Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reading to my Daughter

I wrote a picture book several months ago, and then tucked the manuscript into my files to let it languish while I worked on other projects. One day recently it dawned on me that I have my target audience for my picture book living in my house - my 5 year old daughter. Why hadn't I thought of reading her my book earlier?

My daughter has only lately absorbed the idea that Mommy has some work of her own that does not involve her. When she was born, I stopped working to stay home with her, and for the first few years she never heard a peep about Mommy's work, apart from all that I did for hearth and home, because there wasn't much work to speak of. While I am generally at peace with the idea of being a stay-at-home mother, on occasion I've been seized with the fear that my daughter will grow up with no understanding of huge facets of my life, but worse, she herself will not deem work important, modeling herself after me. So, when I returned to writing, little by little I started to mention this part of my life to her, and it felt good to do so. Although my writing still takes a serious sideline to my mothering, I explain to her what I do, and why I love it. My hope is that when she grows up she too will find a way to devote herself to motherhood while fostering a passion for work.

We sat down and I pulled out the manuscript and began to read. There were no pictures, but she didn't seem to mind. I thought, "maybe it's that good...or maybe she's genuinely curious to see what Mom can produce." She laughed a little just when I'd hoped she would. And then, about half way through the story, I could see her attention flag. I read on, trying to deny her fidgeting. About three quarters of the way through she stopped me and said, "Mommy, how long is this book??" Hmmm...not exactly the response I'd hoped for. But guess what? She was right on the money. The story was egregiously long, and I'd been lazy and arrogant in my disregard of what really needed to be done to make it sing. I finished reading her the story, intent on getting right to the revisions.

But a few days later, she brought up the book. She had questions for me about the main character, a few logic points, a few ideas for improvement. But more than anything, I could tell she was just happy to talk to me about a book I'd written. She was proud. And even though I know the book needs work, and may never have a life beyond my own home, seeing my daughter look at me through slightly different eyes is really all the reward I need. Many of us delve into writing children's literature because we've gotten such joy from the books we've read to our children, but there is an additional and singular pleasure in being able to read a story you have written to your own child.


  1. This is wonderful, Valerie. Our kids should be our first audience, and are often our toughest, and most honest, critics. My husband made up and told stories to our kids- usually when we were hiking to get them to keep walking. They had a life of their own, these characters, and now I wish I'd written them down.
    Give your daughter a journal and some pens-- I bet she'd write some great stories, even if only with pictures.

  2. I am a militant stay-at-home-mom. I have loved my 20 years in the trenches of snacks, playdates, carpools, and PTA meetings. I have been writing for nearly all of those 20 years, seriously for the last 12. For me, writing was not a validation of my "work" - I think taking care of your children is the most important job there is - but it makes me a more interesting, richer (and I mean that in a figurative sense, not monetary), and creative human. And that makes me a better mother. My children have supported and accepted my "hobby". They NEVER ask, in that condescending tone, "when will your story get published?" Now my children are grown and they still accept my "hobby", even though they are old enough to know I spend a lot of time "working" for "nothing".
    I think my writing has enriched my children - perhaps only because it enriched me. But also because they understand having a passion and a commitment for something that doesn't always give back in a noticeable way.

  3. I can completely identify with your thoughts, Valerie. In many ways I think having children has made me more serious about my writing. When I was busy at work I always put my writing off for another day because I had lots of time for myself. Now that time for myself is at a premium, I've had to make a commitment - even though there is no guarantee it will reach anyone's eyes, my writing definitely feeds me in a way that nothing else can. But then again, so does being a mother.