And so my eight-year-old son, the voracious reader but painfully reluctant writer, has progressed from writing about building a treehouse in Maine with his dad, to a nonfiction report on the Iguanodon with its fearsome thumb spikes, to creating a fictional story about the adventures of Frog the Kitten and Sid the Skunk.
Now the focus is poetry. In class, they’ve read many examples of what poems can look and sound like. My son’s favorite collection is the latest Shel Silverstein, Everything On It. But enjoying poetry is not the problem—apparently.
I was in the kitchen making dinner on Monday night while my son pretended to do his homework. All of a sudden, he asked if he could “miss a day of school two weeks away from today.” During the next few minutes, he told me that his class is going to have a Poetry Slam in two weeks, and he doesn’t want to read his poem. Apparently, as part of the curriculum, each child must stand in front of their classmates and teachers and perform their poem, using a microphone.
“Mom, can I be sick?”
“Hhmmmmm,” I said, wondering whether the soup I was stirring had the right consistency. “I’m afraid you need to do this.”
“But Mommmmmmmmmmmm,” he said, the end of ‘Mom’ an octave higher than the beginning. Tears welled up in his eyes. I put down my spoon and gave him my full attention.
“You know, when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get out of doing things I was afraid of doing,” I said. “And it gets harder, not easier, to do things unless you start facing your fears now.” He was not impressed by this argument. The future is a long way off.
And then I reminded him how much I enjoyed reading my children’s stories to his classmates—
“But you wanted to read, and you didn’t have to read into a microphone!” he yelled, now completely over the edge.
And then I told him about open mic nights, and how I’d just participated in a reading. And yes, I was nervous, but I did it. And yes, there was a microphone involved.
Then I got a bright idea and took a different tack.
“I used to think that terrible things would happen to me if I talked in front of a group. Maybe a bucket would fall on my head.” He laughed. “Maybe I would just keel over and die.” He laughed again. “That would be the worst thing to happen wouldn’t it? Just keeling over and dying? And you know, I’ve never keeled over and died from standing up and reading my work in front of other people.”
Well, we both laughed some more and then we moved on to another topic, something to do with Lego robots—but I don’t think I’ve heard the last of this.
The Poetry Slam is now one week and two days away. There are, most likely, more tears and laughter between now and then—probably on Sunday night—all having to do with being brave enough to show yourself and your work to the world. That’s what the writing life’s all about, isn’t it?