AWP is only five days away, and I’ve been thinking of little else. It’s not just the writing conference that’s on my mind, of course. I’ve been thinking about getting on a plane alone, without anyone I need to hold or rock or calm. I’ve been thinking about sleeping through the night and having three glasses of wine if I feel like it. And of course I’ve also been worrying about leaving my girls for three nights. Stella will be fine—I’ve been away from her for that long before—but I haven’t been away from Zoë for more than a few hours at once since she was born. I realize it’s time—she is eleven months old after all. But she still breastfeeds and still wakes up several times a night to nurse, and that’s the part that makes me nervous. Ideally, when I return, she will be weaned from night feedings and be sleeping through the night. (Is that too much to hope for?) But I’m worried that in the process, she will feel abandoned, and when I return, she’ll give me the baby cold shoulder. I can see her doing that.
I am excited for the actual conference and for our panel, “Parents as Writers: Our Children as Subjects,” which will be moderated by Jill Christman, whom I adore. (I’ve posted about her essay “The Allergy Diaries” here.) The panel is studded with mama writer stars: Shari MacDonald Strong, editor of The Maternal is Political and frequent columnist for Literary Mama and mamazine; Sonya Huber, author of Opa Nobody and frequent contributor to Literary Mama; and Jennifer Niesslein, co-founder of Brain, Child and author of the memoir Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Misadventures Through the World of Self-Help and Back. I’ll be sitting next to those ladies. How exciting is that? And we’ll be discussing what happens when we turn our writer’s gaze on our children: How does the writing change when we are responsible for more than our art? When parents write about children, how are the ethical considerations different than when it’s the other way around? When do our children’s stories become theirs to tell, not ours?
I’ve been preparing and thinking about this for a few weeks now, and I’ve come across some interesting articles that deal with the topic. I especially like Emily Bazelon’s article “Is This Tantrum on the Record?” which was published in Slate last June. Bazelon challenges writers (and particularly bloggers) to consider whether there are (or should be) ground rules when you write about your children. She says, “When I write about my kids, I’m not only thinking as their mothers. I’m also thinking as a professional writer. Those two identities don’t always align—they just don’t. I like to think that when there’s tension, I err on the side of protecting my kids’ interests, steering clear of any material that’s too embarrassing or private.” But Bazelon admits that she doesn’t trust herself to always do this, so her husband vets all of her writing about their kids.
I’m careful when I write about my kids, especially when I write about them on this blog. I do it infrequently. Partly, this is because the blog isn’t really about my kids; it’s about motherhood and reading and writing and teaching. It’s about how and where these things intersect, how they work together and sometimes against each other. And partly it is because in the face of the confessional, tell-all nature of blogging, I want to be especially careful. I post the occasional anecdote about Stella, list something funny or adorable that she said. But in the back of my mind, there is always a flashing red light reminding me of the potential Googling power of a gaggle of 12-year-olds. At some point, she may want to read what I write about her, and I don’t want her to feel exposed or betrayed when she does.
I feel a little freer when I’m writing for a print publication, when I’m working on an essay or my memoir. It’s true that pieces of this writing could end up online and easily accessed, as well, but still, it feels different, safer. But maybe I’m just fooling myself.
I’d be very interested to hear about your ground rules…are there things you will or will not write about your children? Is there an age at which you think you will (or should) stop writing about them, at least online? How do we balance our need to express ourselves through writing with our children’s right to privacy?
Anyone out there going to AWP? I’d love to meet some of my virtual friends in person! And if you are there, please join our discussion on Thursday morning!