Raising my children has taught me how to apply critical thinking to a variety of situations, not the least of which is assessing manuscripts.
No longer do my offspring need my aid to tie their shoelaces. No longer do they badger me to bake cookies (In truth, since I’m a horrible baker, I never made cookies, but it’s comforting to think that my sons and daughters, years ago, might have wanted me to do so.) Rather, these days, when I talk at length with those relatively and recently independent young adults, it’s about: their literal nightmares, their sometimes figuratively joyful interpersonal moments, and their ache, both literal and figurative, for that amorphic commodity known as “home.”
Even given the verity of their having grown up, my preferred method of taking action on others’ writing presses on as unwearied exploration. I persist in responding to events as though my own and my issue’s well-being depended on my being able to engage in quick, detailed valuations of goings-on.
In other words, my maternal instincts enabled me to sift through verbiage in ways that no other engine could. Sure, I was a rhetoric professor long before earning my motherly mantel, but it was those years that I lived with contemporaneous blasts from the fruits of my womb that empowered me to improve the manner in which I classified and appraised. That is, although I performed and taught textual examination long before I changed diapers, it was the advent of my founts of muddy tracks and of sticky handprints that propelled me to the stratosphere of measured discourse.
Consider, some number of years ago, I had to balance a juvenile flushing a sibling’s plastic giraffe in the toilet against a third child’s creation of a glue-based hairstyle for a fourth. When my cats screamed, creating bleating sounds, those upwellings were usually best left unsubstantiated even as those noises has to be weighed against the shrill made by my boys and girls when the latter were jumping from a landing, past an entire flight of stairs, and missing. Furthermore, the absence of reverberations, sourced from my children, too, had to be rated. Quiet could mean that my sons and daughters were painting the bathroom grout purple or, more unlikely, that all of my short titans, miraculously and simultaneously, had fallen asleep.
Consequently, it’s of small wonder, that these days I’m unflustered by grandchildren or by graduate students. I’ve long become accustomed to attributing meaning to utterances, to printed words, and to the spaces among them. Since my family’s survival depended on my mastery of those skills, I can analyze, interpret, and evaluate assemblages of words or deeds alongside the best critics. Wading through slush piles, for me, is nothing relative to applying rhetorical techniques to the articulations, or lack thereof, uttered by wee persons emerging from their diapers and painting their cribs with the contents found therein. Because it was essential for me to grasp the significance of all of my scions’ communications, it’s far less effort for me to grasp the significance of sophisticated, yet potentially less dangerous or destructive, collections of words.
Namely, an awareness of the quality of any piece of writing is galaxies easier for me to come by than was any awareness of the intentionality of the behaviors of my descendants. To this day, I remain uncertain, for example, as to why one of them put a gecko in our dryer instead of settling that allegedly cold critter on a windowsill. Even now, I’m mystified as to why another of my brood felt fit to tell all of the folk telephoning me that “mommy can’t talk; she’s electrifying pages.” What’s more, it continues to be beyond my ken to comprehend how, both in the past, and at present, one of the somebodies, who I birthed, can cook in our family’s kitchen, but leave our counters, sinks, stove, oven, and our entire dining room a mess. In contrast, trying to suss out whether or not a would-be contributor’s story has satisfactory causality, or whether or not a writing student’s poem consists of more than hastily constructed, appalling rhymes, is uncomplicated.
To wit, it’s more straightforward for me to figure out writers’ motives for writing than it was for me to figure out my children’s motives for: hiding homework, throwing food at each other, or hanging by their ankles from the top bunks of their bed. I know that word players often want: publishing credits, attention from certain communities of readers, or, money. I still don’t follow why ketchup tastes good with peanut butter or why eyeshadow has to have sparkles.
It’s likewise simple for me to tell that some writers memorialize their dear ones in their work or use their pieces to protest the ill-treatment of women, while it was more knotty for me to come to terms with the rationale behind my little ones building a cardboard fort in our living room. Said differently, it’s good enough for writers’ efforts to be mostly understood by their editors and teachers, Yours Truly included; adults are able to integrate corrections into their undertakings. It’s far from sufficient, though, for children’s endeavors to be misinterpreted by their care providers, Yours Truly included; harm and hurt can result. Most of us can put ourselves in the place of other grown folk, but few of us can put ourselves in the place of our children.
Thus, I’d prefer being stymied perceiving my sons and daughters’ actions than confounded perceiving other writers’ operations; determining the worth of other writers’ poetry or prose helps them a lot, but helps me a bit, whereas determining the worth of my offspring’s choices helped them a bit, but helped me a lot. Parenting not only gave me subject matter for many publications (drool, puke, and the other sorts of fluids that frequently ooze from undersized humans are part of most readers’ lives, and as such, manuscripts that reference them are manuscripts with which readers can readily identify), but parenting, more importantly, improved my ability to: prioritize, performing numerous jobs simultaneously, and add heart to my efforts.
I wish I could return to those years when I was challenged to figure out whether or not self-entertainment or social climbing informed: a daughter wearing wonky nail polish, a son returning to MMA after busting his nose there, a son erecting a dangerously engineered tree house, and a daughter stealing my shoes because she “had nothing” to wear to parties. I can gauge, on multiple scales, the development of an essay’s content, the organization of its ideas, the diction with which its ideas are expressed, and its adherence to mechanics.
See, I’ve come to appreciate how qualia, more precisely, individual, subjective experiences of events, can only be accurately metered in the gardens in which they bloom. I’ve come to appreciate that my children write me.
–reprinted from The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 21, 2017.