Guest Post: The Parent at Rest

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I met Ravi Howard at Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference five years ago. When we were introduced, it was first his name (after Indian musician and sitar legend Ravi Shankar) and then his accent (he’s from Alabama) that struck me. Oh, and one other memorable thing? He’s hilarious. Back then, neither of us were parents. Just writers itching to talk about the all-consuming craft and promote our respective debut novels. Cut to 2012: We’re still writers always up for talking shop, but now there’s something else Ravi and I are quite happy to chop it up about … them babies.

Ravi agreed to write a guest post for MMM, and — clearly — there were smiles all around.

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Photo by Ravi Howard

The music teacher at my elementary school gave our class a homework assignment. Go home and look through your parents records, and find a rest. A concept introduced to us through our music vocabulary as a silent place in the middle of the sound. With the help of my parents I did my homework, and on the morning of our next class, I got on the bus with a James Brown record. Which one? I don’t remember. We listened to it in class, and there, in the midst of a groove, the band stopped for a split second, before they would start up again. Considering the pace and sound of James Brown, that little piece of quiet made the sound on either side that much better.

My teacher said that rest moments were hard to find, and he was right. It took some searching to find the one. I have remembered the rest moment and the truth about the elusiveness of it. As a parent who works from home, I have made it a point to find some of those rest moments that I searched for on wax.

This time last year, I found one in an unlikely place and an unlikely time.

My wife and I decided to move from Mobile, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia, where we had found new career opportunities. Laura works as an emergency room pediatrician, and I write fiction and teach. Despite the promising future, there is never a good time to pack everything and move, especially for parents of a two-year-old. On most days, I work from home and raise our son Ellis, who spends his mornings in preschool and his afternoons with me.

That schedule changed as we got ready to sell our house and move. I had come through chaotic weeks of staining floors, painting walls and ceilings. (The only room in the house that didn’t need any work was the nursery, completed two years earlier with the prenatal kind of urgency.) After a couple of hectic months of paint brushes and nail guns, I developed home improvement skills I hope to never use again.

I tried to write through all of this. My work was portable, because the real estate agent told us to depersonalize. All evidence of my working life was hidden under the bed when buyers walked through. In our spare bedroom/office, one set of boxes held student assignments and drafts of my novel. The other set of boxes held the mortgage papers, tax returns, sales listings, and agreements for real estate agents. The realities of the housing market boxes didn’t mix well with the imagined worlds stowed in the others.

In the midst of all this, work proved difficult enough. Then my hard drive crashed.

The good news: I didn’t lose anything. The contents of the hard drive were backed up. The better news: I had a few days with no internet access and no laptop screen with too many windows open at once. I was cut off from the multitasking that was never really my thing. With no reminders of unfinished things, I wrote with a pen and paper at an empty desk in a freshly painted room. I worked within that rest moment that I had found on a James Brown record.

The IT folks told me the laptop might take a few days, and I thought, take your time.

Fiction writers and teachers often talk about stillness and silence on the page, yet finding such moments in life can be elusive. It’s the same for parents. I have packed nap times with tasks and unrealistic expectations that make the time flow too quickly. The rest moment is no place for multitasking. I’ve learned to pick one task, or an idea, and let that live in the calm bit of time I’ve found.

Eventually, the laptop was returned to me, and FedEx left a box of CDs on my porch. In the year since, I have worked a bit harder to find the rest moments. I had learned that in a calm space, it was easier to slow down time. With distractions packed away, I enjoy the single task before me, be it editing or playtime, reading to Ellis or reading for pleasure. Accomplishments resonate more. After a rest, I can better appreciate what I hear when the music begins again.

1 Comment
  • 1
    Theresa Lang Coaxum says:

    IN the silence it is a happy place, a still and pleasant place. You can find peace of mind a renewness of of spiritual energy and a since of accomplishment when it is you and all of the stillness. The clutter is gone and peace is there, love is there and you are there. There is a feeling of being in the Presence, the movement of Spirit being there.
    You are a brillant writer
    Beautiful peace to you and your family!