Sometimes I think I should run off and join the circus. I hear they’re hiring. In fact, here’s the ad from this Sunday’s Classifieds:
Seeking A Bearded Lady for circus sideshow. Salary negotiable. Hours TBD. Benefits many, including unlimited popcorn and three square meals a day with The Strongman, The Tattooed Baby and The Human Cannonball. Must be willing to endure minimal taunting from audience. Skills on stilts and knowledge of juggling a plus. Send photos as jpg.
Hm. I twiddle the whisker on my chin. Popcorn? Negotiable salary? Only minimal taunting? I already receive maximal taunting from my friend, Stephers, because I still own a flip phone, and therefore it takes me fifteen hours to send a text. Minimal taunting? That would be a walk in the park. A day at the circus.
But then I remember I don’t care for circuses. I don’t care to see animals doing unnatural stunts. Clowns make me feel icky. There’s something a little disconcerting about contortionists and trapeze artists. And I bet the Ringmaster would put The Bearded Lady in charge of the elephant poop. The new hairy-girl always gets stuck with the chores that involve poop.
Yes. I think for now I’ll just settle in and enjoy my current jobs: Babysitter and Stenographer.
From the get-go of momhood, I knew if I could think of myself as Buddy’s and Sweetie’s Babysitter, rather than as their Mother, I’d stay more sane (in theory). I’d feel less pressure (again, theoretical). Best of all, I wouldn’t have to worry about sending them into therapy. Did Freud ever tell even one of his reclining clients, “Now . . . tell me about your babysitter.”?
So it’s just easier to think of myself as my children’s Babysitter. One who might have responded to this ad in the Sunday Classifieds:
Seeking a Babysitter to care for two children for their whole life. You must make sure they have clean teeth and good manners. Pay attention to their friendships and ensure they are neither bullies or the bullied. Feign interest when they describe every detail in the Mario Bros Wii game they have just played. Feign patience when you are teaching them to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle. Feign energy when you and they all have the stomach flu. Feign more patience when they are still wearing Pull-ups well into elementary school. Prepare them to make good and thoughtful decisions on their own. Teach them that falling seven times is A-OK, as long as they get up eight times. Sing funny songs and speak in funny accents (when appropriate). Teach them the value of music and Shakespeare and the elderly and Faith and both playing sports and watching sports on TV. Teach them how to spread peanut butter on bread and how to fold laundry and how to clean the pee off the toilet and the bathroom floor. Keep reminding them to clean up the pee. Yell only when necessary. You must have high tolerance for mess, noise and fart jokes. You must allow the children to climb trees and ride bikes in the street and use sharp knives safely. You must teach them to swim and look grown-ups in the eye. You must love them so hard that they know they are valued just for being born, YET, you must never allow the children to think they are any more special (or any less special) than any other human on the planet. Most of all you, Babysitter, must never mistake your charges for your masterpieces.
Salary: low-to-nonexistent. Hours: unpredictable and very, very many.
Et voila! As my children’s Babysitter, I would never-ever fall into the trap of thinking that my charges were a reflection of me (in theory). Not once would I be tempted to feel that their successes were mine; nor would I feel like I was a failure (again, theoretical) when they acted like dimwits.
Because when a parent absorbs her child’s successes or stumblings, things get hairy. Bearded Lady hairy. Pluck, pluck. Tweeze, tweeze.
So I try to have the same mindset with writing.
See? Doesn’t the Stenographer look peaceful?
And doesn’t the Writer look dazed and overwhelmed and miserable?
Just as it’s less stressful to think of myself as my kids’ deeply flawed (yet well-intentioned) Babysitter, there’s far less pressure when I remind myself that my novel is not my story but the story of the characters. That they have lived the story, and I’m just like that court stenographer who sits in the courtroom, transcribing the various events, verbatim, on my whatsamahoozey machine.
Fortunately, it’s far easier to think of myself as my characters’ Stenographer than it is to think of myself as my children’s Babysitter; I have never felt like I created Lucy, the narrator of
my the book. She was real before I came along; I just had to get to know her, and then settle in with my stenotype machine and get to the careful work of listening.
No doubt Lucy and her story will hit some bumps. The book will get all kinds of reviews, some mean and nasty. Her story may sell infinity-million copies; more likely, it will far, far fewer. BUT, the book is a success because it has been written. Period.
Same goes for my kids. In spite of the buffoonish things they will inevitably do, they are successes simply because they were born. And if they don’t understand that with every bit of their being, then I have failed them as their also-buffoonish, juggling, poop-scooping, Strongman-loving, Bearded Lady Babysitter-Stenographer.