Kate Keyhoe is a professor of American literature and creative writing. With her husband, she homeschools her daughter.
I’m supposed to be writing right now – not this, some bloggy letter to Penelope Trunk but really writing, as in poems or lyric essays or a think piece on the last avant garde art installation I saw.
I’m supposed to be writing right now because I just spent the past 1.5 hours of my scheduled quiet work time making an individualized scope and sequence for my kindergarten daughter. (OK, die-hard long-time homeschoolers, simmer down, I know we haven’t even begun to homeschool yet, but tell that to every single person in my family who started asking when she turned 2 why she wasn’t in preschool yet.)
You should see this scope and sequence – it’s got columns for grade levels and rows for subjects, a masterpiece of classification. And of course it’s also deeply depressing. I move the document to the file I have for these things – I make them about four times a year, around the week in each season when I start writing hypothetical guest blogs for Penelope Trunk. It’s a symptom of writer’s block for me and I try to remember what it means.
First, it means the poems and essays I’ve been writing, if I’ve managed to write at all, are complete shit. Second, it means that every morning when my two hours of quiet time ding shut, I am a boring, listless, distracted parent clicking around on mommy blogs while I tell my daughter to draw something. Or whatever. Yeah sure, make me some fake coffee, kid. I’ll fake drink it. Meh.
And sometimes she can shake me out of this mood with the sheer force of a five-year-old’s boundless curiosity about the world around her. We have to read The Magic School Bus Goes to the Power Plant six times today. It is essential! I have to dance like a spastic electron for you. Why would a person do anything else?
Other times, because she’s my kid, she mopes next to me on the couch. Mommy, let’s play. What do you want to play? I don’t know, Mommy. Think of something.
But when I make these lists of themes and unit plans and benchmarks, I know the end of my block is coming. Sometimes I forget I know this and become paranoid that myself-the-writer has been hopelessly subsumed by myself-the-mother, but it hasn’t happened so far.
So go ahead, Self, order a continent puzzle of Asia and book about Peach Boy and another about the Water Dragon. They’ll look like they are for the kid but they are for you. They are for you to share your curiosity with her. I don’t know, Mommy. Think of something. Well kid, let’s play school, because I love school. Because school has always been my favorite thing, not because of the overwhelmed and irritable intellectual despot of a teacher, not because of lines to the water fountain for a timed 5-second sip before being forced to endure 35 minutes of kickball on the blacktop, but because there’s so much to know you can hardly even keep the possibilities straight on your beautiful, useless spreadsheet of future learning.
Because I don’t want to be selfish, I throw a set of Snap Circuits in the shopping cart for her. And then I write this, because the epistle is an ancient and worthy literary form that warrants deeper investigation. And because our distractions and preoccupations are never just shit, they are also the beginning of some idea you didn’t plan on having. And often those are the best ones.