I don’t normally write about my kids. I used to, but they’re teenagers now, and I’m trying to respect their privacy. Even so, my writing habits are punctuated by mothering episodes, and it’s hard to think about my creative life without also thinking about my parenting life.
My sisters read my novel recently. They said, “It feels like YA in some parts because of the teenage voices.” I thought that was funny. I didn’t set out to write about teenagers. It just happened because that’s my world right now.
So often, our creative lives are our ordinary lives and vice versa. We conceive ideas from of the soil of our liturgies. Novels are birthed after a million laundry-folding moments.
This is as it should be–life informing art, art taking its place among myriad other realities. I hope I always have people or things to take care of, duties that demand I escape the world of fiction and join the one in front of me.
My kids are taking a government class at their educational co-op. They each ran for a different class office as part of a unit on the electoral process.
Two of them campaigned, which felt a little awkward because they were running against good friends. My middle teen hardly tried at all because he found out he was running against his closest friend (not by choice), and he was tempted to drop out of the race altogether.
Elections were yesterday. All of my kids won their offices, and not by slim margins. Their reactions to their victories were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, they couldn’t help feeling the rush of success, the satisfaction of a return on their efforts. On the other hand, they felt downright blue because the people they beat were visibly dejected.
My husband and I haven’t taught our kids to view life through the “everyone gets a trophy” mindset. They regularly engage in activities that require them to compete against themselves and others. They play sports where, after all, the point is to win.
Still, they couldn’t help wondering if their friendships would be the same the day after the election. And, in the end, friendships are more important to them than winning.
In the writing world, authors are expected to market themselves. Many of us balk at the idea because it feels like we’re saying, “I know you only have so much time, and there are millions of books to read. But you should read my book and not that one over there.” Feels like a campaign, kind of. Vote for me, not that guy. And it rubs some of us the wrong way.
But I have to remind myself that, really, marketing it ISN’T like an election. Elections are about scarcity (there’s one position and many people want to fill it). While it’s true that there ARE a lot of people writing, there are lots of people reading, too. Marketing, then, is really about finding your tribe and offering them something that will benefit them. If I can think like that, I can move forward with joy.
In the meantime, I remind my kids that people voted them into office for a reason. They have an opportunity to be wise, kind, and fair in their dealings. They can make important decisions. It’s not a bad thing to win, sometimes, because it means you have a chance to do good for others.
Which is how I want to use my words: to do something good for others.
Something I’ve been mulling over: how do I work at something that takes up a lot of my time and mental energy, something I care a lot about, but not put ultimate hope in the results of my work?
You think I’m talking about writing, but I’m talking about raising kids. My oldest is 17, now, and my baby is 14. So much of what I’ve prioritized in the last 17 years is stuff that can’t be measured. The trips to museums, the long talks and I’m sorry’s, the tears over math worksheets, the orchestra concerts and travel, have they made a difference in my kids’ lives?
My kids are almost grown. They’re intellectually curious and kind. They’re beginning to know their place in in the world.
Still. How many of those traits would they have developed without focused effort on my part? Has what I worked for in the last 17 years mattered?
Also, how do I let my kids fail (which is so important) and not feel it as my failure? How do I let go of the results of years of caring?
Maybe this is one reason I write–because the joys and sorrows it brings, my various successes and failures, belong only to me.
My husband is in Africa, and I am in the U.S. with three teenagers and three dogs. I don’t worry when he’s gone, am not resentful to be the one holding down the fort, am used to a global life, etc., etc. Besides, sometimes it’s me halfway across the world, wondering if someone back home remembered to get more toilet paper.
This time, though, I’m trying to keep the home fires burning while developing a proposal to send to literary agents. While teaching Chinese kids English in the wee hours of the morning. While teaching American high school students medieval literature and essay writing. While being a friend (and sometimes an enemy) to my own kids. While being 40.
But I’m getting good at letting things go when I need to. To wit: my kids are eating Ramen noodles and ice cream for calories, and I let my son pierce his ear at the mall yesterday. I’m not scared to use Z-quil at bedtime (if, for example, I happen to eat a large handful of chocolate covered espresso beans for “snack” and find myself alarmingly alert at 9 P.M.).
This is real life. It’s possible to keep going strong if I let it be what it is: imperfect and good enough.
Two of my kids are enrolled in high school and college at the same time. This wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but it’s all the rage now. Since my oldest only has a driver’s permit, he can’t take his younger brother to their college campus without a licensed driver (read: mom) in the car.
So here I sit on a blue chair in a recently painted hallway, watching college students act bored before class. I feel one million years older than they are and, yet, I’m surprised when they ignore me and my laptop. Because, seriously, I’m as cool as they are, and maybe even cooler. I dress cute, and I dye my hair, so they can’t know how much gray I have.
But then I catch a glimpse of myself in the window and, yes, okay…
I’m working through edits of my novel, a chapter at a time, while I wait for my sons to get out of class. I may not be young (Are the 80’s back? because that’s what it looks like from this chair), but I know what to do with my time. I know how to be productive.
How many of these kids have no idea what they’re doing in school or life? Which, fine. They have time to figure it out.
But if this saggy face is the price I had to pay for finally figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, and how to do it, I’ll take it.