Right now, the most commonly-asked question I get from people–besides “What do you write?”–is whether or not I write about my children.
This could be due to the fact that I spend a lot of time around other mothers. My children are very young (almost 5 and 18 months), so our days are spent doing preschool runs and making play dates. But still, I find it interesting that this question comes up so often. There’s even been a bit of a nasty twist to the tone when a person or two have asked this question, raising their eyebrows and laughing as if I can get some sort of revenge on my kids by writing about them.
I don’t write about my children. Other than very minor anecdotes in an otherwise larger story, I’ve chosen to exclude them from my writing. And this is not an accident.
Years ago, when I was in college as an older student (I went back to finish my bachelor’s degree when I was 30), I had a wonderful professor who taught creative non-fiction and also published essays. Shannon Lakanen gave a reading one night at my college while I was taking one of her classes. Her essay was wonderful, and although I no longer remember the contents, I do remember her Q and A afterwards. She gave a little slide show of pictures and explained that her son was purposely absent from them, because she chose not to write about him or share him with the world. She felt that to be a violation of him as a person when he was dependent on her and unable to voice his own opinions.
Well, at the time, I thought this was kind of ridiculous. I loved Dr. Lakanen and wanted so badly to hear her write about her child, whom I’d met when he tagged along as she taught classes… what would it hurt to write about her kid, just in some sort of innocuous fashion? (it should also be noted that I was in the firm middle of my child-hating phase, having decided I would never have children myself) And yet, those few sentences also stuck with me, because I couldn’t deny that I also felt a lot of respect for her for choosing to protect her son in that way.
Fast forward eight years later, and I’m remarried with two children of my own. I write a lot of essays, including essays about motherhood, but my children are not my material. They are the only people in my life that are entirely off-limits when it comes to my writing, because if my words about them go into print, those words have the potential to brand them permanently. Or I could embarrass or humiliate them, or shame them unintentionally. I don’t want any of that. I don’t want my words following them around forever, labeling them or pigeonholing them into something. They are their own people, and just because I’m their mother doesn’t mean I get to violate that trust (we’ve chosen to apply this same philosophy to other issues in their lives, too). I don’t even post photos on Facebook, except maybe once a year after family photographs, and I limit my “friends” to about fifty people. My children are not up for public consumption until they are old enough to choose to be, if that’s what they want.
Sometimes I wish I COULD write about them. They certainly provide me with enough fodder, every single day. They’ve stretched me into growing into a bigger, better person with a softer heart. But in this world where it seems nothing is private any more, I’ve decided that their lives will be for as long as I can make that happen. And I hope that’s a very long time.