The Writer’s Child

Sometimes I wonder how it will affect Ophelia, growing up with a mother who is a writer, and specifically a fantasy writer.

It already means a couple of things. It means that her room is filled with books. They’re mostly the books I grew up with, which means they’re too old for her. She’ll read them someday. Right now she’s fascinated by the Magic Treehouse series, although she’s more than halfway through the first Harry Potter. (Should I mention at this point that she’s six?) But since she was quite young, she’s been surrounded by fantasy movies as well. She has all the best Miyazaki DVDs, and has been watching My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, and Castle in the Sky for years. (She thinks Howl’s Moving Castle is too scary.) She’s watched both sets of Narnia movies, and of course the Harry Potter movies.

Perhaps it’s appropriate, thinking of the female characters she’s been exposed to, that she’s completely against anything “girlish” (her word). To play with, she always chooses horses, knights, swords and suits of armor, robots, dinosaurs (and yes, she has all those things, including a plastic sword and suit of armor). She has emphatically rejected anything pink or with ruffles. I know because I buy her clothes, and thank goodness for preppy catalogs like Land’s End, where I can buy girls’ clothes in navy blue, red, yellow, and green. Because if she won’t wear something, she really emphatically won’t wear it.

She’s spend her childhood in museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Harvard Natural History Museum, the MIT Museum of Science. She’s idolized female astronauts and robot makers. Because her father is a scientist, she’s made DNA out of split peas. She’s made robots herself. She’s been to Boston, New York (where she went to MoMA and the Met), Denver, Charlottesville, and various cities in Hungary. She’s slept and played giant chess in a real, actual European castle. She’s ridden horses. She has a favorite horse (whose name is Little Man).

What she has not done is gone to Disney World, or any other amusement park. I don’t think we’ve ever gone to McDonald’s. We went to the Children’s Museum once, and never again. I tried for a while, when she was young, to be the mother I thought mothers were supposed to be. After a while I decided that if something bored me to tears, I would not do it. I could not help it, I simply could not endure baby gym classes. Mommy and me yoga classes. The Children’s Museum on an average weekday. These are all, I’m sure, my failings as a mother. The PTA is very important. I will never bake cookies for it. Sorry.

When we were deciding what to have for Christmas dinner, we asked Ophelia whether she would prefer pizza or Thai food. She looked at us as though the answer were obvious: Thai food of course, with plenty of shumai.

Not all of this has to do with being a writer’s child. But quite a lot of it does. She has a mother who, given a choice, will always choose romance, in the sense of narrative. There is a romance, an incongruity, to Thai food at Christmas. In comparison, pizza seems ordinary. There is a romance to being in New York and going to MoMA. It engages the imagination. One can tell stories about it. And I realize that I choose to do things one can tell stories about. And I choose to surround myself with stories, whether on bookshelves or DVDs or in the things I do every day. My clothes have stories. I write stories about my cats.ย  And so she too tells stories and has that instinct for romance, for narrative.

She gets all sorts of things from me: my compulsiveness and desire to master disciplines, and her imagination is just out of bounds. (Here she is beside me, telling me that she has made a machine from a lego kit she was given for Christmas. It’s an annoy-o-matic. And it is, indeed, annoying. She is correcting me as I write, telling me how to write annoy-o-matic, with the hyphens.) Some of those traits are genetic, some of them no doubt the result of having grown up in a household where, if you ask how robots are made, you are shown how. If you ask for art supplies, you are given them.

My daughter has had a book dedicated to her, by one of her godparents. (Who are both writers.)

On the other hand, if you look for her on the internet, you will find almost nothing. The other side to being a writer’s child is that to the extent I have a public life, and she is a part of it, she will have a public life as well. And I don’t want that. Whatever life she has, I want her to create for herself. She can have a web presence as soon as she designs her own website.

Once, she asked me if I was famous. She had seen my books on the shelf, and had seen that if she put my name into the google search box, pictures came up. I told her, a teeny-tiny bit. She told a friend at school that her mother was famous, and her friend told her that meant she was famous as well. I wasn’t quite sure what to say about that, except to emphasize the teeny-tiny part.

Since she is standing here beside me, having come up to show me her annoy-o-matic, I ask her: do you mind that I’m writing about you? She laughs and says no. But this is most likely the only time I will.

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7 Responses to The Writer’s Child

  1. emily says:

    Awww, no amusement parks. =|

    So, there is no romance, for narrative, in driving down the east coast to Orlando to visit the heavily themed Disney World, with its amazing(!!!) fireworks, waterworks, shows, and attractions, and visiting New York City, Washington D.C., etc. along the way?

  2. Well, Emily, it all depends on the spirit in which you do it. It sounds as though your trip had plenty of romance and narrative! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Brady says:

    My oldest daughter asked if I’m weird because I’m a writer. I told her, no, I was a writer because I’m weird.

    Great post. Made me think a lot about my own girls. And made me want to remind my oldest that weird isn’t necessarily weird (or at all bad), it can just be being imaginative and being yourself.

  4. Weird is good! Weird makes you interesting. She’ll figure that out eventually, but it’s hard to understand while you’re still in school and there’s so much pressure to be like everyone else.

  5. Ellen says:

    I grew up with a composer for a mother and software engineer for a father. I’ve never been to Disneyworld and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t done me any harm. (Disneyland when I was 15 was abhorrent.) My parents always encouraged me to do anything I was interested in while growing up, and I have an enormous amount of respect for them for it. I also know more than I realize about contemporary classical music, art, computers, and cars. Everyone’s experiences are different growing up, and so if your daughter’s are a bit more different than everyone else’s, she’ll just be more interesting as an adult. In my opinion, the best thing you can do is whatever makes you all happy.

  6. That’s funny, I went to Disneyland at around 15 and absolutely hated it too. Ellen, that sounds like a wonderful childhood. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Stuart Besong says:

    I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write related to here. Again, awesome weblog!

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