A writer’s son is doomed to tell stories. In the the mornings it’s his dreams and at night it’s his days. He falls asleep to tales of seafaring adventures as captain of his own ship, sailing around the world, collecting kittens and treasure along the way. Kittens might not be the most apt characters for a globe-circling sailing ship, but he’s just turned four and he’s not yet taking notes on drafts.
I blame Dr Seuss for all his rhyming, but it’s not all bad. Most of his stories start with boats that float and Mikes who bike, rather than firetrucks that do – uh – firetrucking things. I tried to explain to him that orange has no rhyme, but bugger that, he says! “Blorange” is blue-orange, don’t you know. Who am I to spoil his fun with rules rules rules rules.
One day we went down to the park and he started riding his bike in the empty lot that used to be a bowling green, whooping and hollering about zombies and an ice attack! He’d assembled a couple of influences into one epic bicycling adventure, weaving between monsters only he could see, and battling back natural forces beyond human control, as only a little kid can do. While he was at it, he applied a few lessons from the BMX trick videos we watch obsessively and wouldn’t you know he got up off the seat and stood on the top tube and coasted to a near stop, hopped back on the seat, took off across the lot, looped around and skidded in front of me with a grin that stopped my heart. Our faces tell their own stories much of the time.
As I see it, when you relax the rules, then you flex creativity. Now, I don’t mean that anything goes. I mean anything goes, within reason. It’s not unbridled anarchy in our house. I try to show my boy where the boundaries are, and let him loose. Whether it’s kittens on ships or his favourite blorange shoes or a trick and a skid well beyond what I imagined he could manage – these are all rule-pushing, creative adventures. As a parent I try to relax enough that he’s got space to explore his limits and push them a bit further, and at the same time my limits shift as well. (But I still don’t want him dropping into the half pipe at the skate park. Well, maybe not until next month anyway.)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this job – this at-home-dad job that is – it’s that I’m not so much of a rule follower myself. I started driving myself crazy trying to stick too close to patterns and convention early on. So I let go, and I liked it. Noodle’s not complaining either.
Maybe what I am is a dreamer – a storyteller – and maybe my little boy is too. Dreams are a valuable commodity. They’re outside of the rules. In dreams we fly, we run for miles, bicycle up the sides of buildings and jump from rooftop to rooftop shouting to the world and all who might listen. We’re not held down by convention, we flout laws, release our own constraints. We live free. We’re at nobody’s mercy. To me, that’s the essence of creativity, and a creative life is a whole lot of fun to live.