Last month, my 12-year-old son and I went to a poetry reading together. He wore a tie of his choosing and the cardigan I asked him to wear; he didn't wear the shirt I suggested, but he did take off the shirt I rejected. Every age is the age of negotiation.
The reading was for finalists in our annual countywide poetry contest, of which my son was one. I was absurdly giddy with maternal pride, not least because I had prodded him to submit his work, and he had resisted my prodding right up to the deadline. He made it clear that he didn't want to enter the contest because it wasn't his own idea. (Another negotiation.) He did it on the last possible day, and in the end, he was one of the winners in the 12- to 14-year-old division.
As I shared the evening with him, enjoying his literary accomplishment as much or more than I've ever enjoyed any of my own, it seemed to me that the best part of it all was that he was enjoying it, too. He was taking the honor seriously, and taking himself a little more seriously, perhaps, because somebody other than his mom had recognized the value in what he had written.
Many of us, regardless of our age, have a tendency to downplay the value of our work or cast aspersions on its quality, whether we're talking about our housework, volunteer work, artwork, or whatever we do to pay the bills. We overlook our successes while we scan the horizon for the next incoming threat of failure. We choose cynicism over earnestness because we'd rather not seem to care if the reward for caring might be embarrassment. We are always negotiating with ourselves: What are we willing to try? What identities will we allow ourselves to claim?
As my children continue to grow out of childhood, I know that my encouragement may feel like pressure and my enthusiasm may feel like expectation, but I hope that we'll all learn to negotiate those disjunctions together, and I trust that it's always the right choice to celebrate when one of them takes a chance. With our Mother's Day issue, we at Literary Mama celebrate the chances you take every day, year upon year—as mothers, as writers, and as complex citizens of a complex world.
P.S. Stay connected between monthly issues by subscribing to our blog and newsletter and by following us on social media! Also, explore our archives to discover more mothers' voices.
The End of a Circle: The Talk by Jennifer Golden
Back to Spring by Julie Rosenzweig
A Review of Hurtling Toward Happiness by Camille-Yvette Welsch
Images by Rosa Colmenares, Joren Aranas, Micheile Henderson, Chaney Zimmerman, Kyle Ellefson, Dennis de Groot, Danilo Batista, and Annie Spratt