at least, my kids know how to laugh and we do laugh a lot together these days.
I know I had a point in writing this, so I probably should get to it. I think that even when we are engaged in the most serious of matters, it’s absolutely necessary to keep in touch with the child self. That we don’t forget about play, about not taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, we may lose our way or the way is just so densely overgrown that we don’t know where it leads to anymore–but that’s really okay. Life has no tried and true map of what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s an adventure and there is always something to discover, something to learn, something precious to be found.
Today, my kids are teaching me to stay in touch with my child self. I poke fun at myself and laugh at myself. I dance together with my kids and growl like a dinosaur. I play dead or do the zombie walk–I give myself over to my child self and that gives me the strength to head back into the arena and embrace the work because everyone deserves the room to play and the space to play and this is what this genre is all about. It’s about giving yourself room to reconnect with that child self and giving yourself permission to have fun and play and create.
Spread your wings. Fly. Dream. It’s a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Laughter and joy, indulging in play–these too are acts of resistance.
(1) I admit I learn things best when they are fun.
(2) I still struggle with the big black dog, but I am thankful for the moments when my child self kicks in and decides it’s time to play.
(3) This post was partly inspired by Laura Mixon-Gould’s post on Our Nerdish Legacies. It’s a seriously good post. Do take time to read and absorb the meat of it.
(4) Adding big love to Nalo Hopkinson who reminded me to think of the joyful and happy things in life. Thank you.