Children are possessed, especially when they hit their adolescent stride, of sufficient brassiness to derail even the most confident of mothers. Consider the impact of my teens’ points of view on my emerging writing career.
Recently, I asked one of my offspring what it was like to have a parent, who published, in blogs, in magazines, and in books, stories about his childhood. That son shrugged, reached for another sandwich and muttered something indecipherable about being beholden to too many chores, about the amount of homework high school kids are expected to complete, and about growing up in a house managed by a Mommy Writer. He then burped once or twice, slugged back some seltzer and patted his mouth with his napkin. To that young one, being the topic of an essay or the inspiration for a poem is no more of a big deal than is brushing his teeth or sorting through the socks, which just happened to regularly fall on his bedroom floor.
It seems a similar attitude has attached itself to his siblings. During an interaction with another of my offshoots, I queried whether or not she might prefer using our limited private time at a fashion emporium or a nail salon rather than at home deconstructing my creative work. That daughter eyeballed my frumpy clothing and my weirdly gleaming eyes. She pushed aside one of my imaginary hedgehogs and then frowned. Thereafter, she helped herself to another of my manuscripts. “I couldn’t possibly understand you, Mom, if I didn’t know you. So please don’t interrupt me so I can return to some of your writing.”
In view of the above, and of cacti that wilt in the rain, of ants that tenaciously find the crumbs hidden between the leaves of the table, and of Internet platforms that almost always eat the text I try to post, I find myself at odds with my world. Simply, I am faced with teenage defiance that does not take the form of multiple piercings, of very loud rock music, or of experimentation with unhealthy substances (homemade chocolate chip cookies aside). Rather, my teens glory in passive aggressively jousting me via their strictures on my output.
Those kids of mine insist that I write regularly and that they be permitted to critique any work I complete. They glory in pointing out plot holes, diction dilemmas, and any lack of easily comprehended referents. “Who cares if the leaf falls from the tree,” they scold. “Why did you kill off the chimera before the gelatinous monster sniffed him,” they snivel. I’d wager that few other mothers are greeted accordingly when they trudge in with groceries or when they announce that the family laundry is ready for sorting.
In fairness, though I loathe the way my coterie of small critics would rather tear apart my prose than design tulle costumes or bake red velvet cake, their combined influence, ultimately, is relative to the voices of my editors, my publishers and my readers. My creative output was never meant to and never will be dependent on my teenagers’ sponsorship. Those eager, callused reviewers don’t consume more than a small per cent of my work. Even were they to morph into my best muses, and consistently and predictably feed me responses that helped me reach as a writer, as opposed to want to throw ballads full of lizards or essays harboring turpentine at them, their activities leave them with insufficient time to fulfill that role.
What’s more, I sometimes bristle so much at my children’s “articulated authenticity” and take such umbrage from their less-than-mindful suggestions that I’ve found it’s wiser for me to stay clear of their sweet faces than to counter their remarks. Albeit, provocative comments are the foundation of most parent-child relationships and albeit, if I were a truck driver, belly dance instructor, or zoologist, my teens would necessarily have something confrontational to say about the nature of my tire inflation levels, my hip thrusts, or of my pythons.
Further, this particular group of children did not wait until their teens to be rhetorically annoying. My memory suggests that my children responded offensively to my output when some of them were still toddlers. I recall, for instance, when our kitchen was filled with the jars of tincture that I had to brew to earn my herbal medicine certificate. Those preparations, according to my wee ones, had to meet their scrutiny. Mind you, my small fry were no more capable, at that juncture, of understanding the concept of pH or of grasping that certain environments were conducive to growing mold than they were of getting to the toilet on time. Since they hated the smell of vinegar, they took it upon themselves to order me to focus on vodka carriers or oil-based infusions.
On other occasions, also during my sons and daughters’ formative years, they were quick to express their less than favorable opinions. Consider my foray into basket making. While I thought those kids might be entertained or even delighted when their mom conjured vessels from grasses, reeds, and other green materials, what I heard from them was usually a less than generous assessment of my bases, my sidewalls and my rims. In addition, since their nimble, tiny fingers were defter than were my oversized ones, those small folk not only appraised my works, but they also, seemingly effortlessly, improved upon my lovely coiled, plated, and twined containers.
Worse, it was during that span, during that time of my life when I took to hunting for lunch among friends’ unsprayed turf and to suggesting to my children that we would only dine on what I could gleaned from lawns, plus or minus a square of tofu or a handful of mochi, that those little critical thinkers decided to gauge my paintings. In primitive terms, they weighed the relative merit of my backgrounds and of my blocking in of foregrounds. They discussed palettes amongst themselves and held nothing back when it came to delivering, to me, their ideas about the length and pressure yielded from my brush strokes.
Exasperated at last, I packed them off to preschool. Slug hunts, chalk sidewalk pictures, and scarf dances would have to wait. For a few blissful hours each morning, I avoided all of their proffered wisdoms about my productivity. So happy was I with that result that when they graduated from nursery, I sent them to elementary school. Subsequently, I enjoyed additional periods of the pleasure of being free of “inhouse editors.”
These days, as is expected of teens, they are recycling their two and three year-old feelings and mentations. It follows that one of their chief avocations has again emerged as actively commenting on their mom’s writing. Regularly, I am again laden with bespoken regards about my stories, essays and poetry.
The best I can do in response to such input is to groan, but just a little. I also ignore a lot of what they offer about my work. For now, one way that I flow with their development is to demonstrate extreme tolerance to their comments. Teens, like tots, want their parents’ attention; any seemingly destructive verbiage is about their conflicting needs to stake out additional independence and to stay close to their primary care providers.