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The Novel of Having Kids

Can the stories of your evolving family life fill a novel?

What’s your favorite novel? Do you like Grisham? Prefer historical fiction? Romance? Epics? I’ve loved a lot of the great epic novels such as Herman Wouk’s WWII books The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. I also liked great historical fiction like James Clavell’s Asian Saga of King Rat: Tai-Pan, Shōgun, Noble House, Whirlwind, and Gai-Jin. What about the Fifty Shades of Grey? Is that your cup of tea? My favorite book of all-time is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. What are yours?

And, like most of us, I’ve gone through phases of reading non-stop and not reading much at all. I miss the reading habit, as it’s been a while since a book grabbed my attention so consumptively. When I was a boy, I carried a tattered piece of paper in my wallet that had the names of authors I liked. In those days, the books were mostly about sports, hot rods and The Hardy Boys. I’d scour the library shelves for those books.

I read the first four Harry Potter books out-loud to my boys when they were young. It was a nightly ritual we all loved and I was as into the stories as they were. The only reason I stopped was that when they were able to read on their own, they preferred the quicker pace of doing it themselves. My boys both spontaneously began to read in kindergarten and I do wonder if all the reading aloud helped? Their teachers said it was often just something that happened, whether parents read to their kids or not. No matter, I’m glad it happened.

My younger son, 15, still reads voraciously while his older brother has long given up regular reading replaced by his music, which he plays and listens to relentlessly. He does read rock n’ roll biographies but not much else anymore. I hope he returns to reading a broader range of subjects. Given he’s starting college in the fall, he may not have a choice.

But the greatest novel I’ve ever read: I’m still “reading.” It’s the novel of my boy’s lives. It is also the greatest soap opera I’ve ever watched. It’s a serial drama that exceeds anything daytime television or a tele-novela can possibly offer. It has more ups and downs, twists and turns, than any television series season-ending cliffhanger.

I suppose it also includes the soap opera of my own life, but I’d rather stay focused on the evolving story of my son’s lives. Every ingredient for a good story is present and, I’d suggest, the same is true for most parents. Sometimes it’s a lovely G-rated family story while, at others, it ranges from a hard R to a mild PG-13.

Obviously, the seriousness of the chapters changes with their maturity, or lack thereof. It was mostly a light comedy, though during-the-baby-years was an exception. It was a horror story for the first three months of my first son’s life. He had colic. Please play the Jaws theme music now. Or choose the Psycho music from Bernard Herrmann. Maybe “Chucky” is a better metaphor? I don’t know, but those three months were certainly a trial and, largely, a nightmare inducing sleepless story of terror.

It passed. Most things “pass.”

I’d suggest the majority of the “baby years” were simply Disney-esque or belonged in the children’s section of the bookstore. Dancing animals, grand adventures, taking too many photos and videos and the usual drama, excitement, and when-will-it-happen of first words, first steps and first time on the potty.

I documented so much of it all with stills and videos. My boys still love to go through the 40-odd photo albums I still meticulously assemble. We transferred much of the video taken when they were young to DVD and when we got them done, the boys reveled in those memories. I sometimes wonder if they really remember an incident, place, or event or simply remember the photos and videos?

A favorite video they discovered was when we were on vacation in Hawaii. It was when my first-born was maybe one year old and before his brother had joined the family. His mother, my ex-wife, was always in the videos along with my boy and, later, both boys, while I was always the narrator. In this one scene, my son is walking around an area by the hotel pool while his mother is reclining in a lounge-chair.

All of a sudden he gives his mother a particular look that elicits a “do you have to go?” response from his mom. He looks at her, turns away, and a moment later lets out the funniest word, which phonetically sounded like “Oyeesh.” More than a decade later, when my much older boys discovered this video, they played that short scene over and over again.

The serial nature of parenting is an analogy I’ve not heard or read, yet it seems so perfect as the drama of our children’s lives progresses. First day at school! I remember taking a photo on our front step with my older son eager, excited and a tad scared as he was heading to school, looking back at the front door window and seeing his baby brother looking out in wonder at what was transpiring. What a drama!

The divorce wars also belong in the horror section of the bookstore or movie aisle. Use your imagination, but add into the mix a disappearing mom and treacherous lawyers–hmmm, that’s redundant–and you know the story all too well, I’m sure.

The bottom line, to use yet another show-biz term, is that I am both enjoying the evolving “novel” of my parenting as well as sitting on the edge of my seat during the scarier and more suspenseful episodes. I just continue to hope and pray for a happy ending!

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