As I dip sweet pickles into hummus, a culturally normal meal for my locale, per the dictates of my adolescent advisors, I think upon the ways in which my children have been raising me.
Were it not for their frequently and directly articulated opinions, I would not: be wearing colors other than ‘safe’ black, have learned how to text message, or garnered that the three main food groupsconsist, respectively, of: sugar, hot peppers, and all unnaturally occurring substances, including, but not limited to artificial flavors and colors.
Years earlier, life seemed more parsimonious. At that time, my knee-high tagalongs, the ones for whom I spewed blood and assorted bits of viscera during labor, inducted me into the rites of Shari Lewis’ sassy puppet, Lamb Chop, and made certain that I was thoroughly initiated in the brutal narrative, ‘Little Bunny Foo-Foo’. What’s more, my children also educated me about the necessity of throwing mulch instead of spreading it, of running behind occupied swings instead of walking a safe swath around them, and of descending the curly-slide, headfirst, whenever visiting playgrounds. My young buds, likewise, instructed me on the importance of scampering along cable bridges designed for persons twice their size, and on the necessity of sticking out extremities or, failing that, of protruding their siblings’ heads, while riding the whirly twirly.
Despite all of that glorious erudition, one avenue, which my sons and daughters contend they avoided, and protest that they still steer clear of, evidence notwithstanding, is coaching me on and encroaching upon my writing.
The kids miss the notion that in earlier times, as well as at present, their greatest impact on my life has been their bearing on my creativity. They are so afraid that that if they accept even an iota of culpability for the content or actualization, or circumstantial lack thereof, of my poetry or prose, there will be more plants to water and an additional run of the dishwasher to empty. Thus, my wee ones prefer to make believe that familial, causal relations are unidirectional.
Their claim notwithstanding, as an adult, I appreciate that a Mommy Writer can only be brought into being when a woman of words is no longer able to contain her frustration concerning: exponentially breeding laundry, counters left unwiped after more than two consecutive meals, homework which looms, but never nests, and fresh, grimy tracks that meander through the family’s salon, the likes of which are attributable either to hedgehogs gone gonzo with marshmallow fluff or to teenagers who forgot to wipe their feet. No academic journal or technical document can be as attractive, to a mature woman pressured by such goings on, as can venues for venting.
Accordingly, it is the behavior of offspring, not of the denizens that float through this woman’s imaginations or of the political misdemeanors that are regularly mechanized by members of government, which catalyze mama’s original prose.
Ironically, it is also the case that when this Mommy Writer becomes stymied, when I perceive that my rivulets of feelings, my aesthetically important sensations, are drying up, it’s often because I’ve exhausted my endocrinal responses before I’ve gotten to my keyboard. Such an unfortunate circumstance means I’ve audienced too much information about my children’s friends’: sleeping habits, bathroom customs, and shopping needs.
Fortunately, intercession can restore passion. I get my groove back when I’m able to generate space in which to boogie. A guarantor for such sumptuousness is not concomitant to this life, though; after the kids, please G-d, there will be grandkids.
Thus, I seek other forms of healing, such as producing inventive cycles. This latter remedy works when I can cause myself to tolerate, at least beyond the level of a cluster headache or two and the occasional ulcer, my teens’ complaints, explanations, and diatribes. Artistic balance is not about voice or descriptive language, despite the journals’ proclamations, but about looking the other way when realizing that one’s youths, yet again, have compromised their sleep habits, hygiene and costuming.
I can complete text if I resist the impulse to call my children on the mat, per se, about their not phoning their grandmas on Mother’s Day, about their not tending our ever wilting posies, and about their not digging for my car keys under their expired underwear.
For instance, once, when my youngest son was yelping that if we didn’t quickly adopt a litter of puppies, which had been abandoned near the dumpster, located across the street from our front door, those little doggies would permanently disappear, my oldest son, too, was hollering. My older boy was loudly and emphatically articulating anxieties about his getting to his martial arts class, an event to which he was accustomed to take the bus, on time. Rather than respond to either element of that particular tumult, I smiled at each of them, shut my office door and proceeded to translate that hullabaloo into a short story about an abandoned kitten, into a poem about carpooling lanes and into an essay about working while coping with migraines. Using my kids’ energy to fuel my output brings success.
On another occasion, when my oldest daughter determined that I needed to immediately involve myself in questionable websites that she deemed part of her tutorial on convergent media, at the same time that my youngest daughter was insisting that the epitome of my professional development relied upon my literally naming her in my most current parenting column, I, respectively, ignored the older’s emails and plotted the length of my younger’s current tantrum on a graph I was keeping for such purposes. Thereafter, I wrote a short story about sisters; outlined, for my parenting blog, an essay about the necessity of articulating and enforcing limits; and made notes, for a work of nonfiction, about coping with children’s emotional turbulence. My children’s actions give me content as well as motivation to use it.
Whereas the untutored believe that Mommy Writers squander long spans of solitude generating great works, and expend even longer hours chirping about those pieces to bored listeners, the reality is that maternal authors derive flash and awe from frequent bouts of parenting. The wonder in such productivity is that mothers have the energy with which to execute such activities. Unbroken periods, during which I, for instance, could count on being left alone in a room, even in a padded one, are an aspiration, not a verity.
Besides, if I fail to encapsulate my parenting experiences into paragraphs and pages, I might respond fiendishly to my children. Consider, that on a recent visit to our home, a woman who really adores my family and whom is loved, in return, by my boys and girls, was forced to flee a mere half of an hour after arriving. It seems that my children, in tattling, graphically, to her about their siblings’ mealtime antics, espoused how they were able to pass a spoon, from which each of them had licked mayonnaise, amongst themselves, and explicated their refusal to use a knife, unless it was sharp and their lone utensil, to eat their peas. My gal pal was more that flummoxed from listening to such descriptions; she was so scandalized that we won’t be seeing her face again until after the holidays.
What’s more, besides quieting me, my babbles raise money. I get paid for reporting on offsprings’ tricks. Hence, let my boys and girls throw up on newly dry cleaned dresses, ‘accidentally’ borrow my checkbook, and to insert both a curly straw and a fork into my heirloom tea kettle’s narrow opening. I have an editor who wants a five-page essay and a publisher who’s seeking my poems.
So, bring on the adolescents who claim to be preparing literary criticism of classic poetry, but, who are, in fact, dwelling on underground comics. Show me teenagers who promise to sweep under the table, but who actually invest their time reconfiguring their Ipod players. Introduce to my awareness youths who call, collect, at obscene hours, to inform their father and me that they missed the last intercity bus and will be staying, overnight, with friends who are permitted to wear hair dyed in three colors and more piercings than a pincushion.
My recorded experiences of living with young ones represent the grit in my day. Simultaneously, such commonplaces are the quintessential ingredient in my writing. Familial grist, more than anything else, makes meat pies of ideas for me. The children write me.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem