Crouching by the Seine, I recognized the patent absurdity of it all.
And this feeling of almost farcical joy amplified and buzzed as I played with the gang of schoolchildren on the bridge over the river. I drew them close to me as I froze or moved slowly in a long, wavy dance, only to send them flying in frazzled patterns and roaring curves as I jumped and thundered in return.
In this moment I was me, but not quite myself.
You see, as part of a photo shoot for my next book of conceptual literature, [SIC], a follow-up to my largely but not entirely blank novel, BLANK, I moved through a series of Parisian spaces while wearing an all-white, full-body Lycra suit. I was fortunate enough to have my friend Andi Olsen along as the photographer, with assistance from Tim Guthrie. The combination of their good humor and fantastic aesthetic sense had, by the moment on the bridge, loosened me up to the point where I felt myself wonderfully transformed.
In the faces of the children, filtered as if I were looking too closely through the netting of a water faucet screen, I imagined the expressions of my two daughters, whom I had left behind while on this surreal work trip to the French capital.
I love my children. There's no doubt about that. I spend innumerable hours living in their small-but-rapidly growing worlds -- re-discovering the odd angle of a roof shingle on the neighbor's house or listening as Athena, 6, wonders aloud about a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream that would finally wake you up. Kallista, 4, grabs my hand to run furiously along the Lake Michigan beach. They are explorers and adventurers in everything they do.
One of my neighbors is convinced that I am a stay-at-home father like her husband,] because I seem to be so persistently present at all the visible events and locations of the day: visits to the park, the riding of bikes, drop-offs at school. Yes, I relish all of this. I wouldn't trade it for my old world of isolated mucking about in novel manuscripts, which take years to write and more years to unravel.
Except when I would.
Those parents who tell you that parenting isn't also -- beyond its many and varied daily joys -- a completely exhausting, creativity-sucking and at-times apparently soul-deadening enterprise are liars of the first degree.
Liars, I say!
You've met these people, of course: They are a bland-faced mother in your child's preschool classroom; a soccer dad whispering aggressive instructions to his 5 year-old or that other mother at the grocery store, a gaggle of 3-to-5 toddlers trailing behind her impossibly smiling wake.
These people are not to be trusted.
It's not because they are liars, which they are, but because they feel the need to project the image of parenting as the carefree apotheosis of lives lived in previously deluded un-parenting. These are the people who not only claim to be made "complete" by their children, but who see their own personalities and desires as blissfully entombed beneath a island of dirty diapers and sippy cups.
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting your children shouldn't come first. I live that principle. Rather, I offer that if you always come last, there won't be any you around to remember why you may have wanted this life in the first place.
Back to Paris: I had seemingly done what for me, given my own considerable attachment, ranges from difficult-to-impossible. I had left my children for a few days to participate in the &NOW conference at the Sorbonne. I engaged in the intellectual life, reading and performing and watching others do the same. I drank and laughed and introduced a trio of well-known writers at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. I felt, in my crepe-eating delirium, almost bleary with freedom.
Then I was running through the Tuileries Garden in that white suit, a pathogen of sorts, in the gardens of Western civilization, making art with friends and without having to keep an eye out for merry-go-rounds or the nearest bathroom.
And so imagine my shock when this moment on the bridge assumed all the feverish recurrence of a Poe story, where the specter of that which is lost returns with a vengeance: a heart creaks through the floorboards, a sister appears in the crumbling House of Usher, my children superimpose themselves onto their Parisian counterparts.
I recalled, then, my wife telling me about a comedian who said that she often took a vacation from her children. The vacation took place with surprising brevity and frequency, as the protagonist walked from the back of the car -- where she would buckle her child into a car seat -- around to the front.
Oh, in those early days of parenthood, how often I too took those trips!
Yet there on the bridge, between two quite different banks, I chased these children as if chasing my own daughters... and so surrendered, happily, to the melting of art back into joyous, complicated life.