When Your Career and Your Kid Keep Saying No at the Same Time.

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I have, for about ten years now, coveted work in areas where rejection is assumed. I’m an actor and a writer and a total fucking idiot. If you make things whose value can be debated or annihilated or worshiped on the Internet and whose necessity is also not obvious to certain members of the population, you probably experience the same. And you’re also a fucking idiot. You’re my kind of fucking idiot. We idiots are propelled by the gamble, the likelihood of no, but the chance, however infinitesimal, of yes.

It’s spiritually exhausting and also exactly what living with a two-year old is like. My son is two and doing exactly what two-year olds are apparently supposed to: saying no. He, like the looming gatekeepers I encounter out in the grown world every day, says no to every previously unquestioned directive, suggestion, modest request, EVERY. THING. And he does it with panache. He’s not just saying no; he’s shouting “I DON’T LIKE THAT!” in response to all pants and baths. He’s laying out his logic: “I DON’T WANT THAT BECAUSE…[MUMBLED MADE-UP WORDS THAT OFTEN SOUND LIKE A LONG, LONG BEAR]”. He’s slick, too. “Let’s sit down for dinner,” I say, matter of factly, because that’s how the books say you’re supposed to do it. “No thank you, Mommy,” he replies, demure as he shoves stacks of novels off a bookshelf. “Oh! That’s so nice, Sly,” I say, disarmed, and then he yells, “You act nicely!” and I realize it is all a metaphor. He tosses those novels on the floor the same way the gatekeepers of my grown-up world toss the things I make on the floor and not because they are monsters. Like my two-year old, for them, yes does not come easily, nor should it. But, unlike for my kid, it’s not in the name of their development; it’s in the name of mine.  


I know my two-year old is mucking around in a swamp of good developmental shit, from which he shall emerge…stronger? Wiser? Older? Whatever, I know it’s as it should be. And I know all my professional failures are “opportunities for growth” (VOMIT) too, whittling my character and the character of whatever it is I’m working on. Ugh. I KNOW. But good god, it is a fucking slog, a massacre of my tremulous confidence.  

As a woman, my first instinct is not to persuade someone to do something they do not want to do. No means no. Move on. Do something else. DON’T PUSH!  

But.

I’m talking about not walking naked to the playground; about having a carrot instead of a cupcake the size of my head; about not leaping off the back of the ten-foot tall slide. And I’m talking about making my living, not just some bullshit creative exercise. These are the battles worth fighting, the nos that are worth questioning.

I wonder if Sly feels this way. I wonder if, when he tried for twenty minutes, to vault up onto the kitchen counter to get to the soft cookies, sobbing and screaming, he was also spiritually exhausted. I wonder if he thought, there has to be a better way! Or, she has to see how much I need this! She has to understand I deserve this!

God, I act like he’s the only one saying no, but I’m saying it too. And yes, sure, I know what’s best and I know that cookies are not the answer (most of the time). Oh, but if he only knew how badly I want to be that cookie, to be the thing the bastions of art were trying to scale impossibly tall countertops for.

How do you make yourself impossible to refuse? How do you fight these battles without actually fighting?

Probably the answer is to keep trying and to listen sometimes; to accept that pants cannot be avoided, but to demand that carrots be accompanied by cookies. Because of course they should.  

It sucks when your kid and your job are saying the same annoying thing to you. But maybe everything is a phase, for everybody, not just toddlers. And I can either carry this struggle the way a parent carries a balloon, like it’s a burden. Or I can carry it the way my son does: like it’s a dream. He doesn’t hold on to it too tight, either, delighted when it bops into view, and amazed when, inevitably, it flies away.