It’s occurred to me more than once in the last few days how much easier this Social Isolation thing would be if I weren’t the parent of a five-year-old child. I’ve got books to read, to write, to edit. I’ve got DVDs to watch, music to listen to. I’m one of those rare people who enjoys the company of my romantic cohabitant. And that Criterion Channel subscription I got a couple of months back to celebrate my freed-up schedule after our manuscript was accepted? What a perfect time to watch that five-hour cut of Wim Wneder’s Until The End of the World.
Then they decided to close the schools.
My wife is currently working from home–and thank god still receiving her salary. This makes us, and by extension, me, one of the lucky ones, especially since my job has been cancelled. But working from home isn’t easy at all with a five-year-old in the house, and due to our current civic lockdown, I can’t even take the kid to the park.
So now I’m a kindergarten teacher. To be fair, our school’s teacher/student ratio is a straight 1:1, better than any elite prep school in the country. And I have a couple of years of assistant teaching preschoolers and special-ed high school kids, so I’m nothing if not capable.
But even during our ‘break time’ (he watches TV for an hour–right now he’s watching PBS Kids, at least I hope he is…he was when I left the room anyway.,.), his little-kid voice keeps echoing in my ears, and my brain swims, and occasionally capsizes, after four hours of the constant intense thinking that being a good parent requires. Because if you ever want to spend your day having tedious fucking debates/arguments about the most mundane shit ever, spend your day hanging out with a five-year-old.
And ours is one of the good ones, able to speak coherently and not rage spastically at the idea of sitting in a chair.
While I was taking a quick shower (we must exercise self-discipline & structure during this undisciplined & structure-less time in order to maintain our sanity), I thought of a song I hadn’t heard in years that I suddenly wanted to hear right away. I decided to introduce a “morning song” into our daily curriculum. We would sit together and listen to a song. The only rules were no talking, and no getting up. I told him we would switch off each day, but I would pick the song for today.
Don’t think I’m an idiot. I knew this probably wasn’t going to go well–picking a song he had never heard before that wasn’t by one of his favorite artists (currently Beatles, Beach Boys, XTC–I am not proud of the maleness, or the trad-ness, or the dad-ness of these faves). But I wanted to hear the song, and I wanted to begin our day with an exercise in listening and patience.
I should have also included rules about loudly sighing. When the song was over, I asked him what he liked about the song. “Nothing.” Well what didn’t you like about the song. “Almost everything.”
A long silence followed. We were five minutes into this new school routine. I envisioned several hours of this going on, for days on end, for weeks indeterminate.
I asked him if I could tell him what I liked about the song. With no enthusiasm at all, he said yes. I told him I liked the words. I liked the idea of a nail going into a cloud and making it rain, as if a cloud is just a balloon filled with water. My son said he liked that too, more agreeable than enthusiastic. I told him I liked the line about the starfish being stranded.¹ His mood finally brightened. We started talking about the instruments in the song. I told him I liked the way the song felt, the sadness in it, the sadness of a disaster about to happen. “Kind of like what’s happening now,” he said. I agreed.
I told him he could pick out any song he wanted for tomorrow. He went through my CD racks and picked out a CD by Martyr Group. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it. It was sent to me years ago by a really cool label that is no longer in operation. This was back when I wrote about music regularly, occasionally for money.
When we decided back in the fall of 2013 to have a child, the world was far from a perfect place, but there were still reasons to be hopeful. It felt like the kid might one day live in a world that wasn’t on fire. Now, with the global rise of fascism, the continued failure of the neoliberal state, and a planet on the brink of climate upheaval, to say nothing of this sudden global pandemic bringing everything to a halt and endangering the most vulnerable people in our society, that decision seems a little…uh… Let’s just say, sorry about your luck, kid. And leave it at that.
On the other hand, I’ve seen enough Terminator movies (the first one and the second one) to know that our son could one day grow up to lead a revolution, or even save mankind.² One thing I do know for sure though. He isn’t going to give his dad the time or mental space to take a shot at it.
I didn’t tell him that I first encountered that image, of starfish being stranded on the beach, in a poem by Bill Knott. I was lucky enough to be one of Bill’s students from 2000-2002. His teaching style, a disheveled, erudite mix of anger & sadism, deserves a post of its own some time, but here’s a link to the starfish poem. Trust me, it’s worth your time.
Wait, what do you mean the Terminator movies aren’t ‘inspired by true events’?