Starting from scratch
“How can you write that?” My husband has just read one of my Married With Kids columns and is vetting it. Big time.
“It’s too personal,” he says earnestly. “You’re going to get into trouble, and I’m going to say, ‘I told you so!’”
One story I wrote a couple of years ago got me into so much trouble, we still referred to it as “the incident.” I thought I’d written piercingly on an important issue, at the time. Turns out, others did not agree – my spouse, in particular. In fairness, he’d warned me that the column was dangerous, but my ears were deaf to his cautions, and my sensibilities dulled about the potential marital backlash.
When he reads today’s column, he asks me one question: “Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time?” The lesson he’s referring to is “the incident,” of course. I gulp and make a new plan.
It’s not easy being the family member of a journalist, particularly when you never know which aspect of your life will become fodder for the next column. I’m constantly trolling through my experiences for stories, looking for anecdotes that readers can hopefully relate to in the realm of marriage and children. What’s off limits? I’m still trying to figure that out, one month at a time.
My spouse has been extraordinarily good-natured about his presence in my columns, showing graceful tolerance when I give readers a glimpse of our inner life together. Whether it’s his iPod addiction or his strewn clothes under discussion, he takes it in stride. But every now and then, he puts his foot down. Tonight was one of those times, and it meant a column about one of our kids’ friends was about to bite the dust, even though I believed every word of it to be true. My daughter, spying her name on the computer monitor, insisted on reading it too, and agreed.
“You can’t do this to me, Mom,” she declared. “If my friends or their parents ever read this, the friendship is over.”
I sighed. I was on deadline and couldn’t afford another “holy cow,” a subject that was utterly taboo. The one under discussion in particular was a meaty one that I felt sure readers would be able to identify with.
“I could change the names,” I tried.
But I was surrounded on all sides. Vetoed. The column was destined to join a few others in my folder that had been deemed too dangerous – potential friendship killers, whether they were true or not.
I know a bit about “holy cows.” There are some subjects too tender to make their way into my columns and some relationships I’ve forbidden myself to delve into in this public space. My fear is that I’ll fracture the delicate shells of those relationships or create waves of long-term unpleasantness I don’t even want to imagine. Still, when I’m reaching for new ideas, it’s these that beckon. Money, and how its change of hands impacts the family. Friendships, and their deeper politics. Parents-in-law, and the complicated yet inexorable ties that bind us all together in a sometimes uncomfortable family embrace.
Writing about marriage and kids is stressful when I get vetoed, but it’s also deeply cathartic. It offers a space, both in my mind and on the blank page, where I can explore an issue in my home, turn it this way and that, and sometimes gain a deeper understanding or perspective on that issue.
But there are always others involved when you are married with kids, and when it’s their business that you’re discussing, you have to be careful.
When I’m skirting close to the limit in my columns, I ask my husband to read them first, even though I know precisely what his response will be. I argue my case, he counters with his, and then I swallow hard and sometimes start again from scratch.