I have been wondering recently if it is it OK for me to write about my son here. I tell funny stories about him, my challenges with motherhood and, what got me thinking about this, our struggles with his developmental delay.
He is only 2 years old. Obviously, he cannot read. But it will be there when he can. How will he feel about people knowing about him? Am I invading his privacy?
I also teach writing to other mothers to help them document their experiences and to capture stories about their children. Am I helping them invade their own children too?
I feel I can answer my own question, not only as a writer, but as a subject, because I was also written about by my mother in a very public forum.
When I was 4, my father died, and when I was a little older, my mother wrote a children’s book about our loss, “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart.” She cast me, whether she meant to or not, as the poster child for grief. Perhaps no one actually saw me that way. But I did.
At times it was a role I cherished, especially when I realized around second grade that not everyone had a book written about them. It made me special and different.
I was proud of my mother, proud of us for surviving so well. Whenever anyone was sad or grieving, I’d give them the book and think, “There, you’re better.” I thought if I do nothing else in my life, this is enough to have been a part of this book.
Other times though, I wanted very little to do with it. Who was I to give advice to families in mourning, to tell a mother that her son would not be forever damaged after her husband died? That she should to look to me, who was actually insecure and at times lonely, as a shining example? I felt like a fraud.
The book often brought me back to what was missing in my life. It was hard to admit as I looked through the illustrations, that I did not always recognize the pictures of me looking so happy in the opening pages of the story before my father died.
To me, I was never that girl running around without a worry. I am a full-blown worrier. And I worried about how I came across. Sometimes being Rachel from “Rachel and The Upside Down Heart,” being the girl that is OK by the end of the story, that is dealing beautifully, was too much to handle. Sometimes I just wanted to fall apart. And I admit I did as I entered my 20s.
But I found strength in writing. And I found strength in having this document, this book that my mother created. I had beautiful illustrations depicting my childhood. I had words that captured a specific, though difficult time in my life. This was a time I may otherwise have shut away never to have remembered.
So now as I look for ways to remember these early years with my child, in addition to taking numerous photos and videos, I write.
My son entered the world with quite a struggle. As my mother did, I turned to the page to find a way to express myself about this challenge in my life.
I am extra aware of the burden I may be placing on him as the subject of my stories. Speaking from experience, I think he’ll be just fine. He may even revel in it.
When you write about yourself and those you love, there is the hope that your story will touch someone else. But it is not only about that. For me, perhaps for my mother when she wrote her book, it is also an opportunity to capture a time, a feeling, a fleeting reality.
I know now it was not just my story that my mother told. And it is not just about my son in this column. It was also her story then — a young widow told through her daughter’s experience. It is also my story now — a new mother finding her way down a path of motherhood with a son whose challenges were unexpected.
I think my son will get that.
As parents, we are the keepers of our children’s memories and stories from their early years, whether that is as simple as when they took their first steps or as complicated as recording when things get complicated.
We are not rewriting the story. That we can never do. But to put into words what other people may avoid ever talking about, was a way for my mother, is a way for me, to take ownership.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com. To learn more about her writing classes for moms, go to www.mommiebrain.com. To order “Rachel and The Upside Down Heart,” go to www.newleaf-resources.com or amazon.com.