As my five followers — up from three — know, I have written a book for each of my children. The chapters in these books rotate between a story about the child, and my small part in bringing him or her into this world. These books are both fantastical and raw. They are not for my children as children, but my children as college graduates. That being said, I have recently finished writing my most recent book for our new addition, Magnus. I now have to go back and write the alternate chapters. The last step will be editing it all together. Here is a long, unedited sample of those alternating chapters.
The girls were hanging from his arms and legs—a mobile jungle gym—as he reached for the door. His shirt was spotty and unkempt. There were red rings circling his eyes. His wife, who had been shopping at Target, was at the door. “Thank God you’re back,” Hawthorne said. “They’re driving me crazy.”
“Can you grab the groceries?”
“Sure,” he said, over the high-pitched squealing. Hawthorne walked into the midday sun. It was a clear, September day. He opened the hatch on their Pilot and looped his arms through canvas bags of groceries overflowing with food.
He found his wife, Natasha, in the kitchen. Her back was turned to him when she said, “Oh, almost forgot.” A long and slender ivory stick flew through the air and towards his head. He caught it.
“What’s this?” he asked, before looking down and spotting the thin-blue line cutting perpendicularly across the wand.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“No you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
Later that night, Hawthorne flipped open his laptop. He was going to write the final volume in what would be a trilogy for his children. And then Regan, his oldest, started screaming—night terrors. He closed his laptop, sighed, and trudged upstairs.
Three weeks later while hiding in the closet as his children terrorized his house, he wrote: There are some stories that deal with the fanciful and whimsical. You have most likely read these stories. They tell of both heroes and heroines bravely facing the unknown. While these stories serve an important purpose in our society, they fail in one important aspect…
“When does your book come out,” Hawthorne’s friend, Jonasco, asked.
“I don’t know. Some time in September, I guess.”
“Edits, marketing…blah, blah, blah. I’m ready to hold it my hand.” Jonasco was visiting from Omaha. He was a pediatrician, single. They were strolling behind Hawthorne’s running kids at the Zoo. It was hot and traces of sweat dotted Hawthorne’s forehead.
“Still though,” said Jonasco, “first book. Gotta be pretty stoked.”
“Totally. Huge accomplishment. Still want it in my hands though. I keep thinking my publisher is gonna void the contract. Tell me they sent it to the wrong writer. It’s bizarre.” The pair watched as Regan pulled her sister down in order to use her face as a stepstool, a pragmatic move by which to better view the gorillas. “Hey,” Hawthorne barked, “No. No! One more time, Regan.”
“When do you find the time to write?” Jonasco asked.
“Uh…I wake up at five. It’s the only time, really. If it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
“Daddy,” said Ellis, picking herself off the ground and tugging on Hawthorne’s leg. “I poopie.”
“Alright,” he sighed, “Let’s find a bathroom.”
Later, sitting around a kiddie table, Jonasco watched as Hawthorne cut his children’s wiener dogs into both minute and exact non-chokable portions. “So this is it, huh? This is what you do all day?”
“Well, I work. But, yeah, once school is out, I dissect sausages. I also spend time with Natasha, sort of…after the kids have gone to bed and if we aren’t too tired, which we are…most nights.”
“Do you remember when you wanted to play for the Dallas Cowboys? You thought you were going to be the next Emmitt Smith.”
“Number 28,” Hawthorne said, “running roughshod over the New York Giants. I was gonna be good, too, all pro.”
“And you were going to pay off my med school loans with the money you were going to make modeling in Milan.”
“What happened?” asked Hawthorne.
“You joined the Marine Corps.”
“Yeah, where were you on that one? You should have talked me out of it. We could be in Italy right now.”
“Do you think,” Jonasco asked, “that you’ll apply to PhD programs at some point?”
“I would like to,” Hawthorne said, “but when? I have no idea how I could do it all or if I would even get in.”
“I don’t know, man, life won’t get easier.”
“True,” Hawthorne said, before taking a drink from his daughter’s sippy. “Natasha said I could apply as long I figure out a financial situation in which we don’t lose our house, which, to be honest, is a pretty fair requirement.”
“That’s what’s stopping you. Dude, figure it out.”
Hawthorne laughed. “Sure, man. Between the diapers and sleepless nights, I’ll start making more money and writing dissertation proposals. Good call.”
“I’ve been your friend since, what, we were nine? And I’m telling you, you need this. For you. Otherwise, you’ll go crazy.”
Hawthorne wanted to believe that Jonasco was right. That he could balance both his dreams of academia and his family life. He wasn’t a man of great hope, however. There were the things he wanted and then there was reality. He lived in reality. Quitting his teaching job and going back to school was a daytime fantasy. Most guys—he thought—had extramarital affairs or bought motorcycles. He fantasized about studying ancient tomes and translating dead languages. At work, during his off period when he should have been planning, he would often find himself researching PhD programs in exotic places. He had identified numerous programs in England, Wales, and New Zealand. His wife reminded him that these weren’t exotic locales. He disagreed.
He also suffered from staggering doubt. PhD’s were for the intellectual, which he was not. He didn’t think he was dumb, just not exceptional. Who was he, he often thought, to aspire to such dizzying heights?
And then there were his kids. Every parent living in the present reality of childrearing prefaces their parenting statements with the phrase, “I love my kids, but…” Hawthorne was no different. He loved his children, adored his children. But he and his wife were exhausted. His stomach rolled at the thought of her pregnant. It was a final nail in the coffin of his dreams. There was no way, now, that he could apply to PhD programs, no matter how fantastical. He would resign himself to surfing programs by the seedy light of his MacBook Air. Maybe it wasn’t a dead dream; maybe it was just on hold.
“Yeah,” he said, noncommittally, “maybe someday, but—.”
“Daddy,” Regan, four year’s old, interrupted him. “Eagle Girl eats hotdogs.”
“She does?” Eagle Girl was his daughter’s heroic alter ego. She could fly, was both unicorn and eagle, had x-ray vision, and knew how to cast fiery rainbow darts at hobgoblins. Hawthorne loved Eagle Girl.
“Yes, in her eyrie.”
“Eagle Girl lives in an eyrie? Where did you learn that?”
“Dad,” she said, exasperated, “don’t be silly. All eagles live in eyries. Everyone knows that.”
“Of course,” he said, smiling at Jonasco. “Can you tell Uncle Jonasco something else about Eagle Girl?”
“Sure. She eats dwarves but really likes gnomes, especially Hobby and Jumper. She also has a Barbie named Samantha. Oh, and she can count to eighty-nine seven.”
“Eighty-nine seven, huh?”
“Daddy,” Ellis chimed, interrupting Eagle Girl’s resume, “I poopie.”
The next day at work, Hawthorne was overseeing an activity that was designed to teach his students the nebulous topic of self-awareness. He was a vocational counselor at an urban high school. He guest lectured in various classrooms on the joys of job readiness. He also case managed a regular load of students who needed help in supporting their families financially. It was a rewarding job, but not one from which he wanted to retire.
“Are you the type of person,” he started, “that likes to work in an office or outdoors?” He let the silence sit. A roomful of thirty sixteen-year old students either stared at him or fidgeted. Some were on their cell phones texting; others were playing browser games on their laptops. “Hello,” he said. “Anyone?”
“Ok. Well. I have a really fun activity planned for today—” Hawthorne stopped, interrupted by a waving hand. “Yes?”
“Do we have to, Mister?”
“Have to what?”
“Do the activity?”
“Yes, it’s required. Mr. Winters will be grading it.” Mr. Winters was the teacher in whose room Hawthorne was guest teaching. He was currently in his office with the door closed, searching Amazon for a new fly rod.
“But he’s not even here,” the student, Monique, said.
“Well, he’s here, he’s just in his office right now.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna do it.”
An overwhelming sense of impotence welled up within Hawthorne. “Look,” he said, “I’m not going to make you do anything, but what I’m trying to teach you today—job readiness skills—is the sort of thing you can walk outside and use today. It’s a practical skill that—”
“What’s ‘practical’ mean?” interrupted another student.
“Uh…like…‘actually being able to do something’ or ‘of real use.’ The point is…the point is…how many of think you’ll work someday? How many of you will, at some point in your life, work?”
“Just raise your hands if you think that, working someday, is true for you.”
“Okay,” said Hawthorne. “Here’s the deal: I know you don’t want to be here, I get it. But since you do, let’s make the best of it—”
“Screw this,” Monique said.
“What was that?”
“You heard me.”
Hawthorne breathed. Clamed himself. And tried again.
It was in his office an hour-and-thirty minutes later that Hawthorne made his decision.
On his way home from work that evening, he swung into a coffee shop, pulled out his laptop, and wrote: In a darkened, pre-dawn morning, the foursome stood within the cave’s mouth. The night had gently passed and Nim had slept well. Fed and satiated, she was recovering from her journey to the desert peak. Slung over her shoulder was a…