The Writing Lesson

I confess, I have a son who would rather eat peas than write a solitary paragraph for school. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about his favorite book, what he did over summer break, or some fantabulous story (that he’d love to tell you about, instead).

At the beginning of second grade when his class first started writing stories, I donned my writer/editor cape and swooped down on him in the kitchen.

“Well, what would you really like to write about?” I asked, eagerly pulling a chair next to him at the kitchen table.

“I don’t.”

And so I told him how common writers block is, how writers have little tricks to get the juices flowing, how—

“Mom, I don’t want to do it.”

Now this had never occurred to me, that someone with my DNA wouldn’t want to write.

“But you love to read,” I said, staring at him through the haze of my cognitive dissonance.

“So can I go read?”

“You will either sit here and write a paragraph or go to bed,” I said calmly, although with a certain degree of elemental passion. Not quite sure I was being entirely rational, I pushed my chair away from the table and stood up, distancing myself from this child who clearly wasn’t mine.

And then he heaved a sigh that began in our collective ancestors’ past and continued into his grandchildren’s future.

During this great wind, I struggled to find some wisdom. He is only eight years old, and I wanted him to love writing as much as he loves reading. But maybe he needed to come round to that on his own—or gasp! maybe he would never like to write. And maybe I was jumping to conclusions w-a-y too fast.

I thought of Anne Lamott’s wonderful book, Bird by Bird, and the story of her brother’s desperation (following a 3-month period of procrastination) at having to write a report for school in one night. He was supposed to describe a wide variety of birds and was clearly overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. I recalled their father’s patient response.

“OK, I’ll help you,” I said, sitting back down and putting an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s start at the beginning. What should we talk about in the first sentence?”

 He looked at me, the fear, tension, anger, stress—all the angst—dropping away as if he had been released from some evil spell. Dare I say, that spell was mine?  

So many times in this parenting life I take the wrong path, but this time I knew I had changed course for the better. At the end of an hour (no, it wasn’t easy), we had a paragraph, and my son had a positive writing experience. That is all I should ever hope for, because the rest will be up to him.        

Please feed the chickens...

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