The Kid Stays in the Picture

In case you’re wondering, I’ve never had kids or been stepfather to a son or daughter.

In fact, I’m not sure I like children very much.Maryland1968

However a couple years ago I had a vivid dream about a 7-year-old boy. In it he came to me upset, worried, confused.

Seems he’d been misled by someone or something, and he had no one to turn to.

So I opened up my arms and gave him a big ol’ hug.

It was an odd sensation—visceral and elating—and one I’ve never forgotten.

***

Last April my brother, his wife and I went to Indiana to bury the remains of our parents.

On the drive through Wisconsin, we talked about their son’s recent breakup with his high school girlfriend, Rachel. My nephew, Tyler, took it hard—as hard as such breakups can be at 17—but talk centered more on Rachel and her role in the relationship.

They said they thought Rachel was … “odd.” I’d met Rachel before. She regarded me in the “not-likely-to-ever-understand” adult camp—but she couldn’t have been more wrong. However, when it came to my brother and his wife, she totally had their number. While both kids went around all black-clad emo, Rachel had started taking to a new costume—one she never took off—that of a furry red fox with fox-like mask and, well, even a tail.

On that drive, they were happy to pick away at Rachel’s idiosyncrasies, gnawing at the mystery of a 17-year old who was determined to frustrate the patience of her boyfriend’s parents. Of course it was all calculated. And best of all, it worked. Ty’s parents couldn’t forget the impression she made. All the while I was thinking, “Bravo, Rachel!” I found it amusingly anarchistic.

While congratulating Rachel’s audacity, I was also feeling resentment—from years of my own shame and discouragement at others’ misunderstanding or disapproval—very similar to the experience of a potential artist like Rachel.

You see, play and reverie are my natural state of being. The Family Project didn’t know what to make of play. Sure, we went on vacations and did recreational activities like camping, picnicking, skiing or fishing. Mom used to sew and knit—her way of straining creativity through a utilitarian sieve: making useful things for the Family Project. And while Dad later revisited an earlier fascination with oil painting, it might’ve been because he had somehow in midlife convinced himself that it served no practical purpose, and so he did away with it. I don’t know. I never thought to ask him about it.

When I was a kid, Dad made it clear that “mere play” was being idle—something lazy people did. And boy, you couldn’t get lazier than me.

For example, last Wednesday morning an ominous Family Project shadow fell upon a rare moment in my own private sandbox.

While searching an old sketchbook calendar, I rediscovered some notes, drawings, cartoons and clippings. BAM!—I was suddenly whipping down the playground slide of reverie and connections I’d forgotten about for years. I felt lighter and kind of giddy—giggling, even—totally abandoning myself to whatever surfaced next.

Then BOOM!—the shadow fell.

If it were a sound, it would be the sound of my father’s voice, similar to the mocking tone my brother used when describing his son’s ex-girlfriend. As a shadow, it darkened the room, filling me with anxiety and self-doubt: “What am I doing now? Is it practical? Is it useful? Shouldn’t I be ashamed?

For years that sound, that shadow, was all around. It blocked up my writing, my artwork, my self-esteem—everything.

I was psychologically held at gunpoint by an ethic that carries little currency in my world. It began with the Family Project—then expanded into the wider world: teachers, peers, employers, all spouting the bullshit society unfailingly reveres as truth.

Kid_Maryland_2Lately I’ve learned to fight back—with irony and humor, learning all I could from writers like Flaubert, Swift, Twain, Vonnegut and, more recently, Saunders. I could’ve veered into icy intellect and tepid sentiment—leading to more cynicism, bitterness … despair.

But then I remembered that 7-year-old boy in the dream, and I see him—picturing him clearly now—beyond his worry and fear.

He’s a beautiful kid. He’s caring, curious and sensitive. His openness, energy and optimism are exactly what the world needs.

So, he will be protected, nurtured and encouraged—God help me—as long as he is me, and I am him.

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~ by completelyinthedark on March 15, 2013.

66 Responses to “The Kid Stays in the Picture”

  1. My husband just lost his mom and it also brought up some good and bad memories as well for him. His mom did not appreciate his creativity and wanted him to do what she wanted him to become. It has been comforting to him that he has done what he has wanted to do with his creativity and is successful and very happy. I am sure you feel the same way, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s an idea to help you fight back against that whole “Is this useful” line of thinking if it ever rears its ugly head: Just say to yourself that it’s allowing you to flex an otherwise inactive muslce–your creative muscle–and if you didn’t do it, you’d be bored, which is useful for nobody. It works for me, at the very least.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hope your journey brings you peace and you can continue to grow to be your true self.

    “Then He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him the soul; and He gave you hearing (ears), sight (eyes) and hearts. Little is the thanks you give!” Quran 32:9

    Liberate your house cats! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Who ARE all you lovely people? 😉 Thanks for all your comments and for reading CITD. I publish weekly, usually by Saturday. Go have a lovely Wednesday and don’t take shit from anybody, especially me. 🙂

    Like

  5. This was the most beautiful beginning to my day, a lovely reminder to embrace openness, energy, and enthusiasm while honoring curiosity and sensitivity. Thank you and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post right there! Visit my blog anytime if you want!

    Best,
    Hart

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Success is relative society calls a millionaire successful. Personally I would call self-sufficiency successful. Good article.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a shame others feel so challenged by people who are true to themselves.
    This is along similar lines as something i posted today on our blog…people feel threatened by someone else who is the embodiment of either something they are not or dont feel comfortable with. they want to change them into something they feel comfortable with, no matter how it affects the person they are trying to mould! you may find my post interesting…

    http://2souls1unicycle.com/2013/04/10/spirituality-energy-and-emotional-meltdown/

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I really enjoyed reading this. What a brilliant writer you are! Love the concept and sub-heading too…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I hope you aren’t offended by this because I mean it as a compliment … By the end of your post your writing style reminded me so much of Garrison Keillor that I could almost hear his voice in my head. What a wonderful post!! Thanks for sharing it and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I remember an evening when my parents called me into the living room just after I graduated college. They were concerned that I had no direction in life and that I was too carefree. They called me a dreamer – as if that was a bad thing. Well, 35, single, working in the film industry, writing, creating art, playing, and still dreaming every chance that I can get.

    I love this post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was the bubbly, extroverted artist in a dark family cave of introverted fear mongerers. My entire childhood was one long “No!” I responded by believing them. It was a stupid move.

    Later, experience taught me there were people like me out there and, surprise, surprise, we tended to be the movers and the shakers of the world. The majority of self-made millionaires on this planet said, “I’ll see your ‘No’ and raise you five ‘Yeses’!” I responded by believing those people had something I didn’t. Again, stupid.

    It took me decades to discover that the tapes playing in my head were from old family albums, pun intended. I’m overwriting them with new beliefs and science has come to my rescue. Neuroscientists are learning that all work and no play does, indeed, make Jack a dull boy–not to mention stressed out, slow on the uptake, pot-bellied, and immune deficient.

    It usually takes more than one generation for a brand new concept to set roots. The idea that pleasurable emotions actually keep the brain and body working at peak efficiency has, let’s face it, over a thousand years of “No pain, no gain” to undo before we can expect people to hand out rewards for NOT working hard. But why wait?

    Play now, reap the benefits. Your reward will be good health, success, wanting to get up in the morning, and the thick envy of your associates. You’ll always lose the game of Who’s Work Week Sucked More with your old friends but, trust me, your new friends will love you for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great read! It’s amazing how the background noise of childhood experiences and expectations keeps playing in our minds until we figure out that we can change the channel–that it’s okay to be different and ourselves. Looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love this post seriously!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well done, I have a boatload of these memories myself. Congratulations on being FP’d.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. That’s a good article. Reminds me of my own upbringing. Congrats on FP.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A very nice introspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This is wonderful. I love that you recognized your inner child and how you’ve embraced him. Kudos to you for letting him play! So many people don’t do that, and their lives suffer because of it, I believe. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Your words paint pictures so vivid that my imagination is lacking in its ability to piece it all together. Very heartfelt.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I had a feeling as soon as I read about you hugging the boy that it was you when you were a kid…
    Lovely post, very well written

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This was gorgeous. We all need an outlet and to feel safe being ourselves. It is a terrible shame to repress who we really are to please an outside world. I’m glad you had that dream and those experiences. From what you’ve written, I think you are, too… And I love the authors you mentioned. Vonnegut and Swift and Twain are some of my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Its funny how we often slip into reverie … dip into our treasure chest and look for pleasant memories to suffuse ourselves with. I was the proverbial miss goody … a good wife , a good mother, a good friend, always putting my own self on the line… though lately I pay a lot of importance to just be.. ing .. i.e. sitting and writing, sitting and reading, sitting and being in a deep reverie .. just being myself which in a long time I had forgotten to do. What the kids are upto as they are grown up now is of little imp to me. They are good kids .. they’ll muddle along .. better off for not being guided all the time. I have not read a magazine or a newspaper in 3 years nor any tv too and I find I have missed nothing really .. for somehow the things that matter to me do come to me effortlessly. So many things I did for 55 years .. suddenly meant little to me and life did take on a better meaning. It feels like a rebirth .. a newer life … its possible .. I feel younger too and am able to eat like a horse and lose weight too. So many contradictions .. its explanation … the duality of God. Its an experience of a lifetime.
    You allowed me to mull on your time .. thanks ….. Roda

    Liked by 1 person

  24. The only practical, good hard work you MUST do is: protect that 7 year-old boy. Your JOB is to play with him, nurture him, love him. Good for you for listening to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that comment! It wasn’t an easy post to write given what it reveals about my brother (and by extension, father). Went into that further in this post:

      http://wp.me/pThvE-OD

      Another difficult post was this one, delving deeper into our family’s dynamic:

      http://wp.me/sThvE-touched

      Grateful for all the new readers to CITD! Cheers, Mike

      Like

  25. Ironically enough and though it is not nearly as well put together and worded as your piece, I blogged today a piece similar to the content of yours. I was actually swaying in my opinion to publish it and am enthused that I come across this (it seemed to confirm that I should have). More people need to see and understand that darkness isn’t necessarily always wrong and a person who seems “awkward” is normal to their own rights. This piece you have written has managed to tell a story, teach and motivate a very important message. Than you so much for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. ladyofhope: thanks for sharing the link! Interested WP readers can find her work at: http://ladyofhope.wordpress.com

    Best, MM

    Like

  27. I’m glad I went searching to read what other people are posting on wordpress. This was a great read, and I totally can relate. My own father has never encouraged my creativity, and almost everyday asks me how “how much money did you make today?” which the answer he already knows is nothing.

    Like

  28. What a lovely reminder to continue playing as adults. I work hard to give my kids space to play – sometimes, I forget about me and where I want to doodle and flit around for no reason.

    Like

  29. My father discouraged me as a child because my “little paintings” were never going to support me. Years later I am barely supporting myself as an accountant and “playing” on the side, I am learning how to watercolor all over again. Nuture that little seven year old boy. I am still busy searching for my lost little girl. One day I hope to locate and free her.

    Like

  30. This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. It makes me think of my dad, who had his problems, but always tried to encourage me to be creative.

    Like

  31. I love to see kids reading! I remember back when i was in grade school and i couldnt comprehend any books so i was so not going to read a book i couldnt understand but now that im older i learned about comprehendtion now all i have to do is learn to spell and stop reading so much i cant get anything done! It warms my heart to see littleones reading!!!!! Great job!!!

    Like

  32. Really captured by this writing…powerfully written!

    Like

  33. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  34. Beautiful post. Thank you for this.
    There are so many ways kids get shut down.
    If our Mennonite family would have had a coat of arms (we didn’t – vanity was a sin!) it would have read, ‘Idleness is the Devil’s playground’ or maybe just ‘Work, work, work’.
    The whole Calvinist ethic, which is now perpetrated in our society with the worship and one upmanship of the oh-so-revered Busyness, is quite insane.
    Like you, it’s taken me years to figure this out and to fight it. I’m 52 and finally realizing it’s okay to hang out and gasp(!) read during the day or meditate or lounge or play at nothing.
    It’s still not easy to tell those purse-lipped voices to stop, but I’m getting better at it every time I try.
    Thank you again for a great post and a chance to be part of this conversation.

    Like

  35. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  36. Thank you for this post! I love how the boy came to you in the dream, but even more, how you opened your arms to him, in the dream, but also in your determination to care for him within yourself as you inhabit this world that might invite cynicism and despair. That energy ripples outward and touches other children, including my own!

    Like

  37. I identified … thanks for an insight into our past!

    Like

  38. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  39. Thank you.

    Like

  40. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  41. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  42. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  43. Beautiful post. Truly inspiring

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  44. Wonderful!

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  45. This such a beautiful write up. Coherent, straight and honest.

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  46. Lordy…are we brother & sister?…sounds soooooo familiar. Beautiful embrace of the little boy. Stopping long enough to give them hugs will mend our souls. Thank you!!!

    Like

  47. I am not a writer but you did a wonderful job expressing me. Glad you were featured in the Freshly Pressed because our interest are so different, yet we are the same. You touched my day and inspired me. I wish I could actually put my feelings into words like this but I do not for fear of rejection. I am working through my “change” issues and moving forward with my own passions one step at a time and this post gave me a BIG step forward. Sorry to be so personal, but your writing touched something i have been trying to express for so long. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I’m gratified you took the time to write and were inspired by the post. Whether you wish to write or not, always stay open to possibilities and honor yourself first. There is only one you in the world. No one can trump that. 🙂

      Like

      • Thank you but the only writing I do is in my blog to inspire myself 🙂 I am using it as a tool to motivate me to break out of my safe zone. Bringing myself and my talents into the cynical world, opening myself up and laying bare my personal self. Very scary indeed… LOL

        Like

  48. […] The Kid Stays in the Picture […]

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  49. I don’t know if you like awards, but in my next post, I will be nominating you for the Versatile Blogger Award. You are such a pleasure to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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