Occasionally I’m asked if my kids mind that I write about them. The short answer is “No.”
The long answer? We have an arrangement. They get the right of first refusal, if you will. And believe me, they exercise it.
“You are so not putting that in a column,” Holly said recently, when I happened to reach for a pen while something was going on.
“No, of course not,” I replied.
I merely jotted a note about something unrelated – milk, eggs, yadda yadda, but I get it. She’s used to seeing me write on whatever’s handy – on receipts, on napkins, on my hand – and she wasn’t taking any chances.
Fortunately, my “no” sufficed. There’s a level of trust there, one I would never exploit, no matter how tempting. I always tell my kids what I’m writing about. If it doesn’t pass muster, it doesn’t get published. The first time Noah came home from school and announced that an acquaintance at school, a girl, had read my column, I winced. He was 11.
“Oh yeah?” Shoot, I thought, I’ve blown it.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Is that a good thing?” I asked.
He grinned. As I recall, in my latest column, I’d mentioned something about him, perhaps something funny he’d done when he was little. Or maybe it was the column that included a picture I took, of him back-flipping off the high-dive at the quarry. He’d so longed to learn that trick, after watching the “big boys” do it several summers in a row, and he’d finally mastered it himself. Maybe that was the one. “Sure,” he said, still grinning.
But there are times when he hasn’t been so sure, like when strangers stop and ask if I’m the lady who writes for the paper. I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time that happened, a few years ago when we were at a local park where Holly’s soccer team was practicing.
“I know all about you,” the woman said to Noah, who merely blanched in reply.
She was very sweet, and I was very flattered, but each time this happens, I remind the kids that I certainly don’t have to write this column. We talk about what the experience is like, for them, and I explain that their comfort comes first, for me.
Though Noah admits that it does feel odd when people volunteer that they know things about him when they’ve never even meet, usually he and Holly simply shrug and say they really don’t care. (Secretly, though, I think they get a kick out of watching me laugh in a room all by myself as I write. But maybe they’re just taking notes of their own – you know, building a case so they can put me in a home someday. But I digress.)
But their privacy is paramount. So, yes, there really are things, tender, funny, sweet, things, that I may never get around to sharing in my columns.
Like the details of the time Noah and I shopped for deodorant, for example, after he came home from school four years ago and said that his dear fifth-grade teacher finally announced, one hot afternoon in May, that none of them were allowed back in her classroom without deodorant.
I still giggle and clutch at my heart over that one. (In fact, that column – for which my notes are probably crumpled up in an old purse somewhere under my bed – may never get written. Maybe I’ll write it when he’s 40, after he’s had a few years on a therapist’s couch to get over the others.)
“I get it,” he once said, after I communicated to them my goal, that of somehow conveying to you, dear readers, that you are not alone in the parenting trenches, for the good, bad, and the ugly.
I don’t know how he possibly could get it, then, as he was only maybe 12 at the time, but maybe he did. He’s generous like that. Come to think of it, though I’m almost never without inspiration for something about which to write – as long as I strike while the iron is hot – some weeks a deadline approaches and I say, “I got nothin’.”
My kids – usually Holly – sometimes volunteer suggestions. Cracks me up. But I’ll never forget the time six years ago when I sent Noah to his room (we had a first-floor condo, in those days), when he climbed out his window, ran around to the one by my desk where I was working on another column and announced, “There, Mommy, write about that!”
Oh, I did, baby, I did.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.