So, it’s been one whole year now, doing this Dad thing.
I guess you could say, in ‘Dad years’, I’m still a baby. But I’m starting to crawl pretty quick and learning lots of new sounds.
The brain of my one-year-old boy is so flexible, malleable, open. He is learning from every surface, every texture, every sound, every moment. And I’m trying to do the same as a parent. To learn from every cry, every babble, every mess, every bath, every twinkle and tear in little eye, every movement of little hand, every ripple of little laughter. I’m trying to be flexible, malleable, open.
This isn’t always easy or natural.
Often my brain feels rigid, sluggish, slow to move. So much of my life involves unconsciously repeating rhythms. The phrases I use commonly. The drinking of coffee, the brushing of teeth, the sitting on lounge, the sleeping in bed, the shuffle down stairs. The habits, at work and at home, the things I do, over and over, without thinking twice. Rhythm is constant. This isn’t a bad thing. But, at some point the rhythm has to shift. The song has to be rewritten. And that can be hard when you’ve been playing the same couple chords for years. Because they are safe. You know them. Learning new ones is going to take work.
For Noah’s first birthday, we gave him a little djembe drum. It is a beautiful wooden drum, with its skin stretched tight by rope intricately woven around the top.
Noah loves the djembe. But most of the time it’s not a drum. He turns it upside down, and uses that fascinating hole in the bottom as a slot to place things in. Blocks. Spoons. The drum is a cauldron for a strange soup of imaginary ingredients. The drum is a hollow tree waiting to be filled. The drum is chest for treasure.
And there’s this part of me that’s been thinking, Noah, can’t you see! This is a beautiful drum! You play it with your hands; you’re using it wrong, it’s upside down!
But, then I stopped and wondered - what if I’m the one who can’t see?
Sure, it is a beautiful drum. You can play it with your hands; it creates rhythm, it was made for this. But once we define what something is, we fail to see all that it could have been (this is roughly what I tell High School students in poetry workshops, when they have learnt to see poetry through a narrow lens). Once Noah sees it as a drum, like I do, chances are he will stop seeing all the other possibilities, like I have.
My rigid, sluggish, slow to move brain sees so many things the way I’ve learnt to see them.
I remember when I bought my first car, the trusty old 1990 Ford Laser I affectionately named Charlie, my brain immediately unfolded one thousand possibilities that awaited me. It wasn’t just a car. It was a party on wheels. It was music and windows and sunshine and if you folded the back seats down and put down a rug, it could be a picnic spot. If you threw in some cushions, and popped the boot, it was a portable home for stargazing. You could hollow out an old microphone and swap it for the gearstick. You could carry your whole life on those wheels.
The next car, technically far better on paper, has only ever been a car. I have never used it as a picnic destination or a home for stargazing. It’s a car, so I just drive it around like you’re supposed to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great car - but by the time I was able to spend five times as much on a car, I had lost the imaginative drive to see it as anything more than the essential purpose it had been designated.
This is what rhythm can do to us. We settle in, we find our ‘groove’, we ride it comfortably. We stop imagining the other possibilities. We see drums as drums and cars as cars and blocks as blocks. And they are those things. But maybe they could be more.
We see saucepans as saucepans where we saw kitchen instruments.
We see trees as trees where we saw nature’s climbing frames.
We see hallways as hallways where we saw indoor cricket pitches.
Let’s take it further.
We see someone we co-exist with where we once saw bride or groom, where we once saw stars and moon, where we once saw dance partner, fellow adventurer, partner in crime.
We see budget and bills where we once saw seed fund, plane ticket, investment, choices.
We see job as pay check where we once saw space to create in, calling to give self to, avenue for the manifestation of skills set.
We see burdens to drown under where we once saw challenges to rise to.
We see God as ______. You fill in the blank. Whatever we’ve learnt to. Whatever we’ve settled into. Whatever definition we’ve landed on. What have we stopped seeing? What have we never seen?
Whatever rhythms we have settled into…they may not be bad. They may be true and helpful and accurate…from a certain angle.
But they can stop us from seeing all those possibilities that exist in a drum, in a car, in a dollar, in a sunrise, in a relationship.
Rhythm is a beautiful thing. But let us keep rewriting it. Let us push further. Go deeper. Learn new chords. See things in new ways.
May we have the brains of one year olds. May we see all the possibilities, in the everyday, ordinary amazing world that surrounds us.
May my son keep seeing things with the innovation and imagination of a brain that has not yet labelled the world and placed it in boxes. And when he does this, the placing of things in boxes, may he see those boxes as containers that can periodically be emptied and used as rocket ships or cubby houses.
May he come to see his djembe as the wonderful drum that it is. But may he not forget to see it, and everything else, with all the potential it is loaded with.