Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Nadia Colburn’s essay, Writing and Not Writing Motherhood and the Self. We asked, “Is your writing centered on your experience as a mother and the lives of your children? Or does it explore other topics related to your life and identity? What do you feel your choice or tendency in this regard says about your experience of motherhood or your purpose for writing? Below is Lolita Pierce’s response.
By Lolita Pierce
I write about children all the time—children who are fearless or misunderstood, adolescents who are surviving the wild terrain of the cyber social landscape and those avoiding marginalization on the cusp of becoming. I avoid characterizations that evoke my own children, however. My stories are often raw or dark, and some of my characters don’t emotionally survive the journey, so putting versions of my children within them could paralyze the work. It’s a travesty that I don’t dare to write about them, because my children would be gems as characters. They are gems in real life. Fearless, funny, wise, and sometimes weird, they have shaped who I am, more than anything and anyone. So why not risk it? My children made me, so why don’t they make it into my work?
If I have succeeded in anything as a mother, it is in the fact that my children are freer than I am. They have been free since before birth, when I pored over parenting tomes and mined my childhood. Perhaps because my parents raised me in both the shelter of their survival and in the shadows of their own parents, I have been obsessively anxious about not putting too much of myself into my children. It’s inevitable, however, that they retain some imprint of me, but these are minor details. Whatever I’ve shared of myself—my passions, my thoughts, my ideals—my children have transformed, turning my imprint into more. The who-ness of who they are is so spectacularly and utterly them, that I fear to blaspheme it in my work. Moreover, I realize that they are smart enough to recognize themselves, proprietary enough to protest my right to represent them, and astute enough to take any effort to be seen by their mother as an embarrassing miscalculation. I am involved with them more intimately than anyone else in their life right now, so I must take care. I have to keep them free—from me. Writing about them while they are still becoming would imprison them in my vision. Their field is far more expansive.
As they grow both in age and in wisdom, I know this will matter less. Ironically, they have followed their own artistic paths, endeavors that require them to pay keen attention to others and to use those observations as fuel for the fire of their creations. All of them curate their own sense of self online, through social media and in their own creative pursuits. When I take a photo of them, write to family about them, or just retell a story that they remember—they insist that I get them right. They call me on their freedom—the freedom to “be” that I fiercely and unrelentlessly champion. I am careful. So that when and if I do write about them, they will understand. And because they are free, they will not feel bound to my page.
Lolita Pierce is a Southern California writer and book lover. Her most recent short story was published in Catamaran Literary Reader.