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Proportionate Memories
by KJ Hannah Greenberg


I’m a grandma. I no longer change diapers (knee problems make that sort of activity laughable) and I certainly don’t stay up late to nurse (heck, I’m closing in on menopause). I do laugh a lot, though, whenever I review my composite path from parenting to creative writing and realize just how much my perspective on both has shifted.

As a mother, my preferred method of nurturing is unwearied analysis. It is not beyond my ken to resort to screaming (a little) or to sitting on the sofa and crying (a lot). Otherwise, I stay fairly content to shuttle my kids among activities, to listen to their lore about friendships, and to remember toothpaste or underwear for those family members who venture out regularly.

A long time ago, when rearing my children, I eked out: a novel, a ream of poetry, and a couple of cute nonfiction pieces that referenced some of the "growth opportunities" concomitant to parenting. Mine was a life blessedly full of muddy footprints, spilled cottage cheese, and many, many strewn bodies. Since I thought my impressions of my encounters were insightful, I made notes.

Years later, I grew those jots into full-fledged works. Eventually, most of those texts got published. In Europe, in North America, in Oceania, and in select spots in the Middle East, I garnered a modest reputation for writing humorous parenting blogs, columns, essays, and books.

As I became needed less and less frequently to mop up oceans of water on bathroom floors, to rescue wee ones from ground hornets’ nests, or to set up stuffed animals in a prescribed fashion, I weighed the merits of engaging in further risky business. When I felt ready to face new dangers, I gave over a tall tale about falafel balls, preteen fashion sense, and "special American pricing" to a group of friends. My listeners, in turn, told me to keep my hot sauce to myself, to realign my skirt, and to stay focused on stories about breast milk, about home births, or about imaginary hedgehogs. I had yet to acquire my narrative cogency.

Time elapsed. My oldest children got braces and my youngest became potty trained. Additionally, editors began to favor me with personal feedback. Usually, those gatekeepers wrote that my work was “one off;” good enough for publishing’s lower echelons, but missing the mark, entirely, for placement among its higher ones. I returned to my manual typewriter, having mistaken those received censures for encouragement.

To wit, I created the book and lyrics for a produced musical, presented academic papers, filled pages with both poetic and prosaic vignettes, wrote editorials on society, and taught an array of university writing courses. As well, I organized woodland hikes, planted a butterfly sanctuary, and painted, in awkward corners of our home, wall murals brimming with exotic critters.

That’s my history, as a mom and as a word player; it’s the one I thought I had lived. These days, I know differently. I know memory is fickle. More specifically, I have been reminded, while winding, verbatim, through galley proofs for a new book containing family portraits, that my personal chronicle is most likely inaccurate. No life, mine included, was ever lived neatly or linearly. Thus, I am working on accepting that I necessarily remember and report my interactions with my children inexactly.

Even had my familial happenstances fallen into a pattern attributable to some miracle of parsimony, my perspective on my affairs would have changed over time. Specifically, what once looked to me like permanent parental bliss now appears to me to have been a mere happy stopover on a complex, extended expedition.

Consider the fact that despite my having been graced with delicious boys and girls, and, less importantly, with more than half of a score of published titles, I am struggling to bang out edits to this book that mentions sons and daughters I no longer know. My former little men and women are no longer tots, and, for the most part, are not even teens. Rather, respectively, they are: a high school teacher and mom, a soldier, a law student, and a youth counting the weeks until he finishes high school.

Family hijinks, in the past, were constituted by pretend sword fights, real karate jabs, laundry colored weirdly from leaky fabric, and hair fashions built, literally, from copious amounts of white glue. No more do the people I birthed throw mittens out of car windows, accidentally press my phone in combinations that summon the police, forget to let the cat in, or crayon all over their siblings’ homework.

My children’s development delivers swift kicks to the softest of my places. My soldier is forbidden to tell me about his missions. My teacher sends me her baby’s pictures, but overlooks sending me her face. My budding lawyer argues against sharing details about her study partners. My lone teenager, at least, offers that it’s more normal for moms to want to spend time with their kids than it is for kids to want to spend time with their moms. He also frequently addends, consequently, I ought to accept his increasing muteness.

I don’t doubt my memories, recorded or not, of my future advocate once thinking me wise, of the mother of my grandchild once seeking my advice on mundane issues rather than strictly on emergencies, of my warrior hiding behind my knees when other adults wanted to touch his curls, or of my baby being less sagacious. However, because those sweetums don’t act that way now, it’s tough for me to write or to read my former writings about how they used to behave. These days, my published parenting reflections hurt.

Nonetheless, without those essays and the short fictions of mine containing kernels of my family’s life, I’d hazard failing to recall what I most cherish. I might no longer be able to access the times when my kids insisted on hugs before school, when they needed me to approve their friends, when they required my kisses (in lieu of maple syrup!) in their oatmeal, or when they symbolized I’d be young forever.

My verbal snapshots, my collections of words about those dear ones, retain their power to isolate and to embellish my parenting moments. Sure, when fashioned for broadcast, my expositions have altered “truth” in simple or in sophisticated ways. Nevertheless, they remain my most invaluable pointers to what had once been. I need those passages even if they confuse, confound, and sadden me.

It makes sense, therefore, that this week, I’ll: finish the galley proofs of my latest book, cook my sniper’s favorite soup, offer my youngest pocket money for a symphony ticker, warm a pillowcase for my would-be lawyer, and gather pots and spoons for my grandbaby’s next visit.

I will, as well, continue to cry as I write about what my children are experiencing, as I edit work about what they have already experienced, and as I pray for their future good experiences. I’ll continue, too to misremember their childhoods.



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