Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moment of truth

I suppose I always knew this day would come. But actually, I thought it would be a lot worse.

“Mom, can you just tell me when you’re going to write about me in the newspaper?” Holly implored at dinner last night.

I tried to remember what might have brought this on just now. My most recent Globe stories were about supporting small businesses in West Concord and a portrait gallery in Lexington; my monthly personal essay column in our local newspaper this month is about how great it is to have a reliable coffee maker.

“Heather said at school last week that she read a whole article about me wanting to be taller than you,” Holly said in response to my puzzlement.

Oh, right. That was last month’s newspaper essay.

“Welcome to the rest of your life, kid,” my husband commented with what could be described as grim satisfaction. I think he’s been wondering for years whether the time would eventually arrive when the kids didn’t want their foibles and exploits turned into column fodder anymore. “That’s why I don’t read Mommy’s articles. They’re always about me.”

“Not anymore!” I protested. “They used to be about you! Now they’re always about the kids.”

Both kids looked at me then, and I realized it wasn’t necessarily the most artful response.

My father made a comment twenty years ago to the effect that the best thing about my getting married was that it meant my husband rather than my parents became the butt of most of my satirical writing. And of course it was only a matter of time before the kids became more interesting as writing subjects than either my parents or my husband.

My older child has never particularly minded, though. Not even when I wrote an essay about his approach to a sprint we ran together when he was three: he rounded the bend in the driveway and then stopped to pee in the woods. Of course, he was three; realistically, he probably didn’t read the paper back then and perhaps never knew about that column. But when I wrote an entire memoir about the unique challenges of parenting him and how I attempted to address them by inviting him to go running with me every day for a year, he seemed to think that was just fine. He even submitted to a radio interview about the book.

In the preface to Anne Lamott’s new book about grandparenting, her son, whose own birth inspired Lamott’s earlier memoir, said that her book about his infancy was “the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.” And Anne Lamott certainly has a lot more readers than I do – millions more. So I’d like to think that my children are equally sanguine regarding my essays about them, but it’s a lot to ask, I realize.

For years, readers and friends have asked if the kids mind being treated as characters, and I’ve always said they don’t, but I also always had the feeling I was living on borrowed time with that. And it’s not like Holly issued a cease-and-desist order. She just asked me to forewarn her when the whole town was going to be reading about her latest developmental phase.

It’s a reasonable request, and one I agreed to honor. A couple of years ago when I was taking a writers’ workshop, one of my classmates finished an excerpt of my then-unpublished book and said, “It’s good. And I can’t wait for the sequel.” “Why thank you!” I said, trying to sound modest. “I’m flattered. But a sequel? I’m not sure I’ll be writing another book about parenting.”

“Not by you,” he said with a smirk. “By Tim. The sequel will be his memoir about being parented by you.”

Fair enough. Because in a way, he’s right on a figurative level as much as a literal one: the sequel to everything we do as parents is what our children write about us, whether or not they or we ever actually put pen to paper. And if Tim – or Holly – ever does write that book, or even a newspaper column or two about me, I will do my very best to be as good a sport as they have always been for me. 

No comments:

Post a Comment