On Saturday at noon, my wife and son and I accompanied two dear friends (who happened to be eight months into a pregnancy) and their year-and-a-half old son to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. It was a lovely afternoon, full of deep-friend Oreos and gawking at camels and memories of my days as a carny. (Yes, I really used to be a carny.) We were slowed somewhat by the intense heat and our friend’s late-term state… but we held out for a good four hours, then parted ways.
About seven hours later, my cell phone rang… then rang again… and then rang a third time, which roused my curiosity enough to walk up a flight of stairs, find it, and see who was calling. It was the non-pregnant half of the couple we’d spent the day with. He had been the last person I called, so I assumed he was pocket-dialing me. He wasn’t. There were sudden and unexpected problems with the pregnancy, and he needed to drop his son off with us so he could take care of his wife.
By midnight, his son was asleep in our second crib… and thus began a somewhat harried half-day of running through the house chasing not one child, but two, all while worrying about our friends (who, I am happy to say, are completely fine and totally in love with their one-month-early new baby boy, who’s doing quite well himself). By noon the following day, when the dear boy’s uncle came to pick him up, we were utterly and completely exhausted. I mean, it’s one thing to plan for and ramp yourself slowly into the idea of having a second child, but the unexpected arrival of one in dire circumstances is, um, wow. Hard.
In the hours since he’s left, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my writing has changed since my own son was born. Not the stories I tell—though I expect they’ll change, too, in time—but the practical matter of sitting my butt in my study and writing. (I have a terrific study, by the way, and an adjoining library—about as close to my dream writing space as I ever thought I’d have.) I am a lot more prone to distraction now; even the slightest hint that he or my wife might need me in the other room pulls my brain away from whatever I’m focusing on. (It’s like trying to listen in on a quiet conversation—my characters always speak to me like that—while there’s a loud-talker a few feet away.) I also feel guilty if I haven’t checked in on him every couple of hours; I’m terrified of being a distant dad, even if I’m rationally sure that I’m not.
Most of all, I just miss him if it’s been too long. Sometimes I have to get up, walk out into the rest of the house, find where he’s playing, and smooch him up for a few minutes. But then it takes me 15 minutes to get my focus back, or even more. That’s 10 minutes ignoring the desire to smooch, 5 minutes smooching, and 15 minutes getting back to my characters again—a half-hour of my precious four-hour morning is wasted. And that’s just a single distraction.
I have no idea how I’m supposed to midwife a play into existence under these circumstances.
(I hate the midwife metaphor for creativity, but given where this post started, I had to use it.)
I know that life is going to be complicated forever now since the addition of our child to the family—and, if we’re lucky enough to have another, I know it’s going to get exponentially more difficult—but I still have to do this. I have to keep making plays, which means I have to find a way to keep my focus. I’ve always been a disciplined writer, so I should be able to do it… but this is hard.
It’s only been four months. Maybe I still need to give it time.
When I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.
Update: As has been announced already elsewhere, the couple I’ve referred to above—the amazingly generous and talented Patrick Kilpatrick and Teresa Castracane—have named their child (it’s hard even to type this without tearing up again) Henry Gwydion Kilpatrick. Patrick and Teresa (whose names I kept private in the original post until they were ready to announce the birth) are dear friends. I had the immense honor, a few years ago, of serving as the officiant at their wedding, and Teresa is at least partially responsible for introducing me to my wife, for which I will be eternally grateful. Still, this new honor they’ve given me is, it should be clear, both utterly astonishing (I had no idea they were considering my name) and greatly humbling. Hal, as they will call their son, will surely teach me more than I ever teach him—as children do for all of us, if we let them—but I will endeavor nonetheless to be of whatever service I can, if and when he needs me. Welcome to the world, Hal! And Teresa and Patrick? I love you both, very much.