Since everything is copy, we writers appropriate everything—conversations with friends and colleagues, snippets from eavesdropping, news, movies, domestic and geopolitical dramas. Sometimes this habit of appropriation tempts us into being inappropriate.
Mothers who write, especially those who find their children to be a reliable Muse, face even greater challenges. Such as, “How do I mine all this rich material without leading to (a) lawsuits; (b) children needing to be in therapy all their lives; or (c) children writing another Mommie Dearest, assuming they’ve benefited from all that therapy and have inherited a knack for writing and retribution?
Caution is the watchword, at least once your child learns to read. Just as adorable nude shots of your toddler must be removed from photo albums before dating commences, so, too, must the experience you co-opt not be too embarrassing or revealing. Remember, just as some zealous Walgreen’s clerk might misconstrue your innocent pictures and report you to the child pornography hotline, so, too, may your writing land you in trouble.
Long ago I acquired a fig leaf of maternal decency by asking my daughters how they felt about my writing. Emma said, “I don’t care what you write as long as I don’t have to read it.” Ally, always the go-getter, said, “I don’t care what you write as long as I get a cut.”
I took that as full license. Exercised with great sensitivity and familiarity with libel laws, of course!
Recently, though, Emma remarked, “I read somewhere that you should never write about your children.”
A better mother might have responded, “Oh? Tell me more.” Or, “How are you feeling about my writing (which you never read) these days?” Or even, God forbid, “OK, I’ll stop.”
Instead I cried indignantly, “You’re changing the terms!”
Looks like it might be time to renegotiate the contract with my disgruntled muse before she walks out on me altogether.
How do you handle writing about your kids? And what’s it been like to read about yourself in someone else’s writing?