Rock Houses, Paper T-shirts, and other Impossible Things

One of the hardest things about being a parent is telling your child that something is impossible. You want to continually inspire them with hopeful mantras like, “Work hard and anything is possible!” And you do until your six-year-old reads a book about a fairy house and decides she wants to make one of her own. Great, right? Toss her some tape and cardboard and markers and let her go to town. Except my 6-year-old had the idea of making her fairy house out of a large rock.

I ask her, “How would you make the rooms?”

She says, “With a hammer.  You’d just bang them out.”

She is utterly convinced that this not only will work, but that it can be done in the next 45 minutes before thirty people arrive at our house for a goodbye party for one of my husband’s graduate students.

I say, “Baby, it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t  carve a rock with a hammer. ”

She looks at me, angry and defiant, and says, “Yes you can. I’m going to go pick out a rock.” She walks out to the sidewalk and I say, “Okay, good luck!” and go back to setting up for the party. (Because I’m such an awesome mom!) She comes back inside and says, “I can’t pick it up.” I stop what I’m doing, frown, and tell her I’m sorry her plan didn’t work. Then I give her a cardboard box and say, “Try using this.”

She regards the box, disgusted, and says, “I don’t WANT THAT.” A few minutes later, she says, “I know! Let’s chop down a big tree and make the fairy house out of the wood!” I stand, arms overflowing with shoes and toys and dirty clothes I’d gathered from around the house. I have about two minutes to find a secure place to stash all this crap before thirty grad students and post-docs descend upon our house for food and drink and good times.

“Not gonna happen,” I say. “Sorry, honey. It’s just not possible.” She looks at me like I’ve just told her I’m throwing away all of her stuffed animals.

Then this morning she gets out our roll of easel drawing paper and lays down on top of a large sheet, saying, “Trace me, Mommy! I want to make a t-shirt out of paper!” You can imagine how well that went.

Three times in twelve hours, I’d had to tell my daughter, “That’s not really possible. You can’t do that.” This third time, she sat in a pile of crumpled paper with scribbled outlines of too-thin sleeves, and it seemed like something in her broke a little. Some of the hope and spark and imagination that makes her such a magical little being evaporated and it was like I could see it go. Her enthusiasm for her awesome paper shirt shriveled. She tossed the pencil and stomped away.


I had immediate visions of finding an enormous boulder, putting it in the garage and teaching her how to maneuver a chisel. I imagined carpentry lessons, seamstress training. But she’s six-years-old and all of these things take time and learning and more trial & error than she could ever tolerate so young. So I suggested a few other, more straightforward projects: coloring, legos. She obliged, quietly, and I went on to my daily duties.

As the day went on, I thought more and more about how her ideas–so grandiose and nearly impossible–felt a little like my plan to write this memoir. I’m not even talking about trying to get it published and all the rejection and difficulty that goes along with that. I’m talking about simply getting it down on the page, giving it room and air and doing it justice.

It’s a lot like making a fairy house out of a jagged rock or a fallen tree. Impossible. Almost.

The afternoon of the paper t-shirt, I went straight to my computer and signed her up for a summer carpentry camp for girls. Because, sweetest baby, mama can be wrong sometimes too. With a little sweat and preparation, and lots of hard work, plenty of mistakes, and even tears, anything is possible.

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