It was difficult for my father to describe to me what he did at work when I was little. He was a mechanic in the Air Force, specializing in hydraulics for F-16s.
When I asked him, he told me how fluids are converted into pressure and how wind creates lift, conversations that hovered over me but still ended up in a corner of my mind where I can now hear them. But then again, I must have given him enough blank looks to normally have him end with a gruff, “I’m fixing planes.”
I have the same problem telling my children what I am doing. Sometimes I go with the simpler answer: I talk to people and then I write about what they tell me.
But when I get stuck in thoughts, sometimes darker than I can share with them, and pulling me away from them right now, it’s harder to explain the other navel gazing oddities I write. Especially when my own focus drifts away from me.
I thought I could bring in the beginner’s mind Zen Buddhism idea to come up with a topic for this week. At dinner I asked her what to write about. I was expecting an answer on Minecraft or how to write a treatise on my favorite color.
“Cups,” explained my 5 year old son. We needed a break to look at each other. It was so absurd, but put so confidently, that I couldn’t help but break into a slightly insane laugh that made her laugh hysterically.
We laughed together, but for different reasons. They were the joy that children have when they get a reaction they didn’t intend or had been expecting, wandering slightly without the contextualizing clutter that I keep on my mind all the time. This rethinking was sidelined with such a simple answer.
I could try the topic out. I was hoping that maybe I could make it last by finding out that millennials were killing the cup industry, but no such luck – just napkins.
Perhaps I could lapse into optimism and think that, in general, when the tired question arises, I would probably choose the thought that my glass is half full and not half empty. But the older I get, the more I wonder what kind of liquid it is and who gave me the glass.
When age adds fear and analysis to simple concepts, things get cloudy and language adds to the way we stumble through our thoughts.
Because even when I think of my cup overflowing every day because I am blessed to be a mom to these beautiful children, it’s hard to explain to them that I am also thinking about the negative concept of this overflow.
My mind debates the clutter that needs to be mopped up, the paper towels that need to be bought, and the guilt of harming the environment from using paper towels. And there I am, away from the moment to ponder why I support the insatiable maw of consumerism.
Thinking endlessly before writing can make you tired. It’s not the tiredness that comes from working hours and hours with a wrench on an airplane, but perhaps the thoughts that pop up when you don’t want to pause too long about where the airplane is going to go.
One day I will be able to explain to my children more precisely what I do for a living. I can explain to them that I look into the storm of a cultural teacup and then try to understand it.
And if the idea is too big or too boring for them, I just explain, less harshly, that I’m just trying to correct words.
– Cassie McClure is a writer, wife / mother / daughter, Oxford comma fan and tequila drinker. Some of these things are related. She is also the Executive Director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read the previous columns. The opinions expressed are their own.