The Mantras of Parent-Author-Hood

by Mohammed Shamma

Being a published author is very new to me.  So is parenthood.  I have two kids, a first grader and a preschooler.  I’m still orienting myself every day, but in the six crazy wonderful years that I’ve had so far, I’ve learned some solid lessons along the way.  I want to share with you some of life’s little mantras that have carried me through parent-author-hood.

1.  Accidents are bound to happen.  One of the first rules I’ve had to accept as a parent is that little unexpected spills and tumbles will occur.  They’ve caught me off-guard and have left me frustrated and confused, so much that I’ve questioned my abilities as a parent.  I remember some of the morning walks I would take with my son while my wife was at work.  There were moments when I’d forget the baby wipes and diapers and give him a third serving of milk about a mile away from our home.  He would want to be held, so I’d lift him out of the stroller.  Naturally, I overlooked the fact that he was stuffed with milk and I often found myself walking home smelling like hot cottage cheese.

Was this a harmless accident?  Yes.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Put them into words.  This may seem obvious, but you may find that there’s a cute little devil in those details.  They are funny, awkward at times, and simply serve as some of the best material a writer can hope to capture on the page.  Forgive yourself and just laugh.  Smile at the quirky and silly things you do and your audience will laugh with you.

2.  Let your kids fail.  I coached my son’s soccer team last season and observed the raging waters in the U-6 division as parents sent their little kickers off in hopes of watching them score the winning goal.  Instead I watched disappointment after disappointment as both parent and child learned that the beautiful game is bigger than they had imagined.  Here are some random quotes:

“Stop playing with the gophers and watch the ball.”

“Can you tell that kid to stop scoring so much and let the others have a chance?”

“You’re going the wrong way!”

“Score!  Score!  Score!”

“Did we win? Did we win?  Did we win?”

No we didn’t win.  I didn’t want them to win.  I wanted each child to discover what soccer is and what it isn’t.  They discovered that they’re part of something and that their participation was necessary for success.  They discovered that they are not the best player, nor the center of the world.  They discovered that in order to be better they had to practice a lot.

I always think about those parents and kids in the soccer league who wanted the moment of “soccer success” to just land in their lap without any effort.  One of the first delusions I had as I started writing over twenty years ago was if you write it they will read it.  This is simply not true.  I wasn’t a stronger writer until I accepted the fact that people will not want to read my work, that I will fail if I don’t practice.  One of the best lessons new writers need to learn is failure.  It is not a judgement of character.  It is a necessary step to success.

3.  Messy rooms are sometimes better than clean ones.  Let’s face it.  Life is messy.  As parents we struggle every day in our efforts to teach cleanliness and order to our children.  But their world is literally a mess and contrary to what we might think as parents, they spend a large portion of their time (and brain power) trying to sort things out.  How does this pertain to writing?  Think of the blank page that sits in front of you before you begin to write.  Are you hesitant to put your thoughts down because you might be afraid of disturbing the peace?  I am.  I often overlook the mess inside me.  I want to believe that my words are pure, that I alone crafted them without help or assistance.  I constantly feel frustrated when I discover that my words sound like recycled ideas from other books, television shows and movies.  When this happens, I try to “clean things up” and rewrite in hopes of getting truly inspired.  Well I can tell you now that this is a recipe for writer’s block.  All I end up doing is avoiding and dismissing the mess.  Don’t be afraid of your mess.  There is beauty there.  There is life there.

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 mohammed-shamma-author2
Mohammed Shamma is a writer/illustrator living in Berkeley, California with his wife and two kids. His story, “Echoes” was published in Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy. Read more about his work at: www.mohammedshamma.com or connect with him on Twitter at @mohammed_shamma or by email at mshamma@yahoo.com.

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