Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Susannah Q. Pratt’s essay, Get in the Car! We asked readers, “What parenting skills do you bring to your writing? How has your perspective as a mother helped you to put your writing struggles in perspective? Is there a metaphor for creative chaos in your own family life that you could use to foster confidence when the stories, poems, chapters, or sentences won’t fall into place?” Below is Ashlee Laielli’s response.
by Ashlee Laielli
When my children were babies I called them seekers. First my son, always searching his environment for stimulation—never content, never sitting still and observing. Sometimes I would notice babies resting in car seats or on blankets, babies sitting, babies lying quietly. This was not an option for him or for his sister, born sixteen months later—babies who were not satisfied by the confines of their own limited mobility and coordination, let alone a confined space with designated toys, like the playpens I was so often advised to rely on. This was the first thing they showed me: I too am a seeker.
When you walk into our home you’ll see a large blue graphic print that reads in bold black type, “ASK MORE QUESTIONS.” My son asked me once what it said; when I told him, he said, “Why?” Children don’t need to be reminded of these things. For the parents, the art serves mostly to help us laugh at ourselves when we become exhausted by their endless lines of questioning. When I asked him, “Why do you keep asking why?” he said simply, “Because I want to know everything.” And I get it. I get it because when he was born, suddenly, so did I. I wanted to figure it all out, so I could teach him—how to be a good human, how to live a good life. I wanted to be ready with answers to all my children’s questions and I was propelled by a visceral sense of urgency. He likes to say, “Well, this is what I think,” and I write down the things he thinks. The notes app on my iPhone is full of things he and his sister have said, woven between passages collected from other sources, questions and clues from the hunt.
All my life I have been searching on the shelves of bookstores and libraries, hoping to open, some day, to the page with life’s answers. I had thought it was that simple—that, for example, Dostoevsky had the key if only I could bring myself to finish The Brothers Karamazov. Now, home full time with young children, I read and read in stolen moments that sustain me. I take notes. I try to make sense of things, although sustaining the seeking is now the goal in itself. In On Immunity Eula Biss writes, “We must live the questions our children raise for us.” This is my work now.
I see, in the symbiosis of our living together, the way they learn by mirroring me. I see too, the way I have been mirroring them. Watching them build their understanding of the world, I began my re-education in what it is to be human. If we could all stay as curious as a child, as eager to learn and grow, as open and malleable—well, that would be a different world. So that is the change I wish to cultivate in myself. That is the work I strive to do through my writing.
Ashlee Laielli currently lives in the East Bay area of California, where she reads and writes while mothering her two young children. She has a BA in psychology and anthropology, which, honestly, she finds quite useful as a stay-at-home mother. She collects her favorite literary passages on Instagram at books_before_dishes.