The revenge of the subject matter

After writing on parenting for fifteen years, my kids have become used to the lack of privacy experienced by simply being my children and the fodder for my humour. They recently shared that the most common question they are asked by friends and neighbours who read this column is if they are “proud” of my writing. I mean, heck, I don’t want to sound too egocentric, but I am sometimes a huge bunch of funny.

So I did the thing you are never supposed to do, right alongside never googling your own name. I asked them what they answered, and they said, “Ummm, well, proud isn’t really the right word mom.”

Pleased and secretly hoping for a bigger word or emotion, I did the third thing you’re not supposed to do … I pressed.

“Well … what is the word?”

Mortified. That was the word: mortified.

It turns out that ever since they were old enough to read my articles, they have been mortified to be the subject of my parental musings. Apparently, disclosing their most vulnerable developmental moments is not nearly as amusing to them as it has been for us for the past decade and a half. Okay, to be fair, I should have thought of writing under a pseudonym, to protect their privacy, but heck, I didn’t have any idea that they’d be so darn cute and funny and frankly so mockable for so long.

I did have some sense of my eldest son’s embarrassment, after writing about his first crush, which was published the September he started Grade 6. Picking him up from school one afternoon, he pitched his backpack into the trunk, slammed the lid, threw himself into the back seat, and snapped the seatbelt closed with a lot of vigour. A lot. Intuitively, I sensed something was wrong.

“Tough day, kiddo?”

“How long?” he asked, sullen and clearly infuriated.

“How long what?” I asked, bewildered.

Lips barely moving, he responded, “How long have you been writing about my life in the paper?” Uh oh.

I did a quick mental calculation – seven years, bi-weekly. Okay, the number was too big for a quick mental calculation, and worse, the answer would not be well received by the fuming 10 year-old in the back seat.

“Not long,” I lied. “Why do you ask?”

Well, it turned out that his favourite teacher was a big fan of my writing, and inadvertently outed me. Suddenly, my firstborn had discovered that his private life was actually quite public and banned me from writing about him in future. That put a whole new spin on things; I turned my comedic focus to the youngest, who had long felt that he was under-represented in my column.

But that didn’t go smoothly either. He, like all second children, had learned from his elder sibling and, after he discovered I’d shared a story the year before about potty training him (including an adorable poop he took on the back steps of our home) he insisted on editorial review privileges before I submitted to my editor. This was going to be a bit more challenging.

Since their discovery of my secret life of sharing their lives, this editorial right has meant many, many funny “slice of life” moments never saw, nor ever will see, the light of the newspaper page. Articles like “The underground economics of high school beer” lost on the editing room floor. “The top five things every hockey mom should know about tryouts,” also banned from publication … I was pretty upset when I wrote that one, and they were right to veto me. But one of my personal favourites, “the top three reasons that auto insurance is so expensive, by the mother of two teenaged boys,” was also prohibited from publication.

So I continue to search for material for my articles, cleansed of anything that would be so personal as to be embarrassing to my sons, while authentic enough to resonate with readers who are or have been on the parenting journey with me.

I found tremendous hilarity in the stories they shared of their friends, as they all stumbled through all the same things we went through as teenagers, complete with nicknames, girlfriends, being hired and fired from first jobs, and making ridiculous errors in volume of alcohol consumption.

But they banned me from writing about their friends, too.

Perhaps, as I ready myself for the firstborn to fly the nest, and the second migrates into that strange space called 15 years old, with the accompanying verbal communication skills of Marcel Marceau, it may be time for me to become more covert in my approach. I’ll either have to write about other people’s children, or on other topics, or wait. Wait for the next phase of inspiration to reach me … Grandchildren! Don’t tell my boys I said that though – they would be mortified!

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