Im a grandma. I no longer change diapers (knee problems
make that sort of activity laughable) and I certainly dont stay up late
to nurse (heck, Im 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
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 publishings 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
Thats my history, as a mom and as a word player; its
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 childrens 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 babys 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 its 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
I dont 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 dont act that
way now, its 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 familys life, Id 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 Id 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, Ill: finish the
galley proofs of my latest book, cook my snipers 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 grandbabys 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. Ill
continue, too to misremember their childhoods.