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Monday, May 6, 2013

Womb with a View

     I can say with complete confidence that having kids makes me a better writer. Not only does it allow me to be around young adults, to observe them and to empathize with them (without racking up stalking charges) it puts my world into perspective, which enhances all my fictional worlds. It’s especially helpful since I write young adult novels. However, I believe it helps in the realm of general fiction too. Nothing feels emptier to me than a book wallpapered with stereotypical children thrown in just because they exist. Any parent knows that kids are rarely stereotypes, yet people who don’t know any kids tend to cast them as such.
     Even a grand Matriarch like Mary Higgins Clark has some tiny characters toddling through her books that just don’t seem real. I think she writes them like that to contraindicate the screaming-kid-on-the-plane syndrome. She doesn’t want to turn off members of her potential audience with whiny kids. Or, being Catholic, she doesn’t want to come across as an advocate of birth control. I don’t know. It’s a puzzle.
     To me a poorly written kid is as annoying as the one that’s screaming on the eight-hour airplane ride. The only cliché worse is the anal-retentive, childless complainer that everyone gangs up with against the kid and mom. Not me. I’d say to the complainer: “Then I guess you won’t be interested in the cure for cancer this screaming kid might invent when he or she grows up.” I’d take his or her name down then, for future reference. Hey! It could happen! Don’t tell me screaming kids don’t come up with stuff—they do. And I am all for keeping methodical records and withholding said cure from people who have griped. (Except we'll let this young woman get the cure on account of her priceless facial expressions and the stoic acceptance with which she greets her sucky plight.)
     I am lucky not to have to worry about falling into the cardboard kid trap. Thirteen years of research and some stretch marks under this belt, baby. Kids in my stories will be very realistic. Indecipherable wonders all.
     So, that’s settled. If you want to write kids in, having them or researching them is a must. (Author's note: Researching is cheaper and not as gross—but you don’t get dibs on a cure for cancer.) 
     By the same token, shouldn’t writing for kids—or even in general—make us better parents? I would argue that it does. That’s why it's great for all parent to keep some written record of it. The baby book doesn't count. The baby book is lame. Mine causes more stress than anything (which one’s most finished, are they equal, aaaahh!). I’d much rather write a full-length novel than fill out the freaking baby book, but that’s just me. I’ll concede they have a certain historical merit. It’s probably no coincidence that they have been around so long, proving the existence of a writing/parenting connection even back before people talked about such things. Now with the advent of blogging, scrapbooking and the myriad other ways we can chronicle our parenting journey, it’s much easier. We should be awesome parents in the digital age.
     Or not.    
     In my case, my writing makes me a better parent because it puts me in the same boat as my kids. We’re, like, co-conspirators in growth, sharing funny stories along the way. They tell me all about what happens at school. I file it away and tell them I will use that someday. They’re, like, wow my experiences belong in a book! Everyone feels valued. I write the promised book and then another and another. I go to conferences, I learn. With each new book I’m pushing further and further, pressing against that membrane that is keeping me from fulfilling my potential as a writer. I’m a fledgling in the womb and someday, I’ll be out.
     The kids are going through a similar struggle. I offer them my help and support (plus room and board as required by law). They can’t avoid giving me theirs in return. That’s the beauty of this arrangement. Like I said, they enrich my writing—in the very same way they do my life—just by being their rambunctious selves. They’ve saved me thirteen years of grueling research. How could you not love that? This totally makes up for all the fingerprint graffiti on the wainscoting and the puke I’ve laundered out of clothes and linens.
     All kidding aside, how invaluable is that, for a child to see his parent go through such a journey? Now that I think about it, it could be any journey, except writing is a particularly good example. There are so many womb-y parallels like the one I’ve just mentioned. It’s also a highly visible, amazing transformation. Writing happens right before their eyes, albeit gradually. You might be able to keep writing a secret from the outside world, but your immediate family has to know you’re working on something. They see you typing. They know you’ve ditched out of family time. They see the sacrifice and the rejection. (It’s kind of humiliating, really. I mean, aren’t you supposed to always know best?) Then suddenly, what was once a compilation of scraps of prose in notebooks or scribbled on napkins becomes a typed behemoth of three-hundred pages. It will ideally become a real and far more compact book. 
     But really, it's a story that comes out of it all of this. The kids listen, and their eyes pop just like they do when the butterflies emerge from those little mail-order chrysalises we fed and nurtured all those weeks. It seems impossible when the larva takes on life, but that’s the secret behind the very essence of wonder. 
     In our house, it's a given that once my kids decide upon their passion, I’ll help them get to the same place. It’s not the same as getting a promotion at work, rising through the ranks and assuring them a job when they're ready. I can’t make a phone call or throw money at them while they languish in uncertainty on their way to their own careers. But I can give them the human connection they need on their way to any real achievement. I can tell them from experience that it might not turn out the way they planned, but it will turn out okay. I can give them the kind of parenting spawned from years of writing over, under and around obstacles. That's way better than a trust fund, right? Or a horse. Or a trip to Disney or an I-phone or a...well, anyway--that's my story and I'm sticking to it, so there.


  1. Sadly, I think writing has increased my tunnel vision and my kids can have trouble getting my attention. It's probably very good I'm not the primary parent and that I really didn't get to writing until they hit middle school. I think seeing the journey IS good. I know the best thing I witnessed as a kid was my mom going to college and this is a similar dedicated, work-your-ass-off journey. And they seem to think it's cool their mom is a published author. (and yes, I DO think they help me write more realistic kids)

  2. Even though I think writing YA makes me more sympathetic to their respective plights, I am prone to bouts of guilt over the attention thing. In fact, my next blog just might be about how I'm the worst mom ever, thanks to my writing, which is probably bipolar disorder in disguise.

  3. Great blog post! I know I'm a better writer for being a mother, but I'm not sure if I'm a better or worse mom for being a writer. I'm definitely guilty of ignoring them, but at least it's for a purpose. Right? And I do think it's good for them to see me work hard, struggle and (I hope someday!) succeed at something I care about. I hope it will someday give them the confidence/permission/whatever to do the same.