Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Egg Picture

One of the more distressing aspects of parenting is that you can never predict what your kids will remember. What you intend them to remember, and how, is like everything else about parenting and life in general: out of your control and in constant opposition to your plans. 

You can spend a king's ransom taking your kids on a vacation, for example, and all your daughter will keep talking about is the luxe dispenser of lemon-infused water in the lobby of the Atlanta Airport Hilton Garden Inn. Or, on the flip side, you can go to great lengths to procure a pet hedgehog, and while taking a bath your son will tell his grandma that what "stuck with him" about these efforts it that they were so focused on his happiness.

My parents are now in their late seventies, and our relationship has never been better: they've both mellowed considerably with age, and I'm trying to make the most of our remaining years together. I'm determined to not argue with them over petty things or regress into old dynamics. As an only child and a mother of two children myself now, I realize that the only things that really matter at all after you become a parent is that you live to see your kids grow up and that you check out of this planet before they do. My parents are on track for that, and I'm glad.

I moved to Alaska when I was 27. I'm turning 45 this year and my daughter, Paige, will be 15. My son, Isaac, will be 12. My life feels split into two very distinct halves: my childhood and young adulthood in New York City with a brief stint in Rhode Island for college, and my adult life in Alaska where my kids were born, where I built my career as a lawyer, and where I stumbled into my non-monetized side-hustle as a blogger and activist. 

But a few times a year, I return to the 1,200 square foot of Bronx apartment where I grew up and where my parents still live most of the time. When I do, it feels like I've entered a wormhole in the space-time continuum. I sleep in my childhood bedroom cocooned by detritus from all phases of my early life: a tacky sculpture I spent $100 of 1990s babysitting money on. An old Cabbage Patch Kid I wanted and lobbied for with a burning passion. A box of Sculpey beads I made. I go into sort of a fugue state then, picking up one object after the other and tripping out on nostalgia, contemplating dumpster services and estate sales and Marie Kondo while simultaneously wondering how I'll ever let go of any of this junk. It's like shopping at Costco, but sadder and without the risk of impulse-buying an inflatable standup paddle board.

My mom has slowly overtaken the drawer space in my old bedroom with paperwork and stationery, but I discovered on a recent visit that one drawer remains relegated--or, more charitably, dedicated--to my old artwork and journals. 

It was in here that I found The Egg Picture.

The Egg Picture, which I drew when I was eight and still very into making art, had assumed an outsized role in my mind as a literal poster for parental failings. I remember meticulously drawing this at my dad's office in a midtown publishing company, waiting for him to be done working for the day. When I was finished I showed it to him and insisted that he mail it straight to The New Yorker, because they'd obviously want it for the cover of their April issue. Always direct and never one to adjust his tone or delivery to the age of his audience, my dad said bluntly: "well, you can try, but that's never going to happen." 

When I reminded my dad of this incident a couple of years ago, I did so through tears of laughter, not recrimination or sadness. "That was a terrible thing to say! Why did I say that?!" he protested. "Exactly, dad! You could've just lied like Mr. Pahlka (my high school English teacher) and said you were positive you'd see my work in The New Yorker someday."

I couldn't believe my stroke of luck in stumbling on the original Egg Picture. I was thrilled to find it but it also made me sad for myself, my somewhat lonely and depressed childhood where I retreated into art and writing, and then also sorry for my dad for saying something off-handed that stuck with me in a "bad" way. I reminded him that he's said plenty of things that have stuck with me in good ways, too, and that parents are only human after all. 

I decided to take the egg picture home to Alaska and frame it, which is kind of weird, because my kids also make plenty of great art that I've framed and hung on my walls, and what sane adult frames their own childhood art? 

But The Egg Picture serves a higher purpose, I think. It's a good reminder that there have never been any grownups in the room. They've all just been making it up as they go along, this whole entire time. We're never done growing up, and we are always fragile and beautiful. Each one of us is a colorful, delicate, self-contained tiny and unique world unto itself. We are each of us in free fall, with the perpetual risk and inevitable fate of ultimately breaking open, all while carrying the persistent hope of developing into something magical and new. 




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