As the plane took off, my six year old son said, “Look, we’re touching the clouds.” We banked, which made my daughter nervous: “We’re tipping.” I explained, “No, we’re turning.” “Well, she said, “It feels like tipping.”
I spent a lot of time traveling with my kids this summer, and one of the pleasures was listening to them describe new experiences, but this is how it’s been since they began to talk. As toddlers, they would want to eat “monsterella” and “strawbellies.” Last year my daughter announced she was learning “multiplication and dividenation.” This year on the metro, my son wanted to see “pickerpocketers.”
This is stereotypical “cute” kid talk, but it’s also more than that. As my children engage a world fresh to them, they make the world fresh to me.
When they ask if they can swim in “the shadow end” of the pool, I see the space differently.
When I ask my daughter whether she dreamed the night before and she says,
“Yes, I was imaginating,” I think, “That’s exactly right.”
Sometimes, we talk about language, like when my daughter points out, “When two words mean the same thing, they’re cinnamon.”
Sometimes, we talk about theology, like when my son asked, “Daddy, do people have butts in heaven?”
Sometimes, like this summer when I stopped to look at a house that was for sale, we talk about art.
Daughter - Daddy, look at that statue! That guy is naked.
Me - It's art.
Daughter - Why is he naked?
Son- I can see his weiner!
Me - It's David, the one who fought Goliath.
Daughter -Why did he fight naked?
Me -Good question. I'm not sure he did.
Daughter - Why is there a design above his penis?
Me - That is supposed to be pubic hair.
Son - I have pubic hair.
Me - No you don't.
Daughter - I'm going to. The doctor said.
Son - I'm going to first.
Me - You both will someday, but your sister will be first.
Son - No fair!
Daughter - Is it going to look like a design?
Me - No. I don't think so.
Daughter – Who would buy a house with a naked guy?
Son - I can see his weiner!
I have a friend who likes to quote Picasso about an artist needing the ability to retain a child-like capacity for imagination and play. For a poet, this means being able to access a child-like use of language and perspective. Although a writer should respect and understand the precision and complexity of words, there also needs to be a willingness to use them in unexpected ways. It’s estimated that Shakespeare coined seven words a play. He made up the ones he needed. Since I’m not Shakespeare or Picasso, I’m lucky to have children who help keep my relationship with language and the world fresh.