Palaver

I have nothing particular to say. I’m remembering I didn’t used to need that. A topic to explore. I used to write like this just to get warmed up, and then I would go work on a fictional this-n-that. It was a luxury of free time, I’m realizing, it’s dawning on me, how much free time I used to have. No wonder becoming a writer didn’t seem like such a big deal.

I’m trying to start lying to my son. Which is fine, because he’s trying to start lying to me. Since about the third month he was home from the hospital, he started needing someone to sit with him until he fell asleep. I’m not trying to point fingers, but this definitely wasn’t my fault. I had been morbidly aware of this possibility, despite him being my first child. I’d been trying to condition him to fall asleep alone in the room from day one, and usually it was fine, just lay him in the crib and leave. Then things changed.

It is now three years later and I’m still trying to escape this nightly prison. I love my son dearly but I don’t see the point in my lying next to him in the dark for sometimes 90 minutes in whatever is the most recent piece of furniture in his room that nevertheless is not designed for a sleeping adult. For the past three months I’ve been trying to communicate with him at night (this is the main problem of course, we still can’t communicate beyond the barest essential phrases) that I want to leave, that I have things to do, so if he wants me to stay he has to say “Lay down, please.” I’m not just going to do it of my own volition anymore, or just because he makes his whining complaint of doom when I try to leave.

He’s mostly stopped that, the whining complaint of doom just due to my absence. I think he’s finally growing comfortable with being alone, and, increasingly, alone in the quasi-dark. So now, the past couple weeks, I’m telling him no, sometimes. No, sorry, I can’t lie down tonight, I have to wash the dishes. Of all the chores, I save the dishes for after bedtime because he can easily hear me doing them from his bedroom, so I save a few so he can place me in the house even if, like tonight, it’s a pizza night and there are hardly any dishes to speak of.

There’s some nights he’s fine with me leaving. Last night he actually said “Bye” resignedly, the inflection not of his own volition really but because the “bye” script he was imitating sounds like that. Tonight he asked me to lay down, please, and I said no, sorry, we already read your story, I have to go do dishes, goodnight. He tried to beckon me back in almost immediately, by lying. By trying to imitate his own whining complaint of doom without really feeling it, and it’s funny to hear the difference when you’ve heard the real piercing panicked version so often, almost nightly, for years. Even if bedtime goes smoothly and I sneak out after he’s asleep with him none the wiser, most nights he still wakes up at least once with that sound emanating from his soul. It sounds like he’s questioning his worth, to me, like am I not loved? and I have to run in a prove to him he is. But when it’s faked, and this is probably gallows humor a bit, but I just want to run in and laugh in his face, like that doesn’t sound like you’re dying! I know what you sound like when you think you’re dying and that’s not it, buddy, suck it up and act, Denzel!

***

Well. That was last week. I had to stop writing because he started up with some legit whining, which is close as he can come to calling my name. He doesn’t call for me by name, he doesn’t speak in complete sentences unless prompted word for word and given ample time to concentrate. But the memory on this kid is adult-grade. As good as mine, often better. I walked into his daycare today to pick him up and his teacher (there’s a shuffling of the teachers there at the daycare lately, this one didn’t know him all that well yet) looked at me with some awe and said Alex just read this whole book! It was story time, all the kids were there in their small chairs and Alex was just beaming even before he saw me.

***

Okay, take three. Moral of the story above: Alex had that book memorized, it wasn’t even reading. Just wait until he does read something and you have to look around and see where the hell he got that thing he just said.

We are starting to form sentences. Once in a while. Sometimes one or two a day. He made one today that wasn’t rote movie dialogue. It wasn’t quite entirely his own thought process, it was related to something I had just said, which I think was a spin on some movie line he knows, and he was walking away from me and I heard him say it, and to catch things like this I have to turn off my Alex filter that automatically tries to scan the collected body of all works Disney and Shrek and Seuss to place it and then figure out the context and see if there’s any meaning behind it, but to hear something like this from him, to actually hear it, I have to remember to just listen to him like a person, so I was a beat slow and surprised enough by it that I don’t remember what it was now. He’d kept one part of my sentence, like the verb maybe, and flipped it to his own meaning by changing the subject and the object of the verb. Just a little three-word sentence, basic but complete, and directly relevant to the context of what was going on in the room, not in Arendelle, not Duloc or the kingdom of Far Far Away, but his own life right in front of him, and it was beautiful.

I think he’s getting quicker to understand some of the things I tell him now, too. I always try to explain things to him like I would someone to whom words mean things, and to feed him his lines, especially when he’s upset. I’ll prompt him with “Daddy I’m angry” or “Daddy I want more Goldfish” and he’ll say that and then I’ll say “I know what you want, but I’m telling you no, you can’t have more, we’re going home to eat and you won’t eat anything at home if you have a bunch of Goldfish right now.” And most of that flies over his head of course, and most of the time I feel like I’m talking to myself, and I don’t know when that feeling goes away for most parents, at what age their child is when it begins to feel like there’s another participant in the conversation, but Alex is three and a half and he’s not there yet. Most of the time I feel like I’m talking to a pet.

Tonight I tried to walk out of his room and he immediately started up the whining, wanting me to come lay next to him until sleep. I opened the door immediately and said what’s the matter, which of course garnered no response because there’s a finite number of phrases that he understands to be questions, things I say that expect responses from him, and this is not one of those phrases, most of which are yes or no questions actually so let’s not get greedy and expect open-ended rebuttals over here. But I still offer the opportunity, and after his silence I said “I just need to go do the dishes,” and I closed the door, and he whined again louder and more panicky, and so I opened the door right away again and went to him and said, “Little llama, what a tizzy! Sometimes mama’s very busy,” and then I flubbed the next line a little, “Don’t you know I’m always here, even when I’m not… right here?” (There’s supposed to be a ‘near’ in there somewhere.) But he got the point this time. I kissed his forehead again and walked out and this time—no whining. He sat there staring at the door for a few minutes, which is sometimes more heartbreaking than the whining. But then he seemed to decide on something and tucked over into his bed and he hasn’t called for me since. I finished the dishes. I’ve written now for ten or twenty minutes, and he’s not asleep yet but he’s not asking for me, either.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s the tweet, as they say. I’m trying not to force myself into coming up with a nice and tidy creative nonfiction ending to this one, because if I come up with a good one, it’ll only make doing this again the more harder next time. I’ve been on Twitter more lately, which seems to have suddenly recognized I have an interest in writing and has shifted its suggestions almost entirely to writing-centric tweets, which means I’m seeing more people, those I know and many I don’t, reporting acceptances of stories or books being sold. Some of my friends’ books have come out recently, and by friends I mean I knew them enough in college to become acquaintances on social media and now I see occasional pictures of them with relatives I don’t know in places I can’t name on vacations which I’ll never hear about and indeed if I ever did run into them in person and brought up that vacation they took to wherever they’d be much less inclined to remain social media acquaintances of mine much longer after that.

Anyway. After reading some of their books, I just, I had to go back and look. To see if my novel is anywhere near publishable. Not like finished publishable, but quality publishable, and I swear it is, a lot of it anyway, in my humble estimation, a whole fat lot of it is honed and working and if I never send it out to anyone then… well, it’d be a shame. That’s all I can say.

In a related story, I need another publication before I start querying again. A story published less than eight years ago. Just, for the confidence. I need some confidence. And time, also time, please give me more time.

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