I like to tease my friends that if they're not careful, they'll end up in my novel. After all, as Nora Ephron said, life is copy. Material is everywhere, and the experiences writers have, as well as the people they meet, help to feed the stories and characters they create. Now, it seems the tables have turned.
Jacob has started writing a book. He has a journal that I gave him, and this idea has been burning in his mind for some weeks. At first read, one would think, "it's science fiction. What's to worry about? It's not like it's a memoir." And before anyone gets upset that I'm surreptitiously invading my son's privacy and reading his journal, I should note that he asked me to read it. In fact, he asked if I'd be his editor, so he's obviously not plotting to out me as 'Mommy Dearest' or any such monster.
As the story unfolds, a boy in a far off galaxy is trying to have an earnest conversation with his father about impending galactic doom. Father, of course, is busy reading his holographic newspaper and answers with distraction and disinterest. What struck me about the story was the dialogue, that a 9-year-old could have such an attentive ear to inflection, tone and implication and convey it through words on the page.
I could flatter myself and say that he got it from me, but what indeed would be the point? The fact is, the distracted conversations portrayed are clearly ripped from our life together. And even though it's 'dad' in the story and the newspaper is virtual, the message is clear. Jacob doesn't feel he's always got my full attention.
Of course, if he were trying to save the galaxy and I told him, "Not now, I'm making dinner," I'd be a villain indeed. But what his story showed me was that when Jacob tries to talk to me about what's on his mind, it is just as important to him as his character's need to save the galaxy is in the story. Message to mom: you need to pay attention--I have things on my mind.
Stories like Harry Potter, where a young boy is destined for growth into greatness, are extremely popular. They fuel imaginations and teach children that, regardless of clueless adults, that inkling of greatness they feel inside is real and they should do whatever they must to follow it. Even Jacob's story begins to sow that seed from the very first page. His showing it to me was his way of telling me to sit up and take notice.
Kids need adults to guide them as they grow, but ultimately, the journey is up to them. Helping them to believe in themselves and aspire to greatness is our responsibility. We can nurture that seed by listening, asking questions and hearing what our kids have to say. Who knows? With a little help from us, they might just grow up to save the galaxy after all.