One Writer/Mother’s Growing Pains

August 13, 2012

These are my children, hiking in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland this gorgeous afternoon. You can see, based on the angle of this photograph, that only Abigail still looks up to see me. Grace and I are eye-to-eye.


“Why haven’t you been posting on your blog, Launa?”

It’s a question I’ve been meaning to answer.  But it’s taken me awhile to set it all straight in my own mind before explaining it here to you.

You know how sometimes when you haven’t spoken for awhile, you need to make some icky throat noises before anything useful or beautiful comes out? Think of this as a set of two throat-clearing posts where I explain a few likely reasons.

And here’s the first:  Now that my kids are teenagers, I can’t write about them anymore.  At least not in the same way.

As far as excuses go, this one is actually true rather than a self-serving lie. Their growing into teenagers has given me as a writer more trouble than I can figure out how to write around.  It’s growing pains for me as well as for them, and I haven’t (yet) figured out how to write about this particular shape my life has started to take.  Now that I am old.  And so are they.

As much as I like writing about education, my marriage, interesting ideas, or shopping in French supermarkets, my favorite topic since I started writing has been my own children.  While I’m not a standard-issue mommy blogger (no recipes, no photos of things I have knitted, no cutesy pseudonyms for my kids,) I am pretty much fascinated by parenting, and find that my interactions with them lead me to some pretty great personal growth.  When I write about them (even when it sounds like rank bragging) I am actually puzzling out some new lesson for me.

But there’s a wrench in the machinery of this process, and it’s that extra digit in their ages.  Writing about my daughters at 13 and nearly 11 is drastically harder than it was when they looked like little baby angels.  (Now, as you can see above, they look precisely like the grownup kind.)

Young children are highly versatile writing fodder. They can be adorable, for a “Kids Say The Darndest Things” sort of post.  They can be quietly brilliant, in the “Out of the Mouths of Babes” genre.  My children no longer do that cute thing of pronouncing words wrong (piscetti for spaghetti; vikaniks for bikinis) so there goes that trope.  They still say these things that floor me, all the time, but now their words feel more like theirs to use, and less like mine.

In the “Parenting as Scaling Everest” genre of blog posts, parenthood can be likened to any variety of noble challenges.  The domestic chores linked to parenthood have spawned an entire series of best selling books (The Zen of Housework.  The Transcendence of DinnerThe Search for Contentment Left Wedged Behind the Cushions of Your Sofa.)

Coaching Little League is as Challenging as Overseeing Peace Negotiations between Israel and Palestine.  Getting them to a Birthday Party On Time Sets off a Cluster Freak of Epic Proportions. I’ve written a lot in this vein, which you can read here, here, here and here, should you have forgotten just how fun this stuff is (was) to read.

But now?  Remember that “Little Kids, Little Problems; Big Kids, Big Problems” adage?  Damned if it isn’t true.  Now that they can get themselves (mostly) ready for school, play sports more effectively than I ever did, and carry their own luggage through foreign airports, I have fewer adorable little problems to blow out of proportion. Now, if I were to write about the real problems, the bigger ones that all humans have as they move through adolescence, I’d be betraying bigger confidences.  Which is super uncool.

It’s even starting to feel weird to me that I ever wrote about them at all. Whenever I have written a post about some lovely friend of mine, I would always first ask him or her, somewhat chagrined, if I could do so.  Now the girls are the height of my friends, and have their own fully-formed identities. Of course I ask the girls, too, and they read everything I write about them.  I have never posted something about them without their knowledge and consent.  It’s just that now I can’t even allow myself to write the things I am musing about them.

I may also have to give up the “I May Be a Bad Parent, But I Am Trying To Get Better,” theme, if only because no adolescent thinks her mom is getting better at anything.  I am as good as I am going to get.  I am also done with the I Can’t Believe How Time Is Slipping Past Me posts!  That’s one note I hit again and again that whole time their childhood was in fact slipping past me.  Now that it’s 100% slipped, and we’re in The Awkward Years, those posts are gone too.

And now, with the advent of braces and acne, I even have a hard time with the photo-post.  Because way back when, when I couldn’t think of anything else, I could always post a photograph of their translucently luminous skin, their sweet crooked teeth, their peachy faces smeared with chocolate ice cream, and call that “writing.”

Admittedly, the photo above could probably stand on its own, but I’m busy justifying and explaining myself today, not just showing off how delightfully stunning I still find my own kids, now that we see eye to eye.  But posting gorgeous photos of teenage girls?  Um, isn’t that weird in its own way?  I do not post photos of my (gorgeous) female friends and try somehow to soak up the reflected glory; why can I still do so with my children?

So really, none of these tried and true blog genres work anymore.  My otherwise miraculous teenagers have sucked the life out of all of my earlier go-to reliable writing topics. Pretty much anything that the girls and I talk about together (their growing bodies, their friends, their schoolwork, their accomplishments, their struggles, or for goodness sake their newly-minted romantic lives) is out of bounds. It’s just not OK to write about self-conscious, self-and-other-hating adolescents, as lovely and perfect as mine truly are, because it would mortify everybody’s socks off.

Grace is taller than I am, pretty much as of last week.  Sometimes when I look quickly at photographs of her, I think they are photographs of me, with magically better hair.  Abigail is not only private as all heck, but also blooming into a full-on young lady. Their experiences no longer feel like mine to describe.  And you might just hate me if I did.

The wisdom of that Sweet Honey in the Rock song is becoming more and more evident every day: 

Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself.  They come through you, but they are not from you.  And though they are with you, they belong not to you.

So while my life with my children is just as rich and full and worthy of contemplation as it always was, I just have to be all quiet about it.  Instead of my trademark raw honesty, expect a lot more circumspection when it comes to my writing about my kids.

(Stay tuned for a related post, soon enough, about two other excuses about why I haven’t had so much to say here recently.)





chantel August 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm

and – what a powerful thing on your part to recognize and honor this~~!

Lindsey August 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I’m scraping up against the edges of this right now, as I think we’ve discussed … difficulty coming, and it makes me anxious as I will no longer have anything to say. Those lines, from that song, by the way, run through my head All The Time. I could not agree more.

Launa August 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm

You know, I was afraid to worry you specifically, in writing this. But it’s becoming more and more true. Perhaps if you just keep posting as regularly as you always have, you’ll work through it to whatever is next. Because developing this fake writer’s block I’ve given myself hasn’t helped anything.

GailNHB August 14, 2012 at 10:03 am

Launa, I hear you. I really do. I understand that you are going to honor your daughters and their privacy. They deserve that.

Please allow me to be one of your many readers who begs you, who pleads with you to keep on writing. Write about being a teacher, a friend, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a resident of this twitching, turning, fraying planet anyway.

But make it more about you. Because even though you wrote wonderful stories about your daughters and your trips and your marriage, you were always writing about yourself. You were always writing about us and about me.

I know you will figure this out. While you do that, please keep writing!

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