To Thine Own Self Be True
I never used to have gray hair. Or wrinkles. Or a loud voice. I do not blame these things on age. I blame them on the little being who came to live with us almost 10 years ago. The one who likes to jump off tall lifeguard stands (resulting in a knocked-out filling), run helter-skelter down the stairs (resulting in a scar on his chin) and bomb along on uneven pavement at 100 miles an hour. (That’s the scar over his upper lip. We like to pretend he plays hockey to explain it.)
You know, the little being with the Y chromosone.
We had a pretty quiet life, my daughter and I. We read books, and took long walks, and painted and colored and managed to do all those things with a lovely stillness. Sure, we got rowdy once in a while — who doesn’t — but we are both on the introverted side, so the rowdiness never lasted for too long before we’d settle down on the couch, cuddled under a blanket, to snuggle and look at our favorite stories.
And then — BAM — I had a boy. And almost every day since he learned to talk, and then walk, life has been a big adventure. He’s an extrovert, as wiggly as a puppy, and he loves to sing and whistle and in general just MAKE NOISE. Even when we are doing a quiet activity. Which — surprise surprise — is actually no longer quiet.
He also likes to push the envelope. A lot. And he’s good at it.
There are days when I wake up and tell the universe I’ve grown quite enough spiritually, thank you. I don’t need any more parenting lessons.
And then I went to the Writer Unboxed Conference last week, which was chock-full of good writing advice by luminaries such as Brunonia Barry, Lisa Cron, Donald Maass, Ray Rhamey and Heather Webb. Meg Rosoff was there too, leading a class on voice, but all of her writing advice was lost on me after one of her comments.
She was talking about being true to yourself, even if that’s hard for other people to understand. Meg is funny and brash and the kind of person you want to just sit and listen to — like very few people around. Then she said that her mother, who is in her 80s, still gets upset when Meg does something she doesn’t like. She’ll say ‘You always have to do it your own way, don’t you?’
And Meg looked at the class and said “What other way should I do it? I’m me. Of course I’ll do it my way.”
Those words hit me so hard I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the class. Because I’ve had that conversation with my exuberant boy more times than I care to admit. But of course he’d do it his own way — what other way should he do it? Mine?
Well yes, sometimes. In matters of major safety. And public good manners. But the rest of the time, why should I expect a nine-year-old boy to do something the way a (insert age here) adult should?
My kid is funny, and outgoing, and so energetic there are days I’d like a nap by 8 a.m. He’s the polar opposite of me in almost every way. He has a huge heart, and a huge imagination, and every single day he stretches me as a person and as a parent. Sometimes that stretching is painful. Sometimes, by not accepting my ‘no’ or ‘you can’t’ he makes me think about why I said no in the first place, what my answer is based on, and who it is benefiting. Sometimes he drives me to distraction and to a glass of wine. But always, always, always, he drives me to be better — even if it’s because I wasn’t my best that day.
I want my kids to be individuals when they grow up. I want them to think for themselves, to contribute to society, to be good parents and good citizens and just all around good people. I want them to figure out how to make the world better by seeing it in a way that no one else before them has — with their own eyes and their own hearts. But to do that, they have to discover themselves, and discovery is an ongoing process — it doesn’t begin at age 21 when they move out of the house.
It begins now. By doing things their own way. And sometimes as a parent, that means getting out of the way and letting them.
I am just fascinated by the various (and diverse!) takeaways from UnCon. Isn’t it a gift, how we were all pulled out of our armor, then cajoled to a closer and more wonderful examination of ourselves? I love that you came away with fresh parenting perspectives.
Getting to spend time with you was one of UnCon’s special gifts to me, Liz.
Likewise, Vaughn. Hanging with you was so much fun. And I’m equally intrigued reading everyone’s posts about the conference — it’s like listening to 100 different voices. Amazing.
Reminds me of an editor’s cultivation of an author’s voice. As I understand it, the goal is to strengthen it and allow it effective expression, not change it altogether.
How neat that your parenting would be altered in Salem.
I think the editor’s voice is being altered in this case! But yes, if I can just channel that energy effectively and safely, I might cut down on the gray hair.
It was awesome getting together with you, Jan.
Likewise, Liz! Since I’ve been home I’ve felt torn. I’ve returned to my blood-born family but left my literary one. It’s a peculiar, wonderful feeling of loss.
Your son and my younger daughter are the same age – both extroverts on the noisy side! That’s funny.
That line Meg said struck me as well, but you’ve summed up better than I could as to why.
Oh, and I agree wholeheartedly with Vaughn on this – meeting and spending time with you at the UnCon was indeed a gift!
I REALLY can’t wait for the next one, Kim. It was such an awesome, thought-provoking experience. (With the added bonus of meeting a whole new crew of fabulous writer friends.)
Oh wow, Liz! I still can’t believe my rotten timing that I wasn’t able to get to the UnCon. Next year!!
I love that line from Meg. And LOVE your post. Especially this –> “But always, always, always, he drives me to be better — even if it’s because I wasn’t my best that day.”
My 9 year old boy is exactly the same (and I’m the introvert desperately seeking quiet). The other day I caught myself saying no and getting frustrated. One look at his face and I turned it around. “You know what, I was wrong. Let’s do it.” Deep breath, dive in, best decision of the day.
Thank you for this post, Liz!
Yeah, the deep breaths are key Glad the post resonated with you, and I’m bummed you didn’t make it to the conference. Next time for sure!
I enjoyed reading this, Liz. Brought back memorizes . . ..
Thanks so much for reading!
As always (at least when I visit your blog which I confess is rarer than I intend because there simply isn’t enough time to read everything), I found your post thoughtful. However, there is a difference between being ten and having to listen to one’s mother and being fifty-eight and being told to listen to one’s mother. Having met you very briefly but not having had the opportunity to spend more time with you in Salem, which I would have loved, I believe you when you say you want your children to grow up to express their individuality in the best possible way. I believe you will guide them to be thoughtful, caring individuals who respect others as much as you’re raising them to respect themselves. But in this age of “My child is a Prince or Princess and can do anything he or she wants if it makes them happy”; I see too many children becoming raging narcissists instead of creative individuals. I can’t imagine this will ever happen to your children, but it is the other side of the coin of letting individuality rule–without any rules to temper its expression, and to the exclusion of a wider perspective.
Sevigne, I would have enjoyed spending more time with you as well — the blanket crew always looked so cozy at night. I was behind someone on the road today who made me think of your post, and I agree — this seems to be the era of the indulged child. The trick seems to be finding the line between letting a child know he or she is special and deserves to be seen as an individual, and reminding them that other people have those same rights too. And that we all need to support and contribute to society.
I really identify with this post, Liz — especially with a son who questions your questions. That’s both exhausting and illuminating, isn’t it? I come from a family of females–two sisters, no brothers–and my first-born was also a daughter. My son made clear he was different from moment one with a baritone cry and a demanding hunger. I’m still learning from my teenaged son, and getting better (I hope) about taking in the lessons. Meg’s is a simple lesson but powerfully true. People are who they are, and what a gift that is, really. Thanks for bringing that back to mind.
On a more personal note, I’m so glad you were a part of the first Un-Con, Liz. Write on!