A few years ago I saw a painting above a grand staircase at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue that drew my mind completely away from where it had been. I was in the library looking for a place to piss in Manhattan that didn't require me buying something, and seeing this painting I was stunned enough to forget the search for a few minutes to enjoy it. It was called "Blind Milton dictating 'Paradise Lost' to his daughters." It showed the old poet in his Puritan's blouse, sullen and grumpy, slouched in an armchair, his whole face bent inward, his daughters at a table, hunched in anticipation of the next word to leave his lips. Most people know that Milton went blind, but not that he used his three daughters as amanuenses, forcing them to do all his reading and writing for him. I have read that Milton's daughters hated him for it, forcing them to read Latin and Greek and Hebrew aloud without being allowed to understand what any of it meant. Paradise Lost was written down entirely by surly teenage girls. I imagine them making faces at him through all his Hebrew and Latin. Why did he use his own greekless daughters for such a monumental task, rather than some Cambridge-bred republican lackey? Perhaps because he could completely control them. Or maybe it's even simpler than that: they were always there. After he died, one of Milton's daughters recounted that when they woke in the morning, he would be downstairs, pacing "like a cow waiting to be milked." He could hardly wait for them to gather their papers or dip their quills in the ink, he was so pregnant with poetry.

Greg's recent post made me think about my own experiences with the kid and museums. I have been taking the kid to art museums and galleries ever since she was old enough to sit forward in a bjorn. For the most part I think it's a load of horseshit to say she really got anything out of it during the first year of her life, but for the past year we both have enjoyed these trips, each in our own way. Since the Detroit Institute of Arts closed for renovations, and Cranbrook is so far away, we have spent a lot of time at MOCAD, Detroit's museum of contemporary art. Their opening exhibition last year included Roxy Paine's computer-driven sculpture machine that extruded huge piles of a crimson wax-like polymer (in Juniper-speak, "the red goo machine"), Jon Pylypchuk's little shanty-town full of morose and drunken stuffed creatures pissing in alleys and fishing for carp (J-s: "babies peepeeing!"), and a giant Nari Ward sculpture that involved hundreds of ceiling panels and tea pots with used styrofoam cups placed amid the piece by previous museum goers ("the cups.") Juney enjoyed these exhibits so much that we spent quite a few dull winter afternoons just sitting there, leaving me as familiar with each work as a security guard at MOMA must get watching that same room full of Rothkos all day.

That exhibition is long over, so every time we go now she gets upset that the goo machine and the pissing babies are no longer there, but inevitably there's another piece of pretentious conceptual art that she learns to love in a way that would certainly make the artist cringe. Right now it's Jennifer West's two films projected on the museum's northwest corner walls. The kid could really care less about the content (rapid sequences of scratched negatives); what she's really into is standing in front of the floor-mounted projectors watching her shadow dance and jump on the wall. This could go on for hours. Usually we are the only people in the museum, so it's not a big deal. I spend some time walking around looking at the other exhibits while she entertains herself, holding her hand as she points at a picture of a bunny while I try to consume the deeper meanings of the art around me.

This is, I think, a defining aspect of my experience as a father who doesn't "work" but spends all day with his daughter. Every morning we select a mutually-agreeable destination, and I try to find something to do there that will interest her on one level and still engage me on another. It is as though all day I am of two minds, one on par with hers, aware of what she understands and enjoys and appreciates, and another ready to capitalize on every distraction, every second of silence, a second mind ready to wrestle with ideas and thoughts that may have nothing to do with my daughter but do engage my own curiosity. I usually don't like calling myself a stay-at-home dad (that connotes a sort of militancy I don't have the energy for). Instead I have become something of a professional daydreamer.

In doing this, I am never all that distant. But let's be honest: it doesn't take that much to keep a constantly-babbling 2-year old engaged. It's pretty much the same amount of engagement my law school professors expected (eye contact, head nods, and the occasional astute follow-up question). And toddlers, like law professors, are easily fooled. Sometimes you can just phone in this whole parenting thing, and man, they don't even know. I can have a full-on conversation about fairies or owls or fairies riding on owls, and at the same time I am trying to imagine what life is like for the fucked-up-looking guy we just passed walking down the street, or what that street looked like in 1926, or what an artist is trying to say with a particular work in front of me. And Juniper still believes I'm like this total expert on owls and fairies and shit. In her mind, I have a PhDs in Ornithology and Folklore Studies, specializing in Wee Folk/Owl relations.

At MOCAD, after you see the exhibits, you end up in a room with all these Eames chairs and tables set out with art supplies, openly inviting visitors to create their own art before they leave. Juniper loves this, and the other day she sat there drawing with me for over an hour. When a friend came through and we started talking, the kid looked at me and said, "Dada, I want you all to myself. Can the lady please go away?" I apologized for this polite discourtesy, but still loved how much fun she was having. We were just sitting there together, talking about who we were drawing. I've done a lot of drawing this past year, not just people pooping. I used to have so much fun drawing and painting things as a kid, and now, I do again. I sing a lot more since the kid came around, too. I never drew anything in my mid-twenties except a paycheck. I didn't even sing in the shower. Becoming a parent is kind of like getting a permission slip to again do all the things that seem too silly for a grown man to do.

I will admit that hanging out with a kid all day does make it hard to "get things done" in the old "office" sense, but the truth is I never really got anything done in an office where I had unlimited internet access. I "work" much harder now that I don't just sit there open-mouthed in front of a monitor all day. But I still find the time I spend with Juniper to be valuable beyond seeing her so much and listening to all the crazy junk she says: I have all this time during the day to just gather my thoughts, plot out daydreams, and still pursue interests and projects that have nothing to do with being a parent or taking care of a kid.

These days, I may not be cracking $300 million cases or composing iambs about the fall of man, but by the time nap time arrives or the wife gets home from work, I usually have a torrent of backlogged thoughts I want to get down on paper or some project I've been plotting all day to get underway in the basement. I love the idea of Milton in the morning, his brain a burdened udder. What benefit did his blank verse get from all that midnight plotting, from the bulwark of sleeping daughters?

I know a lot of people would be (or are) unhappy staying home with a kid, but as I've said before, it suits me. I feel unleashed. I feel free. When I was a lawyer, I sometimes had my best thoughts about a case and even some breakthroughs while riding the bus or staring at a lunch menu. Now I have some of my best thoughts pushing a swing.